Relaxing Breakfast on Board
The morning of day three of our cruise with Indochina Junk in Ha Long Bay started with another relaxed breakfast surrounded by the magical limestone karsts and the warm sun shining brightly onto the calm green blue sea. While enjoying the peaceful seascape sliding by, we were all too conscious that we only had a few hours left on our wooden Indochina Junk, before we would return to Ha Long City and move on to other destinations within Vietnam.
We Met Some Lovely People
One of my worries about being on a cruise, especially on a small vessel like the Dragon’s Pearl had been the knowledge of sharing the cruise with a mixture of people from all around the globe. However we had been very lucky to spend the last two days with lovely people and children that had made our cruise even more enjoyable and a stimulating part of the overall travel experience.
Tips for Our Indochina Junk Crew
Over the previous nights dinner we had discussed the possibility of honouring the impeccable service of our crew by leaving them a tip. Unaware of what we should give we decided to make it 20USD / 500.000VND per guest, which would make it that sum for each member of staff. We decided to not give our guide a larger sum as we felt he was most possibly on a higher salary in the first place and also felt that he probably had one of the easiest jobs on board. The cook worked the hardest spending hours, upon hours preparing food for us, from early morning to late evening. Tipping is not a common or expected custom in Vietnam but we were sure that the crew would appreciate the gesture. It was planned to hand the tips over during lunch before we would arrive back in Ha Long Port.
Our Itinerary For Day 3
The kids would have loved to go for another kayak or swimming session that morning but our tight schedule meant we had to sail straight to our visit at Ving Vieng fishing and pearl farm village. There were a large number of boats anchored just outside the protected bay of the pearl farm and floating fisher village than we had seen on our whole journey, confirming that the closer you are to Ha Long City the higher the density of tourists.
Visiting Vung Vieng Village
Our tender boat dropped us off at the entrance to Ving Vieng Village. There we could see the buildings of the pearl farm and a school for the children of the fishing community. After the Vietnamese government had decided to stop the fisher families living on their boats and in caves they set up villages in protected area in Ha Long Bay with floating huts. The pearl farm also provided additional income and job opportunities for those not wanting to live the nomadic life of a fisherman anymore. Our guide had explained that we were to row through the village and then visit the pearl farm before returning to our boat.
The Floating Village
Each rowing boat took a family or two couples out on the tour of the floating fishing village. We were curious where the village was hidden, as we could not see a single house when we set out. The boat gently glided though the bay, the huge limestone cliffs towering above us like a sheer wall. Jerome wondered if they would row the visitors through the village all day long, it must be a physically challenging job to row the boat through the bay for hours on end. We could see the boat in front turn to the right and soon after our boat followed. There we got a first glimpse of the floating houses of Ving Vieng Village in the bowl of the bay. Fishermen have lived in the area for hundreds of years, thanks to the well protected location, enclosed by the towering rocks that almost entirely surround the village and therefore even the strongest typhoons cause limited damage to the boats and dwellings.
Life for the Fisher Families.
On our approach to the floating huts we saw some dogs run around excitedly it had surprised us to find so many of them living with the fishermen, even on the tiny boats, rather than cats to keep the mice and rats away. They must not only be there to provide the lonely fishermen with company, but most likely are a guardian to the huts and boats while the men and women are away. Jerome also noticed the floating cages, a place for small fishes to grow to a sellable size. The families farm the smaller fish to get more cash when they grow, but do not breed them, replacing those sold with more small by catch.
A Glimpse into the Floating Houses
Our guide had informed us that Ving Vieng Village is home to 35 families. Some of the floating houses were locked up, others were open and we got a glimpse of the interior. They were rather small by western standards but considering that these families used to live on boats, the huts were probably a huge improvement to their daily living accommodation. A girl of about Jerome’s age was lazing in a hammock watching TV and enjoying the breeze of an electric fan. Electricity seemed to be supplied by solar cells on the roofs and possibly generators.
Daily Life for the Fishermen
The fishermen still lead a hard life. They generally need to be out fishing for about 12 hours every day. The trip to Ha Long City, where they can sell their catch at the market takes about 3 hours one way in a small boat and even longer in bad weather. A daily earning of about 12USD is the norm of which 1USD goes for fresh drinking water plus petrol, and part of the income needs to be saved for health care and medicine in case a family member is sick. Their main diet consists of rice and fish plus the occasional vegetables. The tour through the Ving Vieng Village showed Jerome a different side to life, one less luxurious and more confined to space and work than his. I think he was also quite shocked to see the families living on the cramped boats, with barely anything that he would call essential possessions.
