Friday, February 22, 2013

Ha Long Bay

18-19 February

After an overnight stop in Hanoi our group set off by coach to Ha Long Bay, about 4 hours’ drive east of Hanoi. It was our first glimpse of Hanoi and unfortunately the weather was cool and drizzly. It had stopped raining by the time we reached Ha Long. The outskirts of Hanoi are a mix of urban and rural areas. The urban areas are quite well developed with most houses made of concrete. The houses are 3-4 storeys high and very skinny. As homeowners are taxed according to the building’s footprint, houses have very narrow frontages. Also, as they expect to be built against, making a row of houses, the owners only paint the front, reasoning that the sides may not be seen. It looks a bit odd.

In between the built up areas is farmland, in our case rice paddies, just being planted. The land is farmed using traditional labour intensive methods.
Ploughing thr rice using buffalo and old style plough

Separating bundles of rice seedling to transplant into the paddy fields

Market gardening. Watering using 2 watering cans suspended from a shoulder yoke

Arriving at Ha Long Bay as passengers for one of over 600 vessels, we kitted up in our safety vests for the transfer by tender to our boat. Once settled we started on the first of 3 banquets we consumed in the 24 hours we were on board. The courses were mostly seafood presented in a variety of ways. The Vietnamese have a very slender build and must be puzzled at the amount of food consumed by westerners on these cruises. For our part we struggled through most of it feeling like absolute gluttons. We definitely did not need or want all the food served.
All kitted up for our transfer to the boat

The super 7 all ready for our first gourmet banquet

Weather conditions at Ha Long Bay were hazy and overcast making good photos impossible to achieve. It would be truly beautiful in clear conditions. However we all admired the views and waited to be told what to do next.
One of many unusual rock formarions and very still water conditions

The next event was a trip through a massive cave (along with hundreds of others). The cave was the largest I have encountered  with many large cavern  joining together and producing stunning formations
A curtain stalactite formation

View of the Bay from the highest viewpoint in the cave

Many resident monkeys hang about hoping for food

Six of our group hired kayaks during the afternoon while the rest sat on a nearby beach. The kayakers showed varying levels of expertise – from novice to expert – but they all had fun.
Marion ready to set off in the kayak
A view of the bay from the beach

The following morning we set of for a trip through a different cave. This time I was locked in the toilet in the cabin by David – by accident, I’m assured – but fortunately our guide Ut is diligent about checking numbers, and I was released from captivity.

After an early lunch we returned to Hanoi via a government owned store and purchased a picture which is hand coloured using silk thread. It’s very fine beautiful work carried out by people who have a disability stemming from the effects of the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese say, the American War. We were able to photograph the woman who created our artwork.
The woman who created our artwork. The piece she is working on has exquisite tones in black and white

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