Well, not everyone has a bad experience and we had received a good tip for a boat from some travelers we met in Chiang Mai. Indochina Junks, also very highly ranked on tripadvisor, managed to put all of our worries to rest. They operate in Bai Tu Long Bay, where they are the only tour company licensed to operate in that section of Halong Bay. So the only other boats you see (besides fishing boats) are a few of their own boats and they pretty much keep out of each other's way. Amazingly, they are not more expensive than other boats of their class, and we still managed to book just a few days ahead.
A little background. Halong Bay, descending dragon in Vietnamese, consists of over 3000 limestone islands, covered with thick, lush vegetation jutting nearly straight up out of the water. The islands boast hundreds of caves, with several islands nearly hollow. Freshwater lakes can also be found on some of the islands. Only a few of the islands are inhabitable, and a number of floating fishing villages also exist in the area. Its name derives from a myth that dragons, who were originally sent by the Vietnamese gods to help protect the people from invaders, eventually settled in the bay. Halong Bay was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in1994.
When we arrived at the harbor in Halong Bay, we could make out the dark masses of limestone jutting sharply out of the water. It was magical already! We boarded the boat, put Simon to sleep immediately, and sat down for an eight course lunch of delicious Vietnamese seafood. What a start!
|Felt I had to include a picture, but it doesn't do it justice.|
In fact, It is not hard to imagine for many fishermen, as that cave used to actually be the home of a fisherman family living in Halong Bay. Before Halong Bay was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, the fishermen of Halong Bay and their families lived in the many caves on the islands. In 1994 the government required all of them to leave the caves and moved them to floating villages. This was a huge change for the way of life for these people. They had never lived in a community setting or had access to schools. Most importantly, according it our guide, they now also has electricity which allowed them to watch tv. Why was that so important? The weather! Living in caves, the fishermen had no access to weather forecasts and could be caught out in huge storms, easily preventable if you had just listened to the weather guy. Boats from the mainland come out regularly to bring them fresh produce and other necessities, as well as to purchase fresh fish and seafood. They have to travel to town for medical attention or for any education beyond elementary school.
|The yellow building in the middle is the school house.|
|Checking out where the fish are ket until they are sold.|
|A quick language lesson: shut up and thank you are quite similar in Vietnamese.|
|Simon and Sunny, our guide.|