Journey By Junk

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Aloha Junk

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We planned a Xmas stopover in Hanoi where DH tried in vain to place a bunch of Skype holiday calls to loved ones back home only to be stymied by power outages, internet server crashes, and Skype traffic. We even had a specially planned concert by Jazz W interrupted by the follies of long distance communication but we're hoping to reschedule once the internet traffic dies down a bit. DH was showing signs of holiday homesickness so it was time for a big league distraction.

That distraction came in the form of a boat ride through Halong Bay aboard a Vietnamese junk (ancient Chinese sailing vessel design). Halong Bay was recently named one of the Top 7 Natural Wonders Of The World by the same controversial group that ran the 7 New Man Made Wonders Of The World (the competition ran into controversy after governments accused the organizers of asking for millions of dollars in 'marketing' costs and voting irregularities dominated the competition- I just have visions of a couple of guys eating Captain Crunch in their mothers basement putting together a 7 Wonders website that went unexpectedly viral- now they tour the world for free and extort money to expand their cereal inventory). Lists like these are always subjective things but just to be in the mix meant it was a place we had to see while in the neighborhood.

We booked a 3 day and 2 night package aboard a boat called the Aloha just to make sure we got a chance to really explore the area- we also ensured that the tour took us through Bai Tu Long which is still an uncharted bay in Halong, and offered a chance to get “off the beaten track”, visit fishing villages, and discover the secrets of the area. Apparently the Bay itself is something of an overcrowded boat parking lot particularly since garnering all of the recent publicity for the area (many of the Vietnamese themselves were somewhat upset that, after following government direction and voting early and often, that same government has now doubled the entry fees for all visitors including the locals). At some point you would expect traffic controls to be put in place but given the current crowds we elected to venture into the lesser known sections of Halong Bay. The effort was well worth it- we rarely saw any other boats and it felt like we had the Bay to ourselves. The Bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes and, as part of our trip, we were able to kayak for hours in amongst them (it was a double/divorce kayak but other than a couple of speed issues, DH and I were a well oiled machine, albeit one with a tendency to spin right). The weather was a bit cool and misty but I think that's the way this Bay was meant to be seen- it gave the whole place an air of mystery and intrigue that had you picturing these huge limestone guardians hiding in the fog as some sort of naval defensive line that protected the mainland from the eccentricities of the Pacific Ocean.

Our floating home for the 3 days was a really comfortable junk with a capacity of 26 people but with only half that number on board we had plenty of space to stumble around in. Meal time was a great opportunity to meet all of our fellow travelers and pick up tips on future sites we need to visit. All-in-all it was a wonderful journey through a mystic landscape- I'm not sure it would rank in my top 7 natural wonders of the world (DH has challenged me to put together our very own list) but it was a good adventure none-the-less.
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