November 24th, 2015 / posted by paularath
The sun sets on Ha Long Bay. All photos in this story are by Jerry Mayfield.

The sun rises on Ha Long Bay. All photos in this story are by Jerry Mayfield.

Ha Long Bay has been a dream of mine since I first saw photos of it decades ago.

The World Heritage Site consists of 2,000 limestone and sandstone islands that crop up throughout the serene bay.

The landscape is magical and mystical, unlike anything I have ever seen.

Ha Long Bay great sky

Many of the islands are inhabited solely by moneys. A few of them have people, but I believe there are more people living on boats and in boat houses than on islands.

Our Abercrombie & Kent group did an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay on the Jasmine, a junk that sleeps about 40 people.

Front door of our junk, the Jasmine.

Front door of our junk, the Jasmine.

The Jasmine is beautifully appointed and the food was fabulous! They even had a made to order BBQ on the deck.

We had a tai chi lesson on the upper deck early in the morning – quite the most exotic tai chi lesson I think I’ll ever have.

After settling into our cabins, we were taken to a pier where we got into fishing boats (all paddled by women) that took us to an island with the Me Cung Cave which we could hike in and out of. There were stalagmites and stalactites inside the cave.

Our little fleet of fishing boats heading to the cave.

Our little fleet of fishing boats heading to the cave.

After the cave, we visited a fishing village called Cua Van, a floating village.

In 1994 the fishing community was ordered by the government to move out of the caves where they had been living for generations, and to move to the mainland or build themselves boathouses. The community exists entirely on the water, with schools, temples and even a Buddhist monastery on stilts.

A typical fishing family in Ha Long Bay.

A typical fishing family in Ha Long Bay.

We were told there is an amazing variety of seafood in the bay: bass, squid, muscles, crab, lobster – even salmon, which surprised us.

Hammocks are how people sleep on the fishing boats in in their little huts on the bay.

Broad view of a fishing community.

Broad view of a fishing community.

We only saw about five dogs in all of Hanoi, but lots of families have pets in Ha Long Bay.

We only saw about five dogs in all of Hanoi, but lots of families have pets in Ha Long Bay.

A typical fishing family's house on Ha Long Bay.

A typical fishing family’s house on Ha Long Bay.

The Ha Long Bay version of a 7-11.

The Ha Long Bay version of a 7-11, run by a woman of course.

We got up a little after 5 a.m. and were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise, with golds, pinks and oranges reflecting off the still water, bathing the islands in an ever-changing light.

Ha Long Bay sunset 2

When we first arrived at Ha Long Bay I was a little disappointed to see so many boats and junks of all sorts. However, after spending a night on the bay, I would not have missed it for anything. Yes, the world is a far busier and more crowded place than it was a few decades ago, but it is still dotted with absolutely spectacular places, and Ha Long Bay is one of them.

If you are going to Vietnam, do not miss Ha Long Bay!

– Paula Rath

Ha Long Bay sunset 3

Ha Long Bay is a an artist's study in atmospheric perspective.

Ha Long Bay is a an artist’s study in atmospheric perspective.

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