An American Abroad

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Although I’m now back in the U.S. for a brief visit, I am still reliving the final week of my life in Asia through pictures and notes.

Spencer and I visited Halong Bay on our final full day in Vietnam. We got up early to take a four-hour bus ride from Hanoi. Once at the docks, we boarded a launch and went out for a four hour tour. The weather was overcast and it sprinkled a few times.

“Ha long” means descending dragon, and out in the bay it’s easy to see why the place was so named. There are hundreds of rock formations protruding from the water which do indeed look like the spikes on a dragon’s back.

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Many of the rock formations had caves in them, some big enough to row a boat through.

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We stopped at a floating village, a settlement of houseboats that makes its living by fishing and catering to the tourist trade.

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The yellow building in the photo below is the floating village’s schoolhouse.

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Spencer and I borrowed a kayak and paddled around the village, watching the fishermen and taking in the amazing scenery.

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After reboarding the launch, we sailed back to port. The bay was crowded with other tourist boats — so much so that it detracted from the overall experience. I also noted to my dismay that although the bay waters are clear, there is a lot of trash in them, mostly light plastics, cigarette butts, and litter. It’s the classic dilemma faced by locales with great natural beauty: everyone wants to see it, which when a certain critical mass is reached tends to despoil the very environment that attracts people there.

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Halong Bay is huge and four hours was not nearly enough time to take it all in. But it was all the time we had. Someday I’ll return. We were here:

The next day we said goodbye to Vietnam. I almost always wish for more time everywhere I travel, but in Vietnam I felt it strongly. It’s a beautiful country with a graceful and gracious people. It seems incomprehensible to me that in my lifetime my country sought to “bomb them back to the stone age.”

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