Our last port of call was Halong Bay, A UNESCO world heritage site. It is located in Northern Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong Bay has nearly 2,000 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The total land area is over 500 square kilometers, so you can imagine how big this area is.
Halong Bay means the bay of the descending dragon. Local legends tell how a dragon was sent by the Emperor of Jade to fight the onslaught of attackers. In the process, the dragon spat jewels that landed in the sea. The dragon then landed in the sea, with just it's humps sticking up out of the water, which are the islands we now see.
Our group had planned a private tour on our own little ship (called a ship, supposedly, because it had its own tender boat). We left the dock at a little past nine a.m. and did not return until well past six p.m. It was a long but lovely day on Paradise Cruises.
The islands and the bay are gorgeous, but even more so on sunny days, when the green and translucent waters contrast sharply with bright blue skies. Sadly, our weather was quite cool, and very overcast. While it may have been a damp day, it did not dampen our spirits.
We visited a cave while on our cruise. The Sung Sot Cave. We tendered in the cute little boat to a small dock, then had to climb about 200 steep steps up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. Once inside, we were awestruck at the sheer enormity of the cave. HUGE. To walk from the entrance to the other side to exit was one kilometer. This one was probably three or four stories high as well, filled with loads of stalactites, craters, and thousands of years worth of water eroded floors and walls. Simply gorgeous.
After the cave, we sailed a little bit longer and then anchored for lunch. First class all,the way, it was a bountiful buffet of meats, seafood, noodles, rice, vegetables, salads, soups and even jelly fish! Yum.
After lunch we visited another small island, called Ti Top Mountain, and climbed 400 steps up to the viewing area at the top. Beautiful vistas were the reward for that really tough trek up, then another 400 steps down.
THE OYSTER PREDICAMENT
Our last stop while still on our cruise was a visit to a small pearl factory on a floating mini-village. These people grow and harvest oysters, for the pearls, of course. And so this begins the story of the travesty of the plighted Halong Bay oyster.
Oysters grow for 18 months, then they pull them out of the water and inject them with a little baby nub of something, an irritation. I would give you the proper name, but this little man older than God's father spoke to us in such poor English that we had essentially no idea what he was saying. I am sure that this was part of their plot and conspiracy to cover up what they are really doing. Once they inject this little nub into the poor, unsuspecting young oyster, the close the shell up again and plop goes the little oyster (cue the jack-in-the-box music here) back into the bay, in a new roped off section.
There, for the next 18 months, those little oysters, having suffered through OIVF (oyster in vitro fertilization) live huddled together until time has passed and they are once again dragged to the surface, opened up bare, for all the world to see, and prodded for pearls.
Sadly, 70% have no pearls. Only 13% have full pearls. Guess what happens to the 70%? They are flung into the bay to die. (insert major sob here). As for the other 13%, no one knows what happens to them. Perhaps they are saved for further experimentation.
Frankly, I believe that this is ecological irresponsibility and therefore I wish to call worldwide attention to the plight of the Halong bay oyster. I am going to form the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to the Halong Bay Oysters. Please send your donations to help these poor oysters who have no voice (nor any pearls) of their own!
And so ends another tour, and another cruise, my friends. We sailed proudly into Hong Kong harbor early this morning, after spending a lovely evening on the ship, and a nice dinner with my cruise critic friends.
Safe travels to everyone and till next time, bye bye!