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JOHN ROZENTALS discovers the majestic wonders of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, but sounds some words of warning.

March 7, 2019 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

Halong Bay is definitely one of those spots that everyone should add to their ‘must see before you die’ list.

Except for Halong Bay people have to add a proviso: they must see it either before tourists love it to death, or before it becomes terminally polluted due to local exploitation, whichever comes first.

Already the cruise boats are forming queues to be in the best position to see the key locations, and already, especially in wild weather, the poly containers preferred for keeping seafood and vegetables afloat are breaking up and creating unsightly and harmful menaces to the environment.

One can only imagine what dangers from other forms of pollution are present in the form of human and animal excrement, etc.

Keen to entertain … staff on the Auco.

And incredibly beautiful those key locations are, due mainly to the many hundreds of sentinal-like limestone karsts that seems to stand in protection of what should be pristine waters but just can’t really seem to save them.

The karsts have been formed over millions of tropical years and are the main attractions which have had the area listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, included in the World Monuments Watch and officially named as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Many of the karsts are topped by jungle vegetation and some form amphitheatres accessible to rowers in canoes, kayaks and other small craft. Some, too, house cave complexes, such as Hang Dau Go (wooden-stakes cave), that are available to tourists.

A great way to see Halong Bay … on the top deck of the Auco.

Most tourists come to Halong Bay via about 165 kilometres of highway from Hanoi. The trip take at least three hours and provided plenty of evidence as to why Vietnam has such a high road toll, especially among its cyclists and motorbike riders.

Drivers of buses and cars don’t seems to regard oncoming two-wheeled vehicles as obstacles and assume that they will simply take to the verge.

It is quite possible to do Halong Bay in a daytrip but they would be a waste of the opportunity to see the famous karsts at their indescribable best — in the shadowy periods of dusk and sunrise. Then they are truly wonderful.

All set up … great dining on the Auco.

I’ve been to Halong Bay twice — both times for two nights — and never regretted a minute of my time.

The first time was on the Frensch-inspired, 80-passenger Emeraude, the second time, just little over a year later, on the three-deck, all-balcony, 66-passenger Auco.

Both trips were sensational, with the first including a speed-boat trip to go rock-climbing, the second a more sedate journey to a floating fishing village and a school.

Both had their benefits, but on the strength of cuisine alone I’d pick the latter … though it’s not everyday that you get to watch rock-climbing — I’m dreadfully vertically challenged and  didn’t dare try my hand — on an isolated Vietnamese beach.

Halong Bay … should be on everyone’s ‘must see before you die’ list.

The last word on Halong Bay, appropriately, should go to the much-loved nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh: “It is the wonder that one cannot impart to others.”

Or nearly last word, for the illustrious Vietnamese Confucian scholar Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) was much more eloquent: “This wonder is ground rising up into the middle of the high sky.”

The Auco … in a class of its own through its food.

IF YOU GO:

Vietnam: www.vietnam.travel.

Halong Bay: www.vietnam.travel/places-to-go/northern-vietnam/ha-long

Emeraude Cruises: www.emeraude-cruises.com

Auco Cruises: www.aucocruises.com

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