Who Made Halong Bay Into a Garbage Dump?

We left our awful night bus with the broken axle where it was disabled in the middle of the road, and screamed into Hanoi in our illigitimate taxi. We are trying to get to town on time because we leave on a cruise to Halong Bay in just one hour. We will be taking a mini bus to Halong Bay, stay overnight in the cruise boat and the bus back again the next day. At one point I did wonder where our taxi was going, but sure enough they brought us to the right address. In fact, we got there with a few minutes to spare, and we were all famished. David and I started scouring the streets for something for breakfast. I can’t stomach noodles, so we are searching for some starch in the form of bread.

It seems like we are not in the right street for food. In Hanoi it seems like the shops selling similar merchandise congregate together on the same street. I did find this pot full of cooked pork rind – but to be sure I will not eat that! 

This street is narrow….I see some raw meat displayed…..would you like some ribs? Would you like some exhaust with that?  

This lady has a few things in her basket….I don’t see anything tempting.
A woman’s bicycle is weighed down by strange looking fruits.   

Ahaaaa! There it is! A bakery shop! We buy some exhaust fumigated breads and sweet rolls. We are set!   

The mini bus arrives and we start the four hour drive to Halong Bay. We ended up with seats in the back of the bus. I realize very quickly that the road to Sapa is indeed a lot smoother than the road to Halong Bay.

It isn’t long before the tour guide on the bus starts to try to switch our cruise. We had negotiated hard with the agent and got the price down from $160 to $98 on Cristina Cruises, which I think is a good deal for a 4 star cruise. They want us to switch to another boat, which I think is not as nice. We are adamant that we are not switching. The tour guide tells us we paid too little, but we don’t budge. He calls the agent who sold us the tickets. She sounds nervous on the other end of the line, and tells me in broken English that we paid too little. I tell her a deal is a deal. She sounds like she is ready to cry. Finally we strike an agreement – we are not allowed to tell any other passengers what we paid. Whatever. I am sure we didn’t get such a great deal anyway, and I certainly am not downgrading! This puts a bad taste in our mouths to start the trip. I have done my research, and I know they try to up sell you and then downgrade at the last minute. I am not falling for it.

David is so exhausted from his sleepless night on the bus that he sleeps most of the way. I am busy enjoying the scenery. It is hard to get photos as the bus bounces its way down the road. On the way back we are going to sit in the front. This driver seems to find it necessary to pass everyone in sight, and of course there are no seat belts….

The electrical wiring in this part of the world looks like the back of David’s desktop computer – wires everywhere!

Women work in the rice fields as we barrel past.   

A man ploughs the fields manually in sharp contrast to the high power lines nearby….old and new coexist side by side….

A town has sprung up in the rice fields  

Someone beautifies their home with flowers.

I find it interesting that all the homes are built tall and narrow, and usually only the front is painted.   

After a very bumpy ride we arrive at the dock. The tour guide had kept my tickets. Stupid me, I had been thinking I needed a photocopy of the tickets in case something went wrong, but there were no photocopiers around that I could find. Suddenly it dawns on me!  Duh! I should have taken a picture with my phone! We watch as the other passengers from the bus get taken away to their cruise boat, and we are left waiting in the hot sun. Someone asks me if I have tickets, and I tell them the tour guide took them. I don’t think they are happy with us that we didn’t agree to switch to the other boat.

Finally we are led to the small boat that brings us to our cruise boat, the Cristina.


And thar she hails….our home for the next 24 hours. She is supposed to have been put into service in April 2015, but I think she looks a bit rusty ….

First order of business is to find a seat and wait for instructions and keys to our rooms 

And this is our room. Pretty nice.


And then we have lunch

I can’t believe we are here….I have dreamed of coming here, and it just seems crazy to think that I am here now….
But before I can begin to enjoy the day I have work to do. You may remember that we didn’t bring many clothes with us, which means we run out of underwear too quickly. So the luxurious cruise boat sink turns into a clothes washing station.

Suddenly there is an announcement that we are going kayaking, so we hurry off the boat and wind up in these questionable looking kayaks. I am not sure if they are seaworthy, so we have two choices. One person stays behind with the purse and camera with all our valuables, or we leave them unattended on the boat. Otherwise if the kayaks tip over our goods may sink to the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea. My strategy when I came on this trip is that the purse would never be out of my sight, but the temptation to go kayaking is greater than my wisdom. We leave all our valuables behind and head off into the waters.

