What's made this Bay so popular is its cluster of 1,962 limestone islands and islets rising out of the sea in fantasy formations. (It was pointed out to us that this number of islands is the same as the year that Vietnamese icon Ho Chi Minh died, endearingly referred to as Uncle Ho.)
We had booked a 2-day, 1-night cruise through only a small part of these fabled islands. At the boarding pier, we were discouraged to see so many tourists and so many Vietnamese cruise boats. Granted, there was some 2nd world character to these boats and one could call it an intimate cruise experience in that typically they had only about 10 double cabins. Our boat was under-booked with only 6 of us!
Once out among the better stops, our views were distracted by the numerous other boats. We just felt that this mysteriously beautiful setting where one could understand how it inspired ancient legends of dragons should have been visited in quiet solitude. Nevertheless, the geographical weirdness was not missed.
Floating villages that once made their living from the sea now serviced the tourists by paddling them 4 at a time to the shore or under the natural bridges in a bamboo boat or by hawking menial treats.
Bamboo hulled boat
One island had a stepped path to the top for a photo op. Another had us enter a very large and impressive cave.
View from the top
We gave good marks to the cruise for their attentive service, our superior cabin, and the excellent food. On the way back before disembarkation, the kitchen staff did a small cooking class showing us how to make ornamental food presentations and how to make traditional spring rolls. The ones we made, we ate with lunch.
Lotus and sunflower
Later in the afternoon, the mini bus dropped us off to the pleasant welcome of our hotel staff in Hanoi.