Recently I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show Parts Unknown. In the episode from Vietnam he was having a conversation with a local woman from the area known as Ha Long Bay. Ha Long is a UNESCO World Heritage bay with almost 2000 limestone rocks or islets known as karst topography rising majestically from the water.
Around this area are villages of floating homes full of people who have lived their lives on the water for generations. According to this episode and other information on the web, it seems the government of Vietnam is trying to get the villages to close up shop and for the people to move to the mainland. This woman was in tears. Many have never known life on the land.
It brought back so many memories of a visit there over a decade ago. Then, Ha Long Bay was on the cusp of exploding into the huge cruise ship and world class resort destination (at Cat Ba Island) that it is now.
In the photo above is our ‘gang’ hanging out in Hanoi, Vietnam, before our morning venture to Ha Long the next morning. About a 110 miles down the road and a 3 hour trip give or take. That’s Rick in the white T, my ‘minder’ in several cities over the years haha! Julie, another Quebec native is higher in the tree. That is Vicky, an Irish lass in the center. Rick and I met Julie on the road in North Thailand actually and caught up with the girls in Vietnam a couple of weeks later.
Old junks and boats similar to this were on the menu. We slowly took our time over several hours of the day drifting through a maze of rocks like these..in some places more dense like a forest of sea rocks. We parked our boat parallel to this one as we leaped into the water with zest, oblivious to what lurked below. Except me. I drifted about 100 meters from the boat on my own on an innertube, and started thinking about what was in the South China Sea below me watching my feet dangle. Too many shark tales. Suffice to say I got back on the boat. At least though, when I stayed closer to the group, the odds of getting eaten lowered. Yes, folks..that is exactly how I think every time henceforth that I find myself in open sea. Which you can guess is almost nil these days!
In the morning as you first enter the fields of sea mountains the fog is mysterious. You really can’t see much except shadows around you. As the fog burns of these magnificent pillars of green surround you! We went in August and our weather was nice out over the water!
While there was an assortment of boats to be seen, about a decade ago you didn’t see any cruise ships at all. We were one of the only “junks” in our area sometimes, though there were at least 15-20 out there in miles of space. Most boats like ours had less than 20 people. We saw the occasional fast boat, and we all went “they must be rich” as we were staying in a $10 a night room! Hey, the old backpacker life was lit! Fun we had! Here is Julie trying to get a shot!
Below is Mr. Lee from South Korea. Seoul I believe. We met him on the boat and had some good laughs. The nicest guy on the planet. If anyone in South Korea sees this and you know a Mr. Lee (I know..it is like Smith in America), who was in Vietnam in August of 2004..show him this!
We whiled away the day just relaxing, swimming (or not swimming anymore), and hanging out with the few other boat guests on our way to an overnight stay on Cat Ba island, a once sleepy island amongst the beauty that has exploded with tourist industrialism in recent years. The next morning we would find ourselves back on the junker en route to the mainland again. Near Cat Ba is another village of floating homes making their way from the sea.
Knowing that they are being phased out is a shame. Maybe the government will change their mind. They have become as much of the landscape as the limestone towers they live amongst. Looking back in time is always with untainted eyes.
Upon further research, there seems to be a horrible impact from the super increase in tourist ships to the bay, coal shipping and other huge increases in industrialism. The water at this point isn’t recommended for swimming anymore and the locals are struggling with their catch. There are articles upon articles about this as the government comes up with schemes to help the problem.
These old junk boats may not have been the most eco friendly, but they have been, and are slowly being replaced by cruise ships able to hold 100 times the passengers as well as much industrial shipping. There is still much beauty to be seen in the area I am told, and have seen on current videos, but there still needs to be more attacking the problem. I can only like others, hope positive.
I always wondered if anyone gets to this lagoon!
Thanks for taking a little trip back with me. Another recent post of mine was in Casablanca, Morocco. There is more of Morocco and Vietnam (here) in future posts. Leave a comment below and we hope to see you again!