May 9, 2017

Cruising Halong Bay with Pandaw

The towering limestone, forest-covered karst formations in Halong Bay are the iconic image of Vietnam. They are much-loved by the Vietnamese, have been featured in various movies, and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The 10-day cruise John and I took on Pandaw’s Red River ended in Halong Bay.  The perfect place to end an amazing trip.  

We learned there are two Halong Bays – one on land and one in the Gulf of Tonkin. Pandaw’s crew takes care of everything.  A bus took us from the boat to a place where they had small human-powered boats waiting for us. The ladies rowed using their feet.  The hour-long ride along a stream took us past towering karst formations and through two low caves.  The second cave ended in a lake-like area surrounded by the cone-like
mountains.  We stayed there for about 15 minutes – I thought to give the ladies a rest – instead our rower gave us a back massage. After the boat ride we visited a nearby temple then returned to the boat.  Every time we returned to the ship after a shore trip three of the staff members were waiting for us.  One to give us a refreshing lemongrass-scented towel, one take our shoes so they can clean them, and another staff member with a refreshing fruit drink. 

We continued on the Red River to the Gulf of Tonkin and the better-known Halong Bay. When we reached Halong Bay we sailed around some of the 1,969 formations. In Vietnamese Halong means “descending dragon.” According to the local legend the Jade Emperor, the supreme Chinese deity, sent the Mother Dragon to help the Vietnamese fight fierce invaders coming from the sea and incinerated them with their divine fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered and formed an invincible defensive wall. After thousands of years, the walls of emerald turned into islands.  

There are only a few fishing families left who live on floating
houses in Halong Bay. The government is moving them to the mainland where they are closer to health care and so the children can go to school. We visited one family with two small children. When asked about the danger of children falling in the water she said the
little girl could swim and the other one hadn’t fallen in yet.  I was surprised to see they had a huge speakers, a TV, and other electrical equipment that powered by battery. We arrived while she was cooking dinner.  I could hear the sizzle of frying chicken – it smelled great. 


The crew had arranged for boats to takes us through some of the
caves in the area. The best part was we got to see several langurs jumping from tree to tree. They are endangered and only found here, only about 60 remain so we were fortunate. 

Sadly the Pandaw cruise came to an end.  There were only 22 passengers – the ship was
designed for a maximum of 32 passengers.  John and I saw so many fascinating things, met great people and enjoyed tea with some of them, plus the scenery was fascinating the entire way. There are a lot of things to love about a Pandaw cruise: it is all-inclusive (including the tip), the meals are gourmet, and most beverages are included.  The staff is very friendly and attentive. The cabin was roomy and so was the bathroom. It was a value-laden trip.