February 3rd, 2010

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Wednesday Jan 3rd and 2nd Ha Long Bay

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

We are on our three day tour to Ha Long Bay. The bus picked us up at our hotel early Tuesday morning and were transferred to our tour boat at lunch time. There were thirteen of us on the boat. A young English couple, three young Poles, Didier and Caroline from Bretagne, Andre Marcel, third generation French Vietnamese, with his nephew and two more of his friends and young Austrian lady. The tour boats all look the same, a two levels boxy wooden structure on the hull of a traditional fishing vessel. The junk sails are strictly for decoration and only a few of the skippers even bother to set them at anchor. The lunch and the presentation in the dining room was well done. Our first stop was at a set of caves. We had seen enough caves and stalactites and stalagmites in Laos. Most of Ha Long Bay is now protected as a national park and the signage and trails are not as rugged as those in Laos. Our next stop was at Tip Top island. It has a good view from the light house on top of the island. At dinner time our tour boat dropped anchor and dinner was served. Andre entertained us after dinner out of his bag filled with tricks, magic and mind games.  The poles got us all involved in another fun game. We were lucky to be in such good company and able to have a good time together not withstanding the language differences.
We had a nice twin bed cabin with a hot shower. I got up early hoping for better lighting for pictures but it stayed overcast and misty. Just like the time when I was very near to Ha Long Bay when I was in Haiphong on “Fleetwood” in 2006.
We raised the anchor, had an excellent breakfast and headed for Cat Ba Island. This is the largest island and has a good size port city and is rapidly developing into another tourist destination. It also is partly set aside as a national park. We rode bicycles to another cave. An elaborate three level hospital and training center was built into this mountain cave to be safe from American bombings. Lunch and another launch took us to Monkey Island. This was an idyllic spot. White sandy beaches, monkeys , kayaking, swimming and a scenic climb over the top to another beach. We are staying in a hotel here on Cat Ba island and will have another sightseeing event, on the way back to the mainland, in the morning before returning to Hanoi. Then we take a sleeper train to Sapa where we will spend two days and then return Saturday night to Hanoi on the train.
I had been looking forward for many years to see Ha Long Bay but it did not quite stand up to my expectations. It is unique but the almost mystic imagination I had from the photographs and the movie “Indochine”, with Katherine de Neuve, did not happen to me. And it will get even busier and more commercialized. But the Vietnamese government is missing a real opportunity by not letting us cruising sailors put Ha Long Bay on our cruising itinerary. There are wonderful protected quiet anchorages and
Ha Long Port and Cat Ba island would make excellent provisioning destinations.