18.11.2012 - 19.11.2012 28 °C
After breakfast, we set off for Halong Bay—the Emerald Bay of Vietnam—a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Tonkin about 165 km east of Hanoi. We packed everything we needed for the overnight stay in a small carry-on bag and locked our luggage in the bus. The journey offered quiet views of the flat green countryside dotted with rice paddies and small villages.
En route we stopped for a bio break at a place where they were carving marble and doing some very fine embroidery work. This is a local success story. An entrepreneurial former soldier set up the business to employ local people – he was so successful that the government helped him buy more land and expand his facility on the highway. They also built good “western-style” washrooms and thereby encouraged tourists to stop and shop. The business has prospered as it is a regular stop for most of the tour busses since it is just about at the half way point between Hanoi and Halong Bay.
Local people doing beautiful embroidery work
Carvings for sale
We arrived about noon to see a small harbor crowded with boats of all types.
We boarded a smaller tender boat at the main marina area of the village
and set off for our junk where we were greeted with cinnamon tea. We had a lovely lunch on the junk while we motored through some amazing scenery.
Lunch on the junk.
Our room on the junk was quite a surprise.
In addition to the good sized bedroom we had a good sized bathroom with a very large shower. Clearly these craft are purpose built for tourists.
We travelled for a couple of hours through incredibly beautiful scenery.
We passed places where they caught and farmed fish
and also farmed oysters for pearls.
We arrived at an area where we disembarked to explore a huge cave system.
View of Halong Bay from the mouth of the cave.
Inside the cave
We returned to the junk to have a “happy hour” with our fellow passengers as we continued to cruise through this unbelievably beautiful part of the world.
Michael and Mercedes
Dave and Hazel
The next morning we were up before dawn, showered and packed while the junk cast off from its moorings and headed back to the harbor. We had breakfast and landed just as the sun was rising. We needed such an early start because we had a long drive back to Hanoi to catch an early flight to Hue which is further south down the coast.
Our junk docked in the early morning.
As you can see, it has a sun deck on top, the main dining room the next deck down and below that the deck with the cabins.
We boarded our Vietnam Airlines plane about 10:30 am for the one hour flight south to Hue.
Hue was the capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945 when the emperor abdicated and a communist government was formed in Hanoi. It was not only the political center but also was considered a cultural, educational and religious center of the country. Although it suffered a good deal of damage during "the American War" it has many beautiful historical sites and is an Unesco World Heritage Site. The emperor returned in 1949 with the help of the French and established another capital in Saigon in the south.
We met our new bus driver at the airport and were taken to the lovely Camilla Hotel. After checking in we went for an orientation walk with our leader, Lee. He took us to his favourite lunch spot for some Bun Bo Hue - a soup much like Pho with either chicken or beef. This is the little restaurant
After lunch we walked down to the Perfume River and walked along the waterfront looking at all of the dragon boats ready to take us for a ride for "two dollah, one aowah (hour)".
Dragon Boats on the bank of the Perfume River
We didn't take advantage of the offer as we knew our group was scheduled for a dragon boat trip the very next day. After a good walk around the area we returned to our hotel and got dressed to see a local water puppet show and have a late dinner.
Water Puppet "stage"
Water puppets are an ancient Vietnamese art form. The Puppeteers behind the scenes who spend hours submerged up to their waist while performing their craft.
The next morning we went on a tour of Hue starting with a dragon boat ride on the Perfume River. These boats are also the homes of the people who own them. The smaller ones have a single hull and one dragon - the larger have 2 dragons with 2 pontoons. We had a double.
Here is a shot of a bridge built by the same builders who built the Eiffel Tower in France from our dragon boat.
We then visited the famous 7 story Thien Mu Pagoda - one story for each reincarnation of Buddha. Behind it was a temple where we saw Buddhist monks praying and chanting.
Thien Mu Pagoda
We continued on to the citadel - a huge walled area over 2 km on each side which was where the Emperor lived. This is a model
Here are some shots of the outside and inside.
One of the 11 gates to the Citadel
We then headed over to visit some Buddhist Nuns and to have lunch with them. This is a young woman training to be a nun. The trainees leave one lock of hair growing and shave the rest of their head twice each month as do the nuns and monks.
We had a delicious vegetarian lunch (nuns and monks avoid meat if possible) and then an interesting discussion with one of the nuns who spoke English and was very open to discussing her life, reasons for becomming a nun, her hopes, and any other questions we were able to come up with.
Dr. Bob and Patty with our host, a Buddhist nun
We later visited the Minh Tu Orphanage which was started by a Buddhist nun after finding an abandoned baby on her doorstep. We were encouraged to play with the children and were able to leave some gifts which we had brought for them. Our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and its parent company Grand Circle are financial supporters of the orphanage.
After play time we were able to sit and chat with the nun who started the orphanage who was also able to speak English and was delighted to share her experiences and philosophies with us. They now care for about 180 orphans and are seeing their charges grow, attend university, marry and join the local community. This is another true success story.
Buddhist Nun who started the orphanage
We would be off to the port town of Hoi An early the next morning.