Having watched Top Gear’s travel special on Vietnam before, we had an idea of what Halong Bay had to offer, apropos of it’s not like we’re big car fans, they serve a function, that’s all. We’re currently living in the “Solihull area”, so maybe we feel some kind of kinship with Hammond.
Halong City, our entry to the bay was a four-hour drive away from Hanoi. The tour company had arranged for a pick up in the morning from our hotel near St Joseph’s church, and then we drove around a couple more hotels to pick up the rest of our shipmates. On we drove, our little multicultural bubble of eager sailors, Malaysians, Australians, Americans and two Brits.
Outside of central Hanoi, you start to see North Vietnamese life for real; roadside shacks, street corner bars serving freshly brewed beer and signs for thit cho (dog). After stopping at one of the ubiquitous sculpture parks en route for refreshments and hard, stone carving selling, we arrived at Halong City.
From a distance you can start to see why Halong Bay has become one of the top tourist attractions in Vietnam. Steep sided limestone peaks jut out of the flat sea like teeth. Junks glide out deep into the mass of teeth at regular intervals, each following a well-sailed route. After a quick briefing we boarded our vessel for the next three days and got to know everybody and our tour guide, Tom “Cruise”, resplendent in Top Gun shades and spinning neat lines of tour- spiel.
The Halong Bay authority has recently decided that Halong Bay boats must be painted white with white sails. Every tourist junk looks the same, apart from the big container boats, plowing through the waters close to Halong City and ever present in the gaps on the horizon between the jagged limestone teeth- Halong City and Haiphong, close by are big trading ports.
So off we sailed into the jaws of the dragon. No blue skies and clear water for us mind, the grey damp fug had followed us from Hanoi and descended on the dragon’s teeth. It really is amazing though: row upon row of serpentine teeth receding into the blue-grey distance.