How Long Halong? Halong Bay – Vietnam – Photos.

We slipped out of Hong Kong late at night, slid between the dark hills and out to sea.


The next day we were entering the Hainan Straits heading for Vietnam. The Hainan Straits had been built up as an event. I was eager to see this interesting spectacle. However the Chinese had plans to thwart our intent. The Chinese had sanctioned our passage with certain stipulations – under no circumstances were any photographs to be taken on deck! The threat was delivered with great intensity leaving one with the thought that if any of us were to be foolish enough to sneak a snap of anything of interest a missile would surely blow the ship to smithereens. Searching the skies for signs of Chinese surveillance satellites or drones I determined to take a few shots anyway. You only have to tell me not to do something and it is immediately the one thing I’m determined to do. I had not previously had the slightest interest in Chinese defences in the region, in fact I had not realised that it was a delicate area of military tension, but found myself intrigued. I don’t know what all the fuss was about. As it happened the day was hazy and never a sight of land did we see, not a single missile site, tank or airfield, no secret ray guns or experimental laser weaponry, not even a barren island with a sentry box. All my surreptitious plans were thwarted. I have a few shots of distance fog though, should anyone be interested. Some straits those were – we might as well have been in the middle of the ocean.

But what was that Chinese threat all about? Surely a few tourist snaps from a passing ship miles out to sea were not going to show anything a satellite or spy-plane camera wouldn’t reveal in a lot more detail?

The next morning I was up on deck shortly after 5 a.m. I know – madness. But we were coming in to Halong Bay. I wanted to observe the way our doughty Captain manoeuvred our craft through the narrow passages between the large array of conical rocks.

My first surprise was that there were lots of boats out there all lit up with hundreds of lanterns. Some of them were big. They were fishing for squid. It created quite a picture with the tumults of rock illuminated by Disneyland boats.

Our Captain swerved and scudded around the rocks like a ragged rascal. I could imagine him there all alone on the bridge, a bottle of rum in one hand, gaily spinning the wheel first one way and then the other, singing at the top of his voice, as he guided us to harbour.

Halong Bay was misty in the night but cleared up in the day. The sun even broke through and we were able to see it in all its majesty. The surreal conical dolomite rocks stuck up out of the water all around like some aquatic willow pattern scene (and I used to think those Chinese designs were fanciful and imaginative). It reminded me of Guilin after a flood. Very majestic and peculiar.

This was one of the places I had really wanted to visit and now we were here. We’d had to choose between getting in amongst the rocks or nipping off to Hanoi. We decided to explore the rocks. Hanoi was a mere city; Halong Bay was a wonder.

We were tendered ashore on our lifeboats. Then we negotiated with the locals who ripped us off handsomely for a trip out among the towering rocks. They merely drove us to a shipping port and put us on a small boat which probably cost half of what we paid them.

First stop was one of the great rock edifices which was hollow and contained a massive cave full of stalagmites and stalactites. I’m not a great one for caves but these were really impressive, among the best I’ve seen, with sheets and curtains of coloured rocks – wonderful to behold. Huge galleries of rippling glazed rock in surreal spectacle.

Then back to the boat and sailing and weaving through the strange rock formations (along with a mass of other boats). They were stunning, as stunning as I had imagined and impossible to capture in photographs. We were lucky to get to see them as the previous two days it had been heavily overcast and raining. Needless to say I took a few photos. Those rocks are enormous and had been sculpted by wind and water erosion into great conical shapes that seem utterly unique and extremely picturesque.

I can see why it is a UNESCO heritage site. It is quite amazing.


We’re now at sea heading off down Vietnam. I’m just finishing this before heading off for lunch – a curry, a pint and a read up on deck. It’s a bit hazy but 26 degrees – quite pleasant.

Next stop tomorrow – Day 32 – Chan May and Hue (only 40 days to go!).

