When one thinks of Vietnam, the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chin Minh instantly comes to mind. However, for scenic beauty and rustic simplicity, Halong Bay is the place to be.
The best time to visit Vietnam is between December and April as the dry weather provides the best weather conditions for sight-seeing.
Before visiting Halong Bay, we took a short detour on the bus from Hanoi, to have an experience of the countryside. It was a misty morning during our journey, which gave the scenic brown fields we encountered along the way a surreal vibe.
The photographs I took of this scene are hence similarly 'dreamlike', leading some to think that they are heavily manipulated!
Our guide told us that the locals like to bury their dead alongside the crops. With a country population of approximately 80 million, it is surprising to learn that the Vietnamese observe such space-consuming practices.
On the way to Halong Bay, we had the opportunity to witness Vietnam's rural transportation system. It is definitely not a sight you will see in Singapore.
We saw a puny motorcycle cramped with at least six pigs, and the rider - to my surprise - was still grinning with a smile from ear to ear! Not only do they transport pigs on motorcycles, they also do the same for small calves and chickens.
Some foreign visitors consider it a cruel way of transporting pigs, but I feel it is the only efficient and affordable mode of transportation the locals can muster.
Additionally, I noticed that the motorcyclist donned a helmet, in regulation with a law the Vietnamese government had recently enacted. The government noticed that the locals did not use protective headgear, which resulted in high numbers of road fatalities.
After spending the morning on the bus, we finally arrived in the scenic Halong Bay.
We soon noticed other tourists arriving by the 'bus loads' as well.
The bay was lined with two-decked boats finished in dirty brown with a Vietnamese flag, flying high and proud in the wind.
Thankfully, we were blessed with a cool weather upon arrival. As we sailed in the bay, a slight parting in the clouds allowed the sun to shed its radiant rays onto the gleaming and calm waters.
The nearby cliffs were shadowed by the clouds, giving all due attention to the luminescent sun. Our eyes were treated to a grand feast.
The boat soon brought us to a 'distant' shore where we disembarked to explore a limestone cave. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant enough.
I personally prefer the limestone caves of Guilin, China. To me, they have always seemed the best among all the various formations I have seen.
As we left the caves, the sun was beginning to set. While on our way to a small island nearby, I snapped a quick picture of a kayak being rowed with the magnificent sunset behind it.
Night fell upon us, and we were to spend the night on the boat. My wife who is prone motion sickness was worried about this daft situation. However, we were reassured that Halong Bay is a "bay" after all, and there would not be any waves.
And much to our surprise, we enjoyed our night on the boat very much!
The next day in Halong Bay, I chanced upon an adult and a child who were trying to sell snacks. I found out that this was their way of making ends meet.
I was saddened by such a sight, where the livelihood of the children depends simply on their parents' earnings from selling snacks.
After breakfast, we proceeded to an area surrounded by mountains, reachable only at low tide by small boats. The moments spent there were unforgettable. The quiet, peaceful and tranquility of the place left me speechless.
Not long after, we were transported back to 'civilisation'. Even though the stay was just two days, the sights and sounds were remarkable!
(editing by Jayne Tham)
Photos: Ethan Lee
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