“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” Diane Arbus
The only way to really experience Halong Bay is to cruise on a junk and spend more than one night. October was the month we traveled. The temperatures were mild and I must say conditions were perfect. One needs ideal weather to enjoy this cruise. Not one to book in winter rain, cold and fog when you spend much time out doors.
There are large junks with 16 staterooms, but that is not our style. We did observe one junk go by with one stateroom, designed with honeymooners in mind. A smiling young couple, waved at us clearly enjoying themselves from their hammocks swinging on the back deck. Can’t blame them.
The boat we chose was the newly launched Prince II with four lovely teak lined staterooms. They were small and comfortable, each equipped with its own bathroom. Early on, we turned off the air conditioner and opened our large panoramic windows to the breezes.
There was a deck for viewing, sitting, and relaxing while taking in the breathtaking sights and an outdoors covered area for dining. The travelers aboard included a couple who lived in Paris, she Danish and he, Russian, a couple from Sydney and the four of us from the US who were traveling together. Being a small junk and the fact we were all close in age put us on common ground allowing for stimulating conversation. Books and our various book clubs being one such exchange.
By reserving the two nights, three day cruise, we were able to travel further from the numerous junks all departing approximately the same time. We could become lost in the landscape, whereas the one night cruise junks tend to stay clustered. However, on our second night, we anchored with three other junks in a protected bay from the wind. A standard procedure when the really strong breezes kick up. Besides having time to read, journal, and visit with the guests, our activities included kayaking. Being at water level made us feel very small next to the giant stone karsts jutting upward. Ron and I seemed to be going in circles while the couple from Sydney who kayak in Sydney Harbour weekly, knew what they were doing. That evening, Ron tried his hand at fishing for squid but had no luck. As a fisherman, he had to try.
Swimming and picnicking on a lovely beach was another activity and much enjoyed. When one of the crew saw me disappear along the shoreline to collect shells, he immediately ran after me, holding out a rubber glove to store my treasures and pottery shards in, the only thing available. I appreciated his resourcefulness and the glove, shells and sand came back to the states with me.
The highlight of the activities was visiting a floating village comprised of fishing families. This village was small and off the beaten tourist area which provided us a glimpse into their culture. That will be a separate blog.
On our last morning, we visited a cave located midway up a karst by climbing 65 steps. The vegetation along the way was lush and plants were in bloom. The cave itself was small but interesting. Unfortunately so much has been stripped from it before it became a UNWH site. Even stalagmites were removed for use in bonsai. The views from this location were beautiful including the view of the Prince II with its oriental sails displayed.
Evenings were spent dining on deliciously prepared dishes, one course at a time, and being entertained by the talented crew with singing. Such camaraderie. Duc, our guide and interpreter had a beautiful voice and was the story teller.
For the eight travelers on board, the staff consisted of nine including an engine expert…just in case. I can’t say enough about the junk and the crew. They were well trained, accommodating and genuinely friendly. We were, I feel, an easy and compatible group to have on board. Guides really do have an affect on one’s total experience and we were assigned a most excellent young fellow.
Bed time with the windows open to the breeze captured new scents…perhaps something blooming along the rocks intermingled with the familiar smell of salt water. Looking out the window from our darkened room, we could see the glow of the fishermen’s lanterns through the mist and fog, a welcome presence as well as the faint rhythmic put-put of their engines.
I slept like a baby.
All photos by Ron Mayhew