The family decided to head out of Hanoi on a three hour bumpy SUV ride to Ha Long Bay (more on the journey in a later blog). Ha Long, in the Bay of Tonkin is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a stunning seascape of limestone islands – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672. We arrived full of the exhilaration of Hanoi and left two days later stunned by the silent beauty of this place. It’s an introvert’s utopia.
Traveling with Josh and Isla meant we couldn’t back pack our way round it so several weeks of hard research online and chats with parents of similarly aged kids had led the Diplomat to book us on an Aphrodite cruise. Now, I am not one to engage in marketing but these people ticked every single box and some I hadn’t thought of when it came to ensuring both parents and kids had a good time. There was none of that crass “kids play functions” you get in hotels where you can dump your offspring in ball pits or slides – we were on a boat – but they managed to ensure the Diplomat and I could eat in peace, look at the scenery in solitude, engage Isla and Josh, play on the beach with them….and much, much more. The boat has a high railing around it – safety was good. The family cabin had four beds, there was a bath, food was tailored for a recalcitrant two year old. It wasn’t just great customer service, we got to talk to these Vietnamese about their own kids, their dreams for them; we understood how they spend months and miles away from them, working tirelessly to earn money for their education, their growth.
I can go on and on about it but I’ll content myself by advocating this cruise in Ha Long for anyone with young children. http://aphroditecruises.com/
Ha Long Bay itself? Nearly two thousand islands, most unvisited, a lot still unnamed…I could wax on in an orgy of metaphoric self-indulgence about the place using words like “gorgeous”, “stunning”, “beautiful”, “breathtaking” etc. but this is a case where pictures do tell a thousand words…as you can see it was cloudy the whole time, not the usual blue sky view you see on post cards but I have to concede that silently gliding through mist and faint rain with limestone islands looming up at us provides a magical glimpse of the Bay that isn’t often seen.
We are aboard! The Aphrodite can take 36 guests. We are 10 on this trip. The four of us, a couple from Valencia, Spain on their honeymoon, two UVA graduates taking an obligatory Asia trip before getting lost in the office grind of New York City for the next decade, and a German chap with his Vietnamese wife. We are an affable Fellowship heading towards our personal Rivendell. We board and indulge in a seven course meal – each serving was a light bite of regional produce – then head towards Coconut beach where we stop for an hour. I “hike” up the four hundred steps to the top of this limestone cliff, remembering to pace myself. It’s amazing how quickly one can tire when climbing steps. I have more respect for those who do the annual sprint up the Empire State Building than any marathon runner. Go on, how many of you take the elevator to the gyms when you are in a hotel? 😉
Anyway, I descend rapidly for the cool of the inviting blue waters of the beach after taking in some spectacular views all on my lonesome and emerge to find another group of tourists. About 30 Taiwanese, to be exact. I was informed by the Aphrodite Captain that people from Taiwan make up over 50% of all tourists to Ha Long. They were delighted to see the four of us, grabbing Josh (who was experiencing his first salt water immersion) and posing for pictures. Old and young alike, it didn’t matter – all wanted a photo of the western boy. When he gets water up his nose and splutters there is much hilarity. The Diplomat is nervous as one elderly chap, bronzed and wiry, clutches Josh proudly whilst sweating alcoholic fumes from every vacational pore. It’s all good fun.
Some dark clouds draw in, meaning we won’t get to see the brilliant night sky drifting out here in Paradise. That doesn’t matter. The Diplomat has Tai Chi to do early the next morning on the deck…and that’s going to be the most scenic Tai Chi she’s ever done.
Here’s Isla explaining to you just how brilliant Ha Long is…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?
Categories: Ha Long