Then, this afternoon, we get our heads together for a Tete a Tete offensive to decide what to do in Saigon! Always good to plan ahead!


opher goodwin Added Dec 16, 2018 - 8:45am
As a biologist I'm intrigued by nature but I also enjoy experiencing different cultures and exploring.
Ryan Messano Added Dec 16, 2018 - 9:25am
Poor liberals, you travel all over the world and never discover the greatest marvel, your own soul.
Did you like the Chinese, Badlose?  That’s your Liberalism, taken to its logical conclusion.  Communism.
Steel Breeze Added Dec 16, 2018 - 10:59am
another nice travel log, and one that i can relate too. this summer i'm heading for a 10 day trip to the DMZ,where i was stationed and haven't been back too since '69........well done...
Neil Lock Added Dec 16, 2018 - 11:23am
Ah, you were piloted by Cap'n Gilbert! My imagination of him at work is much the same as yours. But he got you safely there :-)
Dino Manalis Added Dec 16, 2018 - 11:34am
 Don't provoke Beijing!  Stay safe!
opher goodwin Added Dec 16, 2018 - 11:58am
Thank you Steel!
opher goodwin Added Dec 16, 2018 - 11:59am
Neil - unfortunately I wasn't. That would have made for an interesting trip and added a few fireworks wouldn't it? Your imagination is doing overtime!
opher goodwin Added Dec 16, 2018 - 12:00pm
Dino - I certainly was attempting to provoke China. But unfortunately there was not a soul to see!
Nobody's Sweetheart Added Dec 16, 2018 - 12:56pm
I've never had any desire to visit anywhere in Asia except for the battlefields of WW2. I also find it supremely ironic that Vietnam has a very high percentage of people who like the U.S. and Americans. As hawk-like as I can be, I still think the Vietnam War was a huge tragedy for all involved, and I'm glad to see that the Vietnamese people are willing to put it all behind them. I also firmly believe that the U.S. needs to put more resources into clearing the massive amounts of unexploded ordnance that remain there. I believe Laos has the distinction of being the most bombed country in history, more than Germany and Japan combined during WW2.
opher goodwin Added Dec 16, 2018 - 1:17pm
Adolf - Asia is really interesting! You ought to give it a try! I still cannot believe that Vietnam is now open. I never thought I'd see the day. That war was a tragedy!
Wouldn't it be nice if the US helped clear up the mess??
Koshersalaami Added Dec 17, 2018 - 2:47pm
Great pictures
Enjoy the rest of the trip
Dave Volek Added Dec 17, 2018 - 6:42pm
Thanks Opher
Maybe the Chinese didn't want you to see that they really don't have a sentry box out there.
opher goodwin Added Dec 18, 2018 - 10:47am
Kosher - thanks - glad you enjoyed they!
opher goodwin Added Dec 18, 2018 - 10:48am
Cheers Dave - Lol - perhaps you are right! Or perhaps they are stocking up a huge arsenal in order to take over the world?
opher goodwin Added Dec 18, 2018 - 10:49am
Prez - sorry - for some reason I called you Adolf. I think I was confused with another commentator.
FacePalm Added Dec 18, 2018 - 4:30pm
Nah, you weren't confused; Michael seems to be having fun changing names every day(or nearly so).
Glad you enjoyed your trip, and thanks for sharing some of the pics.
opher goodwin Added Dec 18, 2018 - 6:33pm
Cheers Face - it was amazing - glad to share. I love photography.
FacePalm Added Dec 19, 2018 - 12:02am
Yeah, me, too - or i used to.  Did you ever read that story i told about the rainbow on the beam of light?
Stone-Eater Added Dec 19, 2018 - 8:22am
Nice load of pics :) I've been in several Asian countries but at that time China was closed as was the USSR, and in Burma/Myanmar we were allowed a week in only...
opher goodwin Added Dec 19, 2018 - 8:54am
Face - I don't remember that. Have you got a link?
opher goodwin Added Dec 19, 2018 - 8:54am
Stone - cheers. I find it amazing the way the world has opened up.
FacePalm Added Dec 19, 2018 - 11:10am
I don't remember that. Have you got a link?
It'd be easier to tell the story again than to search through my comments and find the thread it was on.
When i was going to school out on Mare Island(opposite side of SF Bay from SF), a buddy and i took our motorcycles NE, above Lake Tahoe in the High Sierras.   We really had no idea where we were going; we we just exploring, no maps, no GPS(hadn't been thought of, then), just adventuring.
In the evening, we found a campsite by a stream maybe 100yds wide, set up camp, drank some wine and shot the bull awhile, then napped out.  In the AM, my friend was gung ho to wade the stream and climb the nearest mountain; me, hung over a bit, said "See ya!"
