|"Chinese junks" cruising the beautiful Ha Long Bay. Photo by Michael Rybak.
My husband and I were making our way down the central coast of Vietnam last week when the e-mail messages started coming in from friends wondering if we were all right. That's when we clued in to the news reports about the tragic deaths of 12 tourists on a boat in Ha Long Bay. Actually, we'd completed our own Ha Long Bay tour just four days before this accident.
The fact we'd chosen Ha Long Bay as a destination was not surprising. Probably 90 percent of the tourists who visit Hanoi book the two-day trip to the coast for a cruise through the magnificent limestone karst-filled Ha Long Bay.
Every day, dozens of these so-called "Chinese junks" cruise out to the bay and spend the night surrounding the Ti Top sandstone karst, which we climbed in the morning. The boats are absolutely gorgeous. Our wooden boat, which carried only 14 passengers, was about 125 feet long, with multiple decks and high ceilings. It was seemingly invincible in only 30 feet of water, which is the average depth of the bay surrounding Ti Top.
The 12 tourists who died represented several countries around the world, as did our passenger manifest: two Americans, two Canadians, two Columbians, four Chinese and four Israelis. We were delighted with our company and the short cruise (two days and one night) that brought us all together in extremely congenial and luxurious surroundings. Think white linen tablecloth meals and first class cabins on a four-level luxury boat.
The Vietnamese government has suddenly suspended Ha Long Bay cruises following the accident, but I hope that situation eases once the various cruise boats can meet renewed safety inspections. It was one of the most memorable of our Vietnam excursions!