Ha Long Bay

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Ha Long Bay shrouded in the morning mist

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is just as beautiful as all the pictures you will see.  That being said, it was a terrifying trip there from Hanoi.  Probably 50% of the time, our van was on the wrong side of the road careening straight into the oncoming traffic of other crazed drivers.   That we survived is a miracle.  I would never do it again..ever.

Our cruise on the Princess Luxury Cruise Ship was so special and memorable, especially after our life or death experience getting there.

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Ha Long Bay bathed in sunshine

These stone formations jutting out of the green water have been around for 500 million+ years and we got to see them in the sunshine and also shrouded in the morning mist-both were spectacular.

We stopped on the way here at a tourist rest stop.  There, they had many ladies doing hammered egg shells in and coat with lacquer many layers and then paint beautiful pictures on top.  There was also jewelry, clothing, scarfs and embroidered pictures.  So many to choose from that I couldn’t make a decision.   Most cost less than $50.  The lady selling said all the people doing the artistic work were disabled but you tend to be skeptical when told that here.  Either way, the craftsmanship was amazing and I hope the artisans were paid decently for their lovely art.

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Gorgeous new hotel restaurant by the bay

In the “van from Hell”, we shared our adventure with a couple from England and a couple from San Fran.  We exchanged stories of China for their travel adventures around Vietnam.  In general, the houses we saw in the villages are much nicer than in rural China.  Made of concrete and bricks, they are usually three stories high, narrow in design with patios and beautiful wood doors.  The interiors I could peer into looked quite nice with tile floors, circular metal staircases and almost all with large screen tv’s.  However, their infrastructure is seriously lacking in Vietnam.   Roads are broken concrete messes with many bumps and sections of unpaved roads.  By contrast, when we got to Ha Long Bay, it felt like Miami Beach with new condos by the water and modern sleek hotels and restaurants, fueled by the almighty tourist dollars.

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Princess Luxury Cruise-very nice!

Our boat had just 18 cabins, filled with mainly Europeans and some Chinese folks.  The meals were lavish with pork, chicken, seafood, lots of vegetables and impeccable service.  During the safety announcement, Jimmy, our steward, showed us a hammer and told us that it was to be used in case of emergency only, i.e. to break out the windows to get out of the boat.  In other words, you are ON YOUR OWN!  He encouraged smokers to smoke outside (this is on a totally wooden boat mind you) and not to smoke inside as it would set off the smoke alarms.  No shit…However, doubtful that those hard core smokers paid attention but, just to scare them, Jimmy warned the passengers that everyone would break out their hammers and it would be complete chaos if they smoked inside.  To recap, if there is an emergency, grab that life vest, use the hammer and out you go into Ha Long Bay where the jellyfish are as big as a Labradors and good luck climbing those steep cliffs once you reach shore.  Luckily, we didn’t need the hammer as we couldn’t even find one in our cabin.

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Boat Merchants selling snacks and booze

As our Head Steward urged us to keep the bartender busy, who am I not to comply???  Seeing our pale white skin glistening with tanning lotion was a welcome if creepy sight after a winter of grey polluted China skies.  Need an Oreo or wine?  Small junk boats, merchants selling pearls and snacks and booze come alongside the  bigger cruise ships selling their wares.  You put your money in a net and in return you get your goods.  A tough life for these merchants rowing their boats all day with babies in tow.  Thom’s brother told us that he swept this bay near here in 1971 on a mine sweeper.  Hard to imagine this commercial tourist attraction was once a war zone but the people who live here still lead a meager existence in contrast to the beautiful cruise ships.

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Thom aka The King of the Squid

Thom spent the late evening hours fishing for squid off the back of the boat.  The crew was impressed with his results-two squid, scared out of their “ink” which they proceeded to jetson into the green waters of Ha Long Bay as he reeled them in.  Thom didn’t eat the squid for breakfast, as the crew suggested, but he will be boasting for many years to come of his prowess with the hook.  Whatever!  I stood at a distance and took the pictures to document his expertise–I don’t do the “squid” thing.  Anything that ugly can stay in the water and certainly shouldn’t be eaten.  Holy.  Hell.  No.  Way.

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