Saturday, September 19, 2015

2013 Hanoi Trip - Halong Bay Part 4 - Floating Village

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Full experience of my visit to Hanoi can be accessed through the list below:

More about Hanoi can be read through the list below:

If we were just on board the ship and stared at the passing scenery for 6-hour, that would be a rather impersonal way to admire the natural appeal of Halong Bay. Fortunately for us, the trip included 2 highlights to dispel the monotony - a visit to the floating villages and a hike through the caves.

The UNESCO level beauty of Halong Bay hide an ugly past - caves of all sizes riddled the limestone karst islands scattered throughout the bay, lending pirates a haven after preying upon trading ships. With so many hiding places among the islands, it was a tough time for the authorities to wipe them out or to patrol the waters.

Hues of green

Safety first

Pirates are of course no longer an infestation in the bay but people do live on the waters. The floating villages became one of the 2 stops for our ship, lending us an opportunity for some excitement. The wooden structures were anchored in the waters, and I felt barely a sway stepping onto the platforms. We foregoed the stalls offering coconut refreshments for a price and boarded the waiting sampans, most of them in various hues of greens while a handful preferred the natural wooden planks over paint jobs.

Coconuts? Refreshments?

Generally a sampan would accommodate 6 passengers and a rower. Our gang of 5 accepted the gracious request by the guide to have another fellow tourist of the same cruise to join in the fun and off we went. It took about 30 minutes to complete a circuit through the vista of limestone karst islands and verdant vegetations.

Fellow tourist (lower middle)

The young lady rower was one of the villagers and her life was spent mostly over the waters, being as familiar with the bay as we were with city blocks. In strong strodes she silently worked the oars, silent except for answering our questions or when pointing out an interesting spot. In short conversations, we got to know that she was in her teens yet her strength and skill of rowing a vessel with the weight of 7 belied her age. Her English was fair enough for conversations and she answered in short sentences or in strings of words, sharpening the language skills she picked up in school through conversations with foreigners.


The lady in purple was our rower and she was in her late teens only.


We are leaving the anchored platform and moving towards the various karst islands.

The rhythmic strides of her oars breaking the waters soon became a background music to our ears as she brought us through low hanging entrances to witness a lagoon beyond the greater bay area where our ship awaited. There were quite a number of islands which housed their own inner lagoon, hidden from plain sight and entered only via a low cave entrance connecting both bodies of water. It was no wonder that the pirates and smugglers came to house their dens in Halong Bay.

Touring the islands


They made it looked as simple as driving a car, but moving and maneuvering a vessel through water required skill, strength and stamina.

Cave entrance


There are a few cave entrances like this which we went through, each of them linking the greater bay to another lagoon within the island, hidden from sight.

Purple and orange

Back to village

At the end of the circuit we returned to the floating village and for the first time I had a good look at the structures. They looked dilapidated at closer inspection but the vibrant paint jobs hide that fact from a cursory glance. Each of them looked similar to each other and only when the rower pointed to a larger structure and said "My school" did I realize that they had a fully functional community here. It was a village not because it was backwater. It was a village because everyone supported each other. It made me think that we city folks were more backwater than these people of the floating village.

The school

This is the school of our young rower. There is even a whiteboard outside listing class schedules and a small boat tied to the side, probably for transportation or for them to learn the skills of rowing a boat.

Vessels of life


Each structure is individual yet stayed close enough together to form a community.

Limestone karst islands

Not all tourists shared our enthusiasm to be rowed around, preferring to bask on the deck and just relax. I for one was glad that I had the opportunity to meet the young rower, granting this city boy an opportunity to meet her floating community. Her stamina was also quite impressive, at least it was to the city boy who broke nary a sweat in his air-conditioned cocoon of a workspace. Although the sampan tour was paid for in the ticket and, unlike some others, she did not ask for a tip, we still chose to give her some as a small form of encouragement. We stepped off and returned to our ship and the last I saw of her was when we rowed off with another shipment full of tourists snapping off to their delight, ignorant of her strength and skill like we did.

Environment:         A UNESCO Natural Heritage Site with beautiful karst formation
Suitable for:            Landscape lovers, UNESCO hunters
Visit worthiness:   8/10 (I have to cheat here by marking up the worthiness value, because it is truly beautiful!)
Historical value:        4.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  0.0/5.0
Photographic value: 4.0/5.0
Landmark value:       5.0/5.0
My cheating value:   +1.5

Entrance Fee:                  usually included within the tour
Opening Hours:             anytime
Best Moment to Visit: Anytime, but most probably your time is decided by the tour
Length of Visit:              >8 hours (can last overnight)

Website:                   -

Contact:                    -
E-mail:                      -
Address:                   -

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