The next day we made time cruising down the river to get to the bay. A lot of the scenery was filled with shipbuilding ventures and there was a bridge being constructed which Tifo said would be like the one in Sydney. They have a long way to go! Ever since we left Hanoi there have been several Catholic Churches, one with an amazingly tall statue on the roof.
The entry to the bay was impressive with the towering limestone mountains marking the entry to the most scenic two days of the whole trip. Numerous other boats and ships were heading in the same direction. Halong Bay has over 1500 limestone islands and extraordinary rock formations.
Not very far in we moored and got ready to either kayak or ride in a boat rowed by a standing woman. One of the crew had to go rescue the motorboat which got away. Donning his life jacket he paddled himself out to the boat and slowly hauled himself up the outboard motor. He quickly started the motor and returned to our riverboat. He took Tifo off to get three kayaks and hire the woman to row the rest of us.
Roger and Derek each took their own two-person kayak while Tifo and Sabine shared one. The rest of us embarked in what looked like a fiberglass basin with a wooden structure for seating and a deck for the rower. She must be mighty powerful as she was able to haul seven passengers with a standing forward rowing motion around the bend and under the “cave”, which was really an overpass with a low ceiling and dripping hanging bits. A couple of the others were able to see and hear bats. One the other side she took a deserved rest and then assisted Linda and then Bill to try rowing what must have seemed to be deadweights. At that point I noticed the paddle blades were quite narrow giving little surface area to push the water. That made her strength even more impressive! Linda an Bill both struggled but were valiant in their attempt. Our “driver” took over and we retraced our steps through the overpass and then went through another one. Making a u-turn we headed back to the boat.
We moored for the night but were disappointed that they were several larger ships there for the night. One had unnecessary lighting on top which resembled Christmas trees. It had to be for the “benefit” of everyone else as its own passengers wouldn’t have been able to see them.
In the morning we continued on into the bay and by nine were moored again near a dock for another excursion. This time a woman in a boat with an electric motor came to get us and the mountain bikes. After getting us organized she retrieved the other passengers who were going to meet us in town after traveling there by electric cart. As we approached the dock a boat unloaded a wedding party! The bride wore a western style dress. They gathered into a van and electric cart and hurried off to the village to begin their festivities.
The bikes were freshly oiled and set out for us to choose one. Helmets were provided and to give my scalp more protection, I donned it over my regular trekking hat. I looked a bit peculiar, but Dr. Bravo would have approved. To protect Bill’s scalp I put a buff inside his slotted helmet which kept the sun off his skin. Then we adjusted our seats and began pedaling down the road. Gosh, was it refreshing to finally get some exercise! The geared bikes helped us get up the first and worst incline. After a rest and letting everyone catch up, we continued on into town. At one point we went through another tunnel, which with my sunglasses made it impossible to see the road. I just trustingly followed the others and hoped I would be ok. After a few miles we arrived at the village of more than two hundred residents. They even have their own hospital with a doctor not too far away.
Viet Hai is in the midst of a jungle, covered by the high mountain range of the Cat Ba National Park. Tourism is just getting started here and there are a few home stay opportunities. Many of the original residents were boat people who were captured and set here for reeducation. Now they have their own houses and have established themselves. Tifo showed us the peanut and sweet potato crops and then we ambled off down the cement road to see the houses, school, and water treatment plant. We stopped at one house where we could buy drinks, watch the man smoke his special pipe, and admire the wife’s new attire for the wedding down the road. The wedding reception was held on two sides of the street with lots of food ready for everyone. The bride let us photograph her as she sat at the table with what was likely her daughter on her lap. I was surprised that across the road where more tables and food was waiting that someone’s laundry was hanging to dry outside the house.
When we stopped at the school some of the boys were entertaining themselves on the playground while a lone deaf boy seemed to do whatever he could for attention. His hearing aids looked impressive, but we never heard him speak. After removing our shoes we were able to enter a couple of the classrooms. No teachers were in sight; apparently they were in another room having a meeting. The young kids were gathered around a few tables, some being quiet and others goofy. As we were leaving Bill showed the deaf boy his own hearing aids but being so much smaller I am not sure he understood what Bill was doing.
The pond for the town’s water was quite a good size though I hope it was well treated before they consumed it! The electric cart backed up to retrieve us and dropped off the bikers where we had left our wheels. Just as I was going back down the road, of course I had to look down and see a dead flattened young snake! Gross.
I was glad the seven km was no longer as my legs were feeling the burn shortly before we got back to the dock. Derek and I got left behind with the bikes and some crew while the others were taken back to the riverboat. Just a few hot sunny minutes later we boarded and got a bit of a respite under cover.
After lunch and a rest the boat passed several floating houses and stopped at another floating fish farm where only Tifo, Anja, Sabine, and some of the crew got off. It appeared that a crew member or two was trying to fish with just a line but had no luck. The rest of us passengers watched from the main deck and admired the several cats, dogs, and two new kittens. Those two were tied with string to prevent them from wondering off into the water as they had just been brought from the village and missed their mother. One kept crying which was difficult for me.
To celebrate the end of the cruise the captain found a small private beach for us. The crew quickly set up chairs, a bar, and a few appetizers for us and provided towels for those who wanted to swim. We were ferried out there by motor boat and some joined the crew members swimming in the warm water. Bill and I choose to remain onshore and explored the rocky outcropping.
After a shower, a rest, the crew donned their finest uniforms. Tifo was dressed in a traditional gold costume with matching turban. He thanked us for our time with him. The purser introduced his crew again and then they entertained us with dancing! Most all the passengers joined in and things got a bit wild when the song changed to one requiring doing the twist! Even Bill got into it. Roger really enjoyed himself and both the captain and Sabine had their own displays of their grooving moves. Several then had to go but the remains crew did a great job of moving to the Macarena.
Once again I had to forgo the evening movie after dinner as I was just too tired to stay up past 8 or 9.
The next morning we packed, paid our drinks bill, gave people tips, and geared up for the ride back to Hanoi by bus. About halfway we stopped at a mall for lunch which had about eight courses to it! It was waaaaay too much for all of us. Then we had some shopping time and a chance to watch the women do embroidery art. It can take them several months to create one piece which they copy from a photograph. They all had small foot stools and worked for hours every day. It seemed quite tiring.
As some people were flying to other destinations, we dropped them off at the airport and the driver took the rest of us close to our hotels.