We are so lucky to have a few visitors willing to make the huge journey here to visit us in Vietnam. In the end of April my adventuresome father, also known as Poppy, and my wonderful and fun-loving uncle Rob Rakusin, made the trek. Neither had ever been to Asia, so it was very exciting. After spending a few days introducing them to the craziness, heat, and wonders of Hanoi, we took a 3+ hour drive to Halong Bay, Vietnam’s most famous tourist destination. To cruise around the bay for two nights, we boarded a boat (that we had all to ourselves!) called the Indochina Junk.
Could you imagine the kids’ joy of playing on a big boat like this for three days? It was a welcome new playground. Anna, Kate and Matthew had their own bedroom!
Halong Bay is known for its natural beauty. There are nearly 2,000 islands of all shapes and sizes dotting the water for miles. Many of the islands don’t have names and are inhabited mainly birds and plants, but a few have monkeys. The water was blue. The sky was clear. There was a lovely breeze while we were sailing around. Heaven!
We went kayaking a few times to get a little closer to some of the islands. We even explored a few caves by kayak.
The village had about 130 people living in it, and they all make their living by fishing. Each family had its own floating house. We were happy to learn that the government is trying to make the people use plastic barrels to float their houses rather than styrofoam, which breaks down in two years and pollutes the water.
Here is a view of our boat:
We ate fantastic food, and the boat’s chef made some beautiful creations out of the food one night. Here he made a replica of our boat, made from carrots (the sails) and a watermelon.
Overall Halong Bay was beautiful, but there was one drawback that marred the entire experience. We were very sad to see trash floating in the water everywhere (no matter how far we went from the mainland) as well as washed on the shoreline of the islands. It is not clear where the trash comes from (I heard different explanations), but it kept us from swimming in the water. In addition, a shipping channel was dug into the bay near Halong City, and huge ships anchor there to pick up coal which they transport to China. Several times we heard the clear sound of loud explosions in the distance. Our guide said that it was dynamite that was being used either for fishing (good grief!) or for mining. We could see the stripped mountain tops on shore. Here is an example of the trash we saw in the Bay near Halong City:
Vietnam has a long way to go to clean up, but there are signs of progress. We went to a beach town called Hoi An right after our Halong Bay trip, and everything was spotless there. We were so grateful! (A post about Hoi An is due up next). And just this week I saw something else that made me very happy — hundreds of university students volunteered to clean up around West Lake, near our house in Hanoi. They were so friendly when I asked them what they were doing, and I have hope for the future of this country!
Five foot wide alleys in Hanoi old quarter with thousands of single rooms housing five family members. Sterno stoves in alley. Everyone helps make a living 7 days a week (average annual income $900.00).