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Halong Bay: We Set a Course for Adventure

Ha Long Bay (literally: “Descending Dragon Bay”) is a UNESCO World Heritage Sitelocated in Quảng Ninh province, Vietnam. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes, most of which our limestone. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate.

Laura and I visted Halong Bay April 4-5, 2010.  We travelled about three hours outside Hanoi and boarded the Paloma, a wooden junk.

Here’s a photo of me with captain. I was sorts like his first mate, at least that’s what I think he was trying to tell me (below right).  Meanwhile, Laura is luxuriating in our cabin (below left).

Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistorical human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago.  On our first day, the junk anchored along the Hung Thang Commune (below, top).  We took bamboo boats (below, bottom) to Cua Van, a fishing village lies in a calm bay surrounded by mountain. 

Cua Van Village floating fishing village (below) has a population of about 700 people living  in 176 floating  households (including a few dogs). They mainly earn their livelihood by fishing.

We get off the banana boat and walk around the village center, which is of course three barges connected by ropes and shaky planks (below).

Below, I’m walking along one of the barges that make up the village center.  The floating, green structure with the tall flagpole (in the background to the right) is the village school house.  

It being a Sunday, the school house was empty.  Below, Laura stands at the entry at the back of the school house (left) while I draw up a lesson plan (left).

The following day we toured the Surprise Cave.  We took a tender from the junk (below left) to a small karst iselt (below right).

Below Laura poses inside the Surprise Cave. Discovered in 1901, this very large grotto was used by Viet Cong as a hideout during the war with the United States. A short, steep climb up paved steps leads you to three chambers, the last being the largest.

In 1999 the Chinese cooperated to install lights and a safe pathway through the cave. Our guide led us on on an interpretive stalagmite hunt, pointing out . Guides like to point out  tiger, dragon, and penguin formations, not to mention many large phallic stalactites. Below, you can appreciate the size of the third chambers of the cave by identifying the shadowy group of people walking along a path just to the lower-left of center.

Outside the Surprise Cave is a viewing platform of the island and bay.

The legend behind Halong Bay involves a family of dragons that were sent by the gods to help protect the coast during times of war with China, the dragons spit out jade and emerald which turned into the islands around the bay.  After the war the family of dragons decided to stay and the mother settled into Ha Long bay and the children in other near by bays.  Below, Laura surveys the scenery from the Paloma’s quarter deck (below left) and, from an overhang outside the Surprise Cave, overlooks the sprawling bay, with its myriad junks, far below (below, right). 

Below, we hike down from the Surprise Cave and take a winding bridge back to our tender.  We return to the junk for a few more hours of relaxation and breathtaking views, appreciating this precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved in the open air for the last 500 million years. 

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