Today, we drove the four hours east of Hanoi to Halong Bay, Vietnam, a stunning, breathtaking place, characterized by 1,969 soaring limestone-walled islands, juxtaposed in various jagged shapes and sizes seemingly jetting out of the Bay. Halong Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, located on the northeast sea coast of Vietnam. The islands are uninhibited by humans given the unfriendly landscape, however, wildlife, such as the endangered Langur, a magnificent golden-colored, black-faced monkey, calls one of the islands, Cat Ba, home. We boarded a private, small boat with six lovely cabins for an overnight voyage in Halong Bay, one of the most photographed places in Vietnam. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a beautiful, magical place that you cannot miss when in Vietnam. The slight mist hanging over the islands created an almost mystic feel as we departed from the main boat dock. It is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and it did not disappoint. The Bay also has a significant cultural history, as it is the home of ancient Viet people and was occupied by various cultures that came here more than 18000 years ago.
 
The Dao Go Caves
After we boarded, we checked into our beautifully appointed room, had lunch and set sail on the emerald waters to Dao Go Island (meaning, Wooden Head Island) where you will find the Dao Go Caves. We climbed 90 stairs to reach the caves which are made up of three chambers, each one larger than the other. The caves are lit in different colors, and are characterized by the towering stalactites and stalagmites in formations resembling waterfalls (the largest measuring more than 60 ft high), giving it an outer space-like quality, almost like you are standing on the moon. It was fun to let your imagination run wild inside the caves. You never know what creature or shape will seemingly pop out of the rock formations at you. The entrance and exits of the Cave make a beautiful backdrop for pictures. Stunning!
 
The Cua Van Fishing Village
Next, we headed to the floating fishing village of Cua Van. Up until last year, there were hundreds of these houseboats on the water, including on water schools for the children. However, two years ago, the government started to require that the families on the water move to land to reduce pollution at the UNESCO World Heritage site. They were given a house by the government on land. Now there are few of the old fashioned fishing villages left, but we had the opportunity to tour one of the most famous that still remains, Cau Van. It was magical seeing how these families exist in the world. There were entire families there in the houseboats with their fishing boats moored near by. The wooden houseboats are tied together, creating villages. It must be such an adventure to live out there with the beautiful backdrop of the bay and the islands rising up around you. It was interesting to receive such an intimate insight into the life and culture of the people in these villages.
 
Happy Hour & Cooking Lesson
Once back on the boat, happy hour began and our guide showed us how to make fried spring rolls with chicken and shrimp. I was his assistant for the instructional portion, and then we had competitions to see who could make the best looking spring roll. Let’s just say I didn’t win. The spring rolls were then fried in oil and we ate them as appetizers. Delicious!
 
Dinner was prepared on the boat with fresh shrimp, oysters and grilled fish with vegetables. Everything was wonderful. The staff was friendly and really outgoing. We had an absolute blast with the staff and the five other couples that we met on the boat. When you travel to interesting places, you are likely to meet other interesting, well traveled people. We loved discussing other places everyone had traveled. Travel opens up your world in ways you could never imagine.
 
After a restful sleep on the boat, we awoke to a gorgeous breakfast and a smooth sail back to the main dock where our driver and guide waited for us. As we made the four hour trip back to the airport in Hanoi to catch our flight to Hue, we made several stops to see things along the way.
 
First, we stopped at a pearl farm that has adopted the Mikimoto-method of making cultured pearls. Pearls that form in nature by a single grain of sand penetrating the oyster shell are extremely rare. The method of creating a cultured pearl involves putting a round pearl–like membrane made of oyster shell into the oyster’s uterus manually and returning it to a contained area in the bay and leaving it to develop anywhere from three to five years. When the oysters are opened, approximately 40% will have developed pearls, and of that 40%, only 5% will be of great quality. There are three kinds of pearls created there: black, gold and white, and each comes from different types of oyster shells of various shapes and sizes. We watched the process of making and extracting cultured pearls from the start of the process to the finished product.
 
Next, we stopped at a village cemetery. In Vietnam, a family member that passes away is usually buried two times. The first time they are buried in a simple wooden box under ground several feet, and the coffin might have money, clothing and other personal items to travel to the next life with. The family member is usually buried there for a few years and then exhumed. The families are typically poor, and the coffin, made of wood, will not last forever, so after three to five years, the family member is dug up, his or her bones are put into a much smaller box made of clay or cement and reburied with a more permanent headstone. The coffin and the contents, other than the person’s bones, are burned. The direction of the new second burial is decided by the moon and the stars and their alignment by a fortune teller. The Vietnamese are very superstitious and rely on fortune tellers and Feng-Sui for proper positioning. This entire process and seeing it for ourselves was very interesting.
 
Our last stop was a visit to the village of Phu Lang, a village that has been making pottery for hundreds of years. Each home has a personal style and design process to create beautiful vases, pots and mosaic pictures made by hand and hand painted by villagers. The people there were so kind and joked with us about Donald Trump – as most people that we have met, the Vietnamese have a great curiosity about our new President.
 
So it’s close to 4 pm, and we are approaching the airport in Hanoi. We are headed to the ancient and former capital of Vietnam called Hue (pronounced Way). More on that tomorrow. Until then, we are going to sign off.