Hanoi to Ha Long Bay–Minibus to Junk in Northern Vietnam!

April 26th and 27th 2019

In less than 30 hours we would depart Hanoi; drive in our minibus past lush green rice fields while learning Vietnamese survival vocabulary;

Visit Dong Trieu Ceramic Village 60 km from Ha Long Bay; arrive at Hạ Long Bay, in northeast Vietnam; board a wooden junk-style boat Bien Ngoc 22; tour the beautiful Gulf of Tonkin; swim and hike to a look out at Soisim beach; visit a Pearl Farm and kayak at Ngoc Trai Ha Long; sleep overnight in the Junk/boat in the Gulf of Tonkin; eat amazing food prepared by our award winning chef; explore Sung Sot Caves (Amazing Cave) the most famous cave in Ha Long Bay; hike to the look out point to view the Gulf of Tonkin; explore more of this UNESCO World Heritage area; add a food decoration lesson as we cruised back to Ha Long Bay; then board our bus for another 4 + hour trip to return to our Hanoi hotel. En route to Hanoi we stopped in at the Workshop for Disabled People or the Hong Ngoc FineArt Center for about an hour tour and lunch break. Let this adventure begin…

This was the first big adventure with our Intrepid “Best of Vietnam and Cambodia” tour group! Our exuberant, intelligent, knowledgeable and well connected Vietnamese tour leader was Nhan Hoang (Jay).

Out of the 12 members on our tour there were 4 from England (Jess, Selena, Anj and Roberto), 5 from Canada (Julie, Mac, Anne, Mark, and I), 3 from Australia (Nell, Andrew, and Jen). However, it turns out that several of us actually hold dual citizenship.   This was a dynamic and energetic group of individuals! By the end of our tour we were a vivacious and collaborative “Tiger Team”.

In Hanoi, the vast majority of families use scooters or motorcycles to transport their families.

Although vehicles are supposed to drive on the right side of the highway, we soon learned that basically anything goes! If there is an opening anywhere on the highway or sidewalk, it’s quite probable that it will soon be occupied by a vehicle of some type. At first, looking out the front window of the minibus was quite frightening. Eventually, you learned to trust your drivers and avoid watching the chaos!

Our first stop was Dong Trieu Ceramic Village between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. 2 women were painting designs on small figures.

The facility wasn’t active at the moment so Jay had freedom to show us around. We learned about the process to create clay pots, vases etc. The huge row of kilns running up a low hill on one side made me imagine the intense heat that must occur when the kilns are active in these intense heat conditions. And… no air conditioning!

At the end of the tour we entered the gift shop. Wow!!! There were so many gorgeous vases, teapots, ornaments, and sculptures and no time to explore or purchase items!

Onward to Ha Long Bay. In Vietnam there are over 97 million people and each water source seems to be utilized to its maximum–from food production to transportation routes.

As we approached the tourist port of Ha Long Bay we drove along a lengthy road which was lined with many partially developed buildings. Clearly, somebody or some organization had started multiple potential apartment buildings/hotels then power had shifted and all progress had ceased!

When we arrived at the Bay we waited to board our “Junk” for the overnight trip around Ha Long bay. (Sometimes written Halong Bay). The “junk” ended up being a lovely wooden boat named the Bien Ngoc 22–and not at all what we expected!

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Nih Province of North Eastern Vietnam. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon”.

We were informed that this is probably the last year that tourist boats can park overnight in the bay due to unacceptable levels of water pollution in the World Heritage Site. We are very lucky to have this opportunity.

Our Intrepid group was very outgoing and any and every opportunity or experience that was offered to us, we jumped at and experienced to the full extent! Here is a sample of some of the experiences we had during our visit to the World Heritage Site of Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Please click the video to see a slide show representation of our first day and evening in Ha Long Bay.

The chef on board the “junk” was amazing at his artistic food creations and we were inspired by the beauty of the food presentation.

After our overnight stay between the beautiful limestone islands (anchored beside dozens of other tour boats) we were off to explore stunning caves and hike to new look out points, eat more, then return to Halong Bay.

Please click the next video for Day 2 highlights!

After returning to Halong Bay, we boarded the minibus and headed back to Hanoi via the Workshop for Disabled People or the Hong Ngoc Fine Art Center.

This is a company which promotes independence for adults who were previously beggars due to physical injuries received during war or more recently disabled as a result of bombs, landmines, etc.

These people are taught skills, such as, embroidery, stitching, painting, sculpture, and other art  forms. They work in the huge art studio and we were told they receive 60% of the proceeds from the sale of their art. Sales people were quite aggressive promoting the sale of this art.

Mark and I decided this was a cause we wished to support. It was tough to narrow our decision as they were all so beautiful… We ended up selecting a beautiful hand stitched picture of Halong Bay. The lady had worked on this gorgeous rendition for over 2 1/2 months. The price was expensive… 8,700,000 Vietnamese Dong $515 Canadian dollars! But this money would be an enormous boast to assist this family … and it truly was stunning!

I met the artist… She couldn’t speak English and was missing a foot (land mine explosion 😢) She was beautiful! This embroidered picture will be a treasure in our home. I couldn’t resist a second photo! .

Mark loved the amazing sculptures too. But it would be challenging and expensive to ship pieces to Canada.

Halong Bay was an amazing experience… But it was time to rest as tonight we board the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue! We were in for a different type of adventure next!!!