When he hadn't returned by late afternoon, i decided to do a little exploring, myself.
So i hopped aboard my 500 Yamaha and hit the switchbacks, climbing the mountain which overlooked our campsite.
i reached a "scenic overlook" not far from a trestle bridge, and parked.
Then i pulled out the fancy 35mm camera equipment another friend at the barracks had lent me(ordinarily, i just used one of the old instamatic cameras), set up the tripod and lenses and everything.  The mountain i was on had cloud cover at the peak, which was maybe another 1500' up from where i was; looking over the edge to the valley below, WAY down below, the stream where we'd camped the night before appeared to be no wider than a thread, glinting silver in the fading light; the huge mountain sweeping up the far side was beautiful, and the setting sun sent a beam of light across this deep valley; balanced on that beam of light, from beginning to end, was a rainbow.
I thought "This is gonna make an AWESOME picture," so i took maybe 20, some of them intended to later be taped together to make a panoramic view.
So i disassembled everything, to make it back to the camp before nightfall; i met up with my friend, and the next AM, we headed back.
Back at the barracks, i wound up the film and opened the case to remove it and have it developed - to no avail.  The film hadn't wound onto it's spool properly, and it was all exposed and ruined.
Must've been one of those "Zen" things; all i have now is the story, and imagination often doesn't stand a chance of conveying the sheer majesty and beauty i felt at the moment of awe and wonder when taking those pics.
opher goodwin Added Dec 19, 2018 - 12:30pm
Thanks Face - I don't remember reading that story before. It is amazing how one's mind remembers those things so clearly, yet the ones that we actually took are forgotten. Thanks for putting that back up.
I was going up the Zambesi in a small boat and was really excited when a herd of elephants came dome to the river. There were these baby elephants among them frolicking in the water. The herd was playing in the water squirting water up into the air over their backs with their trunks. The water was sparkling in the sunlight and their back were black where the splashes hit. We managed to get really close and I got some fabulous shots. Then there was a giant monitor lizard walking on these giant waterlilies and a crocodile lying on the bank with its mouth wide open. I remember every single shot. It was only when I got to 40+ shots that I began to suspect there was something wrong. Yes - the spool hadn't caught!
FacePalm Added Dec 19, 2018 - 1:32pm
Well, nowadays with digital, we no longer have that problem!
Glad to know that my sad experience was not solitary, though i'm sorry you were unable to add those pics to your that, you have only the memories and the storytelling ability.
You did remind me of one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs, though; it's called "All the Diamonds," and the first line goes:
"All the diamonds - in this world - that mean anything to me
Are conjured up - by wind and sunlight, sparkling on the sea..."
opher goodwin Added Dec 20, 2018 - 3:32am
Face - water and sunlight is a great combination of wonder and delight.
FacePalm Added Dec 20, 2018 - 9:59pm
Water's quite the miracle, isn't it?  That one could combine 2 gases, oxygen and hydrogen, and produce such an amazing, beautiful, and versatile liquid essential to our existence...
It's almost like trying to imagine a sense other than the 5 most mammals have already, along with the organs which would make it possible.  Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch - and what else?
opher goodwin Added Dec 26, 2018 - 4:30am
Face - how about UV, Gamma, X-Ray and Infra-red?? What would the world look like if we saw magnetism? What we actually see and perceive is a tiny fraction of the energy that is out there and we are truly stranded between the microcosm and macrocosm without seeing either without our instruments.
I often wonder about the senses of other animals. The smell of dogs. Do they actually form a mental image of the world from scent?
What are these faculties that homing pigeons possess? How do they know their position?
Then there is the human zeitgeist. We seem to share a sense of the times. Every era has a feel to it that is contagious.
Then the synchronicity between people - like shared ideas, shared consciousness. More developed in some than others. Does it have a real scientific basis? Do we communicate in ways we do not yet understand?
So much more to be understood!