It was hard for me to enjoy the kayaking because I worried about our valuables. When we got back onshore I rushed directly over to our stuff….literally over $5000 worth of stuff and money….more if you count the cost of passports for six people….all safe and sound! I didn’t like the feeling of not having the belongings with me….so maybe I won’t do that again.
The next order of business is a visit to what is known as Surprising Cave. It is surprisingly cavernous, which seems to be how it got its name. I, however, think that the most surprising thing about Surprising Cave is all the trash floating in the water in the bay. I see a man in a small boat with a small net like one would use to skim leaves off the top of their luxurious Scottsdale pool….he is skimming trash off the surface and putting it into his little boat. I think to myself that you need a net as big as six football fields.  But I ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I find myself thinking what I would do if I were Bill Gates……


There are beautiful views from the cave opening….from up here you can’t make out the trash.


Soon enough we are being shuttled once again, this time to Tip Top Beach. The schedule is pretty tight. 

Tip Top Beach is a tip top tourist trap. Maybe 20 other tour boats patrons are swimming in the questionably clean water! What the heck, might as well join the fun! What kind of diseases can you get from salt water, anyway?


More than anything I am interested in the lifestyles of the people of the land. They eke out a meager living, and seem content.


It is time to return to our cruise boat, clean up, and have dinner. You can see the boat is already rusty so it seems hard to believe that it’s only a couple months old.

We all went up on deck before dinner to watch the sunset. The weather is perfect.   





 When dinner is served we all agree that this is probably well worthy of a four star rating. For budget travelers it’s more like a six star – it is downright elegant!


Annika wanted to eat the carrot flower.

Spring rolls served on a pineapple

When we are done with dinner we relaxed on deck for awhile, but we were all so exhausted we kept falling asleep mid sentence, so we went to bed early in our cozy cabins.

I awaken at dawn to get some sunrise photos. The beauty is breathtaking.


Breakfast in unremarkable, and I suddenly am longing for some fresh fruit. We cruise out into the bay to visit a Pearl Farm. I find myself about to choke on my own vomit! I can’t believe the amount of trash in the water. I don’t know how it is possible that the boat motor doesn’t stall from all the trash!  I am thoroughly disgusted! How is this ok on our planet earth? Who will rise up and fight this travesty on nature?

I try to block the trash out of my mind and focus on the Pearl Farm. The oysters are kept in screens like this in the water inside baskets.


Here you can see a man implanting a bead into the ovary of the oyster.


After a few years a pearl can be harvested. Only about 30% take. A aha…there is one!
Soon it is time to ferry our way through the garbage dump back to our cruise boat. I try to not let it bother me, but I am left with a bad taste….

I don’t know who would want to throw trash like this into the water of this beautiful Unesco World Heritage site. Certainly not these people who seem so dependent on these waters for their living! Would they destroy their own home?


Is it the tourists like us or the tour companies who spoil the waters for the sake of our own enjoyment or profiteering? My mind races. There must be a solution to this problem.

It isn’t long before we are back to enjoying our selfish selves…..

We have spring roll making class…..I still don’t know how to make them. This time we use rice paper instead of rice noodles.

Aundrea, the one who came from a dark long winter in Finland, works on her tan.    

We have lunch again…..getting fat on this trip….
And it’s time to disembark for the annoying 4 hour ride back to Hanoi.    

You won’t believe this, but I made a reservation online again for our party of six at the same Hanoi Ciao Hotel. Remember the one with dirty bedsheets! It’s so cheap….only $25! This time when we arrive they know who we are, and don’t send us to the icky sister hotel. Instead they give us two rooms for the price of one. Now we see happy smiles instead of shocked faces!



We leave in search of food again. I can’t help but wonder about these street restaurants.

We ended up eating at a place called Pho 10, but no one really liked their food…I stopped into a shop to buy a North Face waterproof bag, which the shop owner swears on his life that it is waterproof and authentic…..later I find it leaks like a sieve…..

Since we didn’t eat our dinners we stop for some nitrogen ice cream, which we all love.   

The night streets are busy…..and dirty…..

This is the garbage truck….everyone throws their trash on the streets and then the cleaning lady fills up the garbage truck. It makes no sense to me. Maybe the bay garbage is from locals?

We stop for some sugar cane juice….it’s sweet….    

It’s late. We are heading back to our hotel for the night. Hopefully the sheets are clean this time.  If they aren’t we have our silk sheets. And tomorrow we leave on our first Air Asia flight….you know the airline that had a crash a few months ago….and we are off to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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