As you approach the bay, the landscape reveals itself. The structures in the shallows are fishermans' watch towers where they sometimes sleep to guard over their fish farms.
We set out on a warm, crystal clear afternoon for an overnight cruise into magic land.
First stop was a small fishing village. Fisherman and their families still live in these floating towns. At one time they lived in houseboats, sailing the bay and raising fish in small netted farms. The network of small inlets, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs, protects them from storms. Nowadays, the village has permanent floating houses, generators, TVs, and boats with engines. Tourism provides a steady income. We definitely felt a part of the tourist trap, but honestly it did not matter. It was still fantastic to see.
Here you see how they did it before tourism and gasoline: with a vegetable dyed sail and a tiny boat, equiped for a night or two out in the bay. Back then, it would have been even more peaceful in Halong Bay than it was during our short stay.
On the way back to Hanoi we stopped for a roadside meal, including lau ech (wild frog) in a hot pot and ca qua (snake head fish) killed in front of us, deep fried and served with lots of herbs and vinegar. Totally beyond words delectable.
The fish flakes right off and is wrapped in rice paper with the herbs, ginger, cucumber and pineapple.
About and hour from the airport (we had a long day!) we stopped in the village of Tho Ha. Before the advent of plastic, Tho Ha was a center of terra cotta vessel making. All your household needs: buckets, pails, pots, and jugs would have come from Tho Ha and similar villages surrounding Hanoi.
Another day-to-day item made in Tho Ha were secondary coffins. In Vietnamese tradition (actually pre-dating Buddhism) the dead were buried once, dug up 3 years later by the eldest living child and the bones cleaned with herbs, then reburied in a smaller coffin likes the ones used in the wall above. In more recent times, secondary coffins of cement or stone are more widly used and these extra terra cotta ones were put to good use as construction material.
Since plastic bucket and containers are now used instead of ceramics, the village switched to making rice paper. Above you see rice flour drying on woven flats in the open air to make edible rice paper like the kind used in our lunch.