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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 December 2018

Ha Long Bay experience

Ha Long Bay at night

Ha Long Bay at night

27 November 2018

So here we are, sitting on a boat in the middle of Ha Long Bay in the black of night. The only other people aboard are the crew of two, and our guide Ba’a (or something like that, it seemed to be pronounced as “Ba” with a stutter on the “a”). We’ve had dinner, and it’s amazing what the two guys can cook on a boat like this; oysters in a fiery peanut dressing were best, but the crispy fried chicken was also certainly better than KFC.

Don’t imagine it’s dark. There are three other boats near enough to us that we can hear their dance music thumping, and there are at least another 20 boats visible at a further distance, all lit up like birthday cakes. Ha Long Bay is busy. Still, the dance music is quite distant and it is otherwise very peaceful here.

Sunshine in the Bay

Sunshine in the Bay

There are all kinds of boats on the bay. The overnighters include party boats like those near us with about a dozen backpackers on each. There are also larger and more luxurious cruisers with perhaps twenty well-heeled tourists admiring the bay in comfort. And then the odd smaller junk like ours on an individual tour. During the day there were also plenty of one-day tour boats mixed in with the various fishing boats, the small boats belonging to the fish farmers, and the occasional speed boat.

There are lots of fish farms, usually for clams or the like, and the families who own them live in little tiny houses floating alongside the fish farm. Must be a strange sort of life.

The landscape of sheer islands and islets emerging from the sea and covered in trees is amazing, but we’ve also had clouds all day so it’s near impossible to capture on camera. Drat. Take my word for it, though, it’s beautiful. We’re getting kinda old-hands at karstic aquatic landscapes: Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, Khao Sok Lake in Thailand, El Nido in the Philippines. They’re all individually wonderful but I think Ha Long Bay probably has them beat for sheer scale.

Living on the water

Living on the water

We’d probably be having an even better time if our guide’s English was better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot better than our Vietnamese! But it’s amazing how different an experience is when you can’t understand what’s going on, nor can you make your own questions understood. “How long until we go kayaking?” “Yes, yes, Ha Long Bay is here. Lan Ha Bay is over there.” “No… how long. Until. Kayaking.” “Yes, kayaking on Ha Long Bay.”

It’ll be funny to look back on in a few days. For now, it’s just mentally frustrating. I think it’s more frustrating for us introverts. We want to have a conversation, and to learn stuff. Interaction needs to be meaningful (or why interact?). Discovering that our guide can’t understand us and visa versa just seems to dry up conversation and leave us feeling uncomfortable. Maybe occasionally saying “very beautiful!” just to fill the silence. I sometimes see other tourists apparently having a great fun time with their guide, and I admit to being a bit envious.

Anyway, we had a great kayak excursion from our boat, paddling under some amazing tunnels leading through to hidden lagoons. We even managed to overturn another kayak, dropping a pair of Israelis into the drink. Not our fault I must state! They cut right in front of us when we were at full speed (the receding tide meant the lagoon was emptying through this tunnel, which meant some mighty paddling was needed to beat the current). Then both of them leaned away from our kayak when it clonked theirs side-on, which was a mistake. Oops.

Kayaking Ha Long and Lan Ha

Kayaking Ha Long and Lan Ha


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