on March 26, 2013
Halong Bay means the Bay of the descending dragon and we learnt that the area has recently been nominated as one of the new natural wonders of the earth. Of course seeing the list we couldn’t help but check out the ones that we’d visited and the ones that we would like to see on our future holidays. We learned that local mythology states that the bay was created when a dragon descended over the bay and dived into its calm waters but as it entered the waters it scattered rocks with its huge tail. The rocks when they fell back to earth fell into the ocean and formed the countless islands that form this archipelago. In my terms these islands are "sticky up mountains" because the first time I heard about them was from a geography teacher who affectionately referred to them in that way. He’d loved the area and I guess it was part of his enthusiasm that rubbed off on me making this a "must see" placeFar away from the poetic imagery of the dragon is the real truth that the area was pillaged, by the French, for its copious supply of coal. Initially being mined through the open cast method, but in recent years being deep mined. Today you’ll still see signs of mining activity as huge low level cargo boats chug across the bay with their precious loads.Despite this rape of the countryside the bay is home to 232 species of coral as well as a wealth of shrimp, shellfish and other sea creatures. We were told that the area’s salt water-flooded forests have the most diversified collection of species of salt-watered plants in North Vietnam with fourteen endemic species of plants. There are many animals living in the area including over 200 species of migrating birds,10 species of reptiles, deer, weasels, squirrels and the white-rumped leaf and white-head leaf monkeys. Not that we saw any of these we just had to take the word of our guide.There are also caves, Surprise Cave, Heavenly Palace Cave and three Palaces Cave with beautiful rock formations some lit with coloured lights.I think that the best way to explore Halong Bay is on one of these local cruises. Most people spend at least one night aboard a luxury junk although if you fancy it you can rent kayaks and paddle your way around the bay. A friend of mine was due to see the bay as part of a bigger cruise but unfortunately for him the weather was "a little inclement" and the cruise ship was unable to access Halong Bay. I was sorry for him but real pleased that we’d opted to explore the bay by way of a local cruiseWe set off and soon we were all on deck gazing at the incredible nature made structures that thrust from the bottom of the bay heavenward. Just as I’d imagined it to be and every bit as photogenic as you’d hope. Sometimes I was reminded of the "sticky-ups" that we’d seen on a visit to Thailand and a trip to Guilan in China. There was plenty of activity around the boat as local villagers paddled up and tried to tempt us to buy craftwork from them. Despite their sweet talking I’m not sure that anyone succumbed. Other than looking at the sights we had the option to learn the art of making the classic Spring Roll. Now I don’t claim to be a great cook but I can never resist the chance of a bit of audience participation and when they were looking for volunteers I stepped up to the plate. Well firstly you get the chance to wear a chef’s hat and secondly I hoped to develop a new skill. It looked fairly straight-forward and the ingredients were just waiting to be tightly wrapped in a roll and then dropped in the sizzling oil. I had watched carefully and soon I was ensuring that the rice paper was pliable with helpful advice coming from my wife. Next I grabbed a good solid handful of the ingredients (a mixture of pork, carrot, Onion, Mushroom, eggs, garlic and herbs) and placed it on the rice paper. The instructor suggested that I was being a bit mean and so I gathered some more of the mixture and rolled the two together and then very carefully wrapped the rice paper around the mixture sealing it with a smothering of egg. Then the challenge was to drop it in to the sizzling oil. Of course the best bit was in the eating of MY spring roll when it was fully cooked. Although I say it myself it was pretty good and I grabbed a list of ingredients so that I might have an attempt when I returned back to the UK.At the end of our day on Halong Bay we sat back on the upper deck and enjoyed a fantastic sun set over the water.
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