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Ha Long Bay Day Cruise, Vietnam
By Emma Gardiner
6 August 2010

Ha Long Bay is a unique place in the sense that there are more Vietnamese tourists here than international ones. We visit during August which is at the tail end of the school holidays when the little bayside village has the tired air of a place that has been shaking it’s booty for three solid months.

The reason we have made the three-hour car journey out from Hanoi is to visit the bay. I visited the area in 2006 and went on an overnight boat cruise and have been dying to get back here ever since.

For just over $150 USD, we book a six-hour day tour of the bay at the reception desk of the Ha Long Bay Novotel where we are staying. The price includes a private boat, a tour guide, lunch and to our surprise, a crew of six people. Do they know there’s just two of us?

We chug out into the bay in a haze of exhaust fumes, one of many wooden boats buoying tourists out amid the slivers of rock. First stop is 'Heaven' cave, home to the ‘mother dragon’ who mythically (and conspicuously, unsuccessfully) saved the Vietnamese people from invading forces.

The cave has a 'lucky' fresh water spring that tourists have tossed money into and curiously, a ‘dragon's breast’ (a rocky outcrop) that our guide, Lien, encourages us to touch 'for health'. The cave is vast and festooned in limestone stalactites that are garishly uplit with coloured lights.

We wander back down to the boat and head off to the floating fishing village for a look around. The setup is impressive. Enclosed, water-filled nets harbour enormous fish that are sold to the export market and visiting tourist boats. There are orange and blue crabs, whopper prawns, clams and some very large, prehistoric looking things that resemble overgrown trilobites.

After we have sufficiently marveled at the aquaculture, we are ushered to our kayak for a paddle. This is the part of the day I have been most looking forward to. Cheryl and I get into the two-person kayak on wobbly legs and set off towards the cliffs.

At first, we head off in the wrong direction and crash into the sheer rock wall but after some splashing around, we eventually get the hang of the unusual paddles and glide through a cave into a bamboo-fringed waterhole where time stands still. A lone eagle soars above us, cruising on thermal updrafts. After half an hour of exploration, we reluctantly paddle back out amongst the fishing boats and board our boat in time for lunch.

First up, still-warm fresh crab with lime, salt and pepper, followed freshly cooked prawns, spring rolls (the best we have had so far), squid stirfry, a whole deep-fried fish and some stir fried Morning Glory with garlic. We wash it all down with Halida local beer. Perfection.  

After lunch, I wander upstairs to the deck and nap in the sun, enveloped in breezy quiet. After the requisite 30 minutes, I swim in the salty grey-blue bay and float, looking out at the jagged mountains that are like a mouth full of crooked, green teeth.
Too soon, we head back to shore, peace-filled and glowing from sunburn.  

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Keywords: Din, Fresh, Lucky, Tired, Touch, Warm, Hanoi

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