Cruise on Halong Bay, Vietnam

By:
Nguyen

At 11.30 am, the sun is high in the sky and burning bright. At the piercountless wooden junks, sailboats, speedboats and tiny bamboo boats bob around.While tour guides try to organise how to get their groups on board, we sit withour bags in hand, ready to test out our sea legs.

?“Which one is ours?" says a fellow traveler on my tour a tadimpatiently.

After a four-hour-stint in the van from Hanoi, everybody is understandably itching tokick back and feel the sea breeze on board.

?Just then a speedboat arrives with a flourish and we pile on board beforezooming off to the Indochina Sail, a large, handsome junk that the captainproudly announces is 40 metres long and 8.5 meters wide – and indeed it seems afine, seaworthy vessel to me.

?In my time I’ve been on board a few of the bay’s shabbier junks. It is onepoint worth making: when it comes to visiting Halong Bayit’s worth treating yourself. Thankfully there’s more than a few classy junksto choose from these days.

?Walking around on board the Indochina Sail, I discover a restaurant, theIndochina Sail Bar, a gift shop and even a library. Guests can also avail ofbinoculars, snorkeling equipment or top-of-the-line Canadian made kayaks.

?With a grand view ahead, I tentatively start with the binoculars. Most of myfellow travellers are content to flop around the deck, sipping drinks,surveying the scene or catching a bit of sun. A trip to Halong is first andforemost about relaxing!

?Sun-shy, I stretch out on a lie-low on the more shaded lower deck and listento the buffeting breeze and the sound of the boat chopping through the waves.Time passes and I happily doze a little in the salty air.

?However, a call for lunch stirs me right out of my light slumber. Afive-course lunch is devoured by the hungry guests. We hadn’t even worked up anappetite.

?Afterwards, I fight the urge to have a siesta and head out onto the deck asthe boat floats into Bai Tu Long Bay. We drop anchor at Soi Sim island, famedfor its rose myrtle brush.

?The island sits in clear, blue waters and is also home to white sandybeaches. A member of the crew asks if anyone wants to swim but we’re already inour trunks and bathing suits ready to dive in. Afterwards, we head ashore andclimb to the summit of the island which offers yet another idyllic setting.Although Halong is a large area with over 1,900 limestone islets and a 120-kmcoastline, when you get in amongst the islets it seems more intimate thangrand.

?The random scattering of islets meant the bay had its defensive advantagesin the past. On three occasions in the labyrinth of channels near the islandsthe Vietnamese army stopped the Chinese from landing. Also in 1288 General TranHung Dao stopped Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang River by placing steel-tipped woodenstakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan’s fleet. Of course, thelegend is that a slew of dragons spat out jewels and jade into the sea. Thesejewels turned into the islands and islets that are dotted around the bay, whichcould be linked together to form barriers against would-be invaders.

?It’s easy to see why residents of Halong would have conjured up such legendsto explain the supreme scenery.Understandably, after our mini-hike a thirst is upon the travelling party! Weclamber back on board for a few sundowners with beers and cocktails all round.The sun drops behind the surrounding islands as we sit in the dwindlingtwilight.

?Heading back to my cabin to shower and change for dinner, I’m fairlysurprised to discover a royal costume laid out for me. A card reads: “Fortonight’s Royal banquet."

?Slightly tipsy, I happily oblige. It’s only when I arrive up on deck for theBBQ dinner I realise that the costume is a rather baggy and my hat fairlycumbersome, still I manage to move around and fill my plate. A Japanesetourist, Megumi Katsu is more taken by her new look – “This is the most fun Ihave had on my holidays yet!"At night in the bay is magical. A canopy of glittering stars above us, arefreshing coolness in the air – it is pure bliss just to sit around with theother travelers, your friends or partner. Conversation is optional.

?Chris Wedlake and his wife, both looking positively regal, are on theirhoneymoon. “It’s an earthly paradise for a couple of newly weds!" So smittenwith Halong, he and his wife says they’d come back for their anniversary everyyear if they could.

?Traditional Vietnamese melodies hang in the air. The boat gently rocks. Afew of the staff invite guests to fish for cuttlefish. But my eyes are heavyand I slip away to my cabin promising myself I’ll rise with the dawn – someonementions morning tai chi exercises on the top deck and I nod in enthusiasticagreement.

?But when I wake the sun is already up. I hear the voices of vendors who haverowed up to our junk to sell snacks, seafood, souvenirs and cigarettes. Istumble upstairs and discover guests still there from the night before – eachone chose to sleep on deck in the open air rather than spending the night intheir cabin.

?A smell of fresh coffee is in the air as the boat pulls away; the crewinforms us of our itinerary for the morning, but all of the passengers justreply with sleepy smiles. We are already under Halong Bay’sspell. No one really minds where we go next, anywayComputer Technology Articles, you can’t take a wrongturn while cruising in Halong Bay.

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