Justine’s mother says that it’s not a real vacation until you take a boat ride. We spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning on a boat, so we are pretty vacant by now.
As with many tourists in this part of the country, we headed out to Ha Long Bay. While I’d never heard of it before, it is apparently quite famous, and deservedly so: several thousand small limestone islands, jutting out of a sheltered bay.
There are a range of options for this trip, and we splurged a bit. The guidebooks suggest that one can get away with as little as $20 per person; we went pretty upscale, at $125 per person, via Handspan Tours and booking on the Lagoon Explorer. This entitled us to a small boat, an airconditioned motorcoach for the 3.5 hour bus ride to/from Hanoi, loads of food, etc. In all, your basic cruise – without the shuffleboard. Here is our nice bus, along with a view out the window at a factory, or, perhaps, a hotel, under construction.
The ride to Ha Long gave us a glimpse of the changing landscape. There were many factories, making shoes, steel, garments, and all sorts of other things that we couldn’t understand. In many ways, this looked like a drive down the New Jersey Turnpike, except that we would see lots of people in factory uniform (white shirts with patches and red ties, for example) bicycling to/from work on the side of the road. We also saw a number of cemeteries located in, or alongside, rice paddies. The guide on our bus explained that many people believe in the importance of providing access to food for ancestors who go on to their next life. Also, I was finally able to react quickly enough to capture that pig.
The Lagoon Explorer was a very nice, clean boat… our cabin’s toilet had even been desiphected for us, whatever that meant. The deck was nice too. The photos below show John with Anna and Andrew, two nice folks from Boston who shared the boat with us, as we headed out of the harbor.
This trip is pretty routine for our crew. The guide told us that they work three months, and are then off for one week… heading out overnight, and then back. Dealing with tourists day in, day out, for ninety days at a time, being always on, can be challenging. But, at one point in the evening, we figured out that they have their room and board covered, they work in a beautiful place, and tips for each crew member alone would probably amount to ten times the national average income in Vietnam. And, the ride to the bay reminded us that there are plenty of people who spend their time here wandering around behind water buffalo or cutting greens on their hands and knees in sweltering fields. Here is a photo of the captain, hard at work, and someone on the deck with their refreshments. None of us could remember the last time we’d seen a pop-top.