Arch in the Limestone Karsts
Taking in the scenes around us we gently glided through Ving Vieng Village. Far ahead we could make out an arch in the limestone karst that looked barely high enough for a boat to get through. Once we got closer we could see some of the others boats rowing underneath, waiting for us to join them. The arch connects the village area to the outside world. From there we could see the large tanker and container ships in the harbor across Ha Long Bay, loaded with coal and other goods before starting their journeys across the globe.
Vietnam’s Rubbish Problem
One thing that had shocked us during our entire time on the cruise, was the sheer amount of rubbish and litter in the sea and along the rocky shores, while we felt that our cruise company took good care of the environmental impact, including taking care of litter and avoiding too much additional washing, we noticed that our guide through Vung Vieng Village constantly fished out any debris from the sea. Vietnam in general has a rubbish problem and whilst the government is trying to educate and change the culture sadly many places still dump their rubbish in the corners of fields or by the roads, from there it easily is blown into the sea. Finishing our circular tour, we arrived at the pearl farm.
Arrival at the Pearl Farm
Our group was the last to visit the Pearl Farm and Vung Vieng Village that morning. A lady already expected us at the pearl farm and started to share her knowledge on the different varieties of oysters and their pearls. The oysters originate in Japan, the South Pacific and Tahiti and the different varieties create pearls in white, rose and grey hues. It takes between 6 weeks to three months for the oyster’s mollusk to initially coat the pearl. The pearls then need a further 3-4 years or even longer before they have reached their final size and shape.
Retrieving a Pearl from an Oyster
We were led into a room where we were able to watch a man open the oysters and retrieving a white pearl. What an incredible wonder nature creates inside the oyster shells. The lady explained that only a very small amount of the pearls are actually sold for jewelry, they require them to be perfect without any deformations or damages, whereas many are actually more oval or deformed. I was rather disappointed to hear this as I had wanted to buy some deformed ones and have them made into earrings. The disregarded pearls are sold on to companies that use them in paste for cosmetics and skincare.
In the next room we found a large display of pearl jewelry, they obviously expected us to buy earrings, rings or even necklaces, either for ourselves or as gifts and souvenirs. There were some loose pearls on offer, included a few deformed ones and when I asked I was quite shocked by the price. They wanted 90 USD for them, which I consider a rip off rather than a fair price. I would have happily paid a bit more but this was way too expensive, I remember on our trip to Ishigaki-jima in Japan, the prices were similar if not lower, but that was Japan and about ten years ago… We all left without buying anything, so I think everyone felt the same. In some ways it was a shame, as we would happily support the effort of the village but they clearly were trying to exploit their captive tourist audience.
Saying Goodbye to the Dragon’s Pearl
Back on the boat we packed our suitcases ready to be collected by the cabin boys. Then everyone met up in the dining room, it felt weird to eat our lunch inside, but the crew thought it was too hot to have lunch on the outer deck. Our guide came to say goodbye, plus the captain thanked us for our stay on board in Vietnamese, which we all found quite amusing. We handed over the tips for everyone. They actually had set up a gratuity box on the bar for the crew and one separate envelope for the guide. The mood over lunch was somewhat subdued, as we were all sad to leave the boat behind, wishing we could cruise this magical part of Vietnam for longer. Thanks again to everyone on the Dragon’s Pearl 2 for their excellent service and hospitality.
Our Return to Hanoi
Soon enough it was time for us to get back onto the tender and return to Ha Long harbor. We said farewell to our fellow guests in the waiting lounge and were driven back to Hanoi by minibus. This time we stopped at a different rest stop, but it was selling similar items and marble sculptures to the ones on the way out. These rest stops were perhaps our only criticism of what was otherwise an fantastic tour.
Dinner at Restaurant Quan An Ngon
As our onward journey was by overnight sleeper train we asked to be dropped around the corner from Hanoi station. We went for an early dinner at restaurant Quan An Ngon for some Vietnamese food. I had read that it was advisable to eat proper food or buy food to take with you before taking the overnight train. The friendly Japanese couple that shared a table with us started a conversation and Jerome somehow managed to charm them enough to get some Japanese sweets from them. He was keen to take them on the train.
Ready for our Overnight Train Journey
Once we had paid we set off with our luggage to the train station in Hanoi, located two blocks from the restaurant. We were excited about our overnight train journey, a first for Jerome, not knowing what to expect from a soft sleeper berth on a Vietnamese train. You can read all about our train journey to Hue in the following post.
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