Sunday, May 4, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Halong Bay, Vietnam

"Halong Bay"

"Halong Bay Fishing Village"
This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site tops my list of places you must experience if you go to Vietnam. The bay is filled with unusual limestone karst formations. There is a fishing village where the people live totally on the water in small homes on rafts. Children are born and raised on the water and are not comfortable on land. The people make a living catching and farming fish. There is a tiny community center and a school. After their early years, the children go to the mainland if they desire further education.
Children at play in front of their home

There are hundreds of  limestone karst formations in Halong Bay
We traveled by bus from Hanoi on roads filled with scooters, trucks, pedestrians, and bicycles. The road had a  35 mph speed limit, so it took us several hours, which included a stop for bathrooms and gift shop. There we boarded what is known as a luxury junk, which sounded like an oxymoron. Actually, the wooden boat was very nice with enough cabins for our group and a few more folks. The top floor had a restaurant/bar where we had a cooking demo, lunch, dinner, wakeup buffet and full breakfast buffet in our approximately 12 hours on the boat. The middle floor had our cabins with private bath -- small, modest, and charming.
Mostly women are the oars people
The women from the fishing village have found a new source of revenue -- tourists who want a ride on the Bay. We go by fours on boats that they row to visit the village and the interesting formations on the Bay.
In the morning we are offered a Tai Chi class on the tops deck by one of the young crew. The experience was very mystical. Our boat slowly sailed through the fog on the bay and we were moving slowly and deliberately. I had to pinch myself and say, "yes, I really am here...."
 Early morning Tai Chi class on the top deck

Amidst the fog

In Hang Sung Sot Cave
After a pre-breakfast we boarded tenders and traveled to see a famous and very huge cave. There was no need to be a caver to do this along with dozens of other tourists. We did have to climb on steep stairs quite high up the karst to enter the cave.

Spelunkers we are not
Returning to the boat, we enjoyed a huge breakfast as we motored back to our tour coach. We returned to Hanoi and checked back into our hotel for a single night. In the evening we signed up for a street food tour, something I would not have attempted on my own with the concern over food health. We made the rounds in little alley streets for a first course up several flights of stairs, fabulous pho soup (a specialty of Hanoi), coffee with the locals, and a sandwich that became lunch the next day. We sat on the little children stools with our knees at ear level. Fortunately, our hosts brought higher stools for the taller people in the group. There was no way with Bob's artificial knees that he could have pretzeled himself onto a tiny stool.
We had an early wakeup call to visit the tomb of Ho Chi Minh and the simple dwelling where he live as President of North Vietnam. The leader's body was not available for viewing. Rather he was being renovated in Russia. The man wished to be cremated, but followers refused to let him go.

We left for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Our nine days in Vietnam had flown by. We had a lesson in corruption on the way to our early flight. The bus was stopped by a policeman, to "check" the tourist license for carrying tourists outside of approved hours. The bus had such a license, but it would be necessary to grease palms with money if the bus driver wanted to get us to our flight in time. This type of corruption is well-known and openly discussed. I have thought often about the corruption and decided that basically in the USA, now only the highest officials benefit from corruption -- Congress comes to mind with lobbyists that "buy" their vote. Citizens do not expect to pay bribes to local officials.
Here at home Bob and I attended a large showcase hosted by our dance studio. A nice and very long day.
Scottish guy and the dancing diva


CrimsonLeaves said...

Mary, you and Bob look so smashing all dressed for the dance! Love seeing this side of Vietnam; so beautiful! Of course, I found myself wondering about plumbing for those families living on the house rafts. I hope waste doesn't go into the water!! Love seeing the limestone caves too! Your sketches are wonderful and I always love the addition of ink.

Mary Paquet said...

Unfortunately, Sherry, you have every reason to be concerned. They do not have plumbing. I've always focused on buying wild caught fish. Now I am even more diligent since seeing many fish farms in Indochina.

Barbra Joan said...

So Good to see you Mary, it's been a while since I visited and all I can say is WOW! Is there anyplace you haven't seen?
Love your sketches, you both look great.. Thanks for the tour.
hugs Barbra Joan

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Hi Mary, Thank you for sharing your travels to Vietnam. The photos are absolutely beautiful. So sad that refuse goes into the river. Different way of living.