The day promised much; we were leaving Hanoi for the drive to Halong Bay. Well, we were trying to, but at 8am even the thousands of motor scooters can’t make much headway. An hour and we had made it onto freer roads, but the skies were leaden and it even began to rain. Rather than beautiful paddy fields, we were driving through what seemed a never ending conurbation, very much a work in progress. Well, I told myself, whatever is driving this country to change at such a pace, making itself pretty for me is not on the agenda.
Cards on the table, I don’t know a huge amount about Vietnam. As I often do, I have looked back into the past as I try to learn but there is much of interest in the here and now of a nation which, forty years ago, was beginning from scratch. Building and development is everywhere but on a small scale; businesses seem mainly shop front enterprises with families living behind or above the business premises. There are also signs of much larger corporate investment, Canon and Samsung having huge suburban plants. Japan is investing heavily as is China, although our guide seems a bit reticent about relationships with China.
It’s my understanding that the main model here involves an amalgamation of the communist party ‘supporting’ free enterprise by awarding and even encouraging private sector contrasts. I’m trying to work it out but it’s an intriguing idea.
As we neared Halong and the mist began to lift we could see the limestone islands which make this bay so distinctive. There are over 2000 of them, although ‘officially’ they number them at 1969 to honour the year of Ho Chi Min’s death. The development here is clearly exploding and everywhere are pictures of futuristic hotel complexes. In a way I’m glad to be here now when it’s relatively unspoilt.
Our ship lay at anchor waiting for us. The amazing scenery and welcoming smiles of the crew had made our spirits high and we were delighted with our cabin and the facilities on board.
As we set sail we sat on the balcony and took in the view. Each island has a shape of its own and it’s easy to see how the imaginative locals have given them names based on the shape they see represented. The trees growing in the limestone crags add to the charm and beauty of an ever-changing sea mad landscape.
Lunch was served then it was time to disembark by tender to visit a floating fishing village where 200 people live, supported by the government, making their living from the sea and sharing their experiences with tourists.
Dinner and drinks on board then we anchored overnight in the bay, gently rocked to sleep and watching the lights of the other ships around us reflected in the ocean as the limestone crags cradled us safely.
This is a memorable, wonderful place of awesome beauty. Deservedly recognised twice by UNESCO come experience it yourself. While it is still unspoiled.