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Saturday in Halong Bay

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Halong Bay, VietnamIt’s been a few years since I’ve been out on a boat in Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

I’d heard from friends that things had gotten really crowded out there: too many tourist boats. Too much diesel fume in the air. Too much trash thrown into the water.

No doubt: Halong Bay is still beautiful. No wonder it’s Vietnam’s prime tourist attraction. But you can see how crowded the waters of the bay are in this little film I made.

UNESCO designated the bay with its hundreds of little islands a World Heritage Site in 1994. Rumor has it that UNESCO is considering withdrawing this title because of the damage that tourism is doing to the area. Not a pleasant thought. But then again: visiting the bay today, I was part of the problem. Oops.

According to Wikipedia,

Fuel and oil, along with tourist litter, have created pollution problems, which impact on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of the islands. Human waste from portable toilets erected for tourists, finds its way into the soil and water surrounding the islands, once more altering the ecosystem functioning, through increased nutrient flow.

and

The delicate limestone cave ecosystems are diminishing as tourists visiting the caves break off stalagmites and stalactites. Litter, including wine bottles, are dropped into cave streams. Visitors exhale carbon dioxide, which has a deleterious effect on the caves. The mouths of some caves have been widened to allow for tourist access. This increase in light has led to an imbalance in the delicate links between flora and fauna, and a decrease in the humidity of the caves.

What can you do if you still want to see Halong Bay?

I can’t recommend going out there on a one-day trip. On these short trips, the tour operators only take you to the most visited places. You get a glimpse of the bay, but you can’t really enjoy it because you’re always with a crowd.

Halong Bay, VietnamMaybe it’s better to invest in a longer trip with a more conscientious tour operator. One that takes tourists on eco-friendly cruises or one that goes off the beaten track.

I’ve heard that some operators like HanoiKultour don’t go with the pack of boats touring the bay every day. Instead, they travel on different routes, visit different islands within the bay. That way, the masses of tourists spread out a little.

And who knows – Mother Nature might even have a chance to deal with the damage they do and actually recover.

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Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Welcome to paradise

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Beach restaurants at Serendipity Beach, CambodiaSerendipity Beach in the southern Cambodian city of Sihanoukville is a backpackers’ paradise.

Dive shops, a tattoo artist and a couple of massage places line the unpaved road from the town down to the beach.

They get you in the mood for the beach life.

Down by the waterline, dozens of bars and restaurants have put out rattan chairs and sofas.

Happy meals and happy hours

The international backpacker-scene meets here every night for “happy hour”. And “happy hour” at Serendipity actually has two meanings.

For one thing, drinks get cheaper in the early evening hours: a glass of draft beer will cost you 50 US cents, Sundown at Serendipity Beacha cocktail shouldn’t cost more than $ 2.50.

The other meaning of “happy hour” at Serendipity is connected to the happy pizzas or shakes you can order from the menu in many bars.

Happy in this case means that the kitchen has added a sprinkle of dope. This will usually cost you a dollar or two extra.

But I didn’t try that kind of happy hour. Honestly.

In any case, the happiness at Serendipity beach usually lasts well into the morning hours.

At some point during the night, when the backpackers are reasonably drunk and home-sick, the dj’s will play “Take me home, country roads” or Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” at full blast and everyone wil sing along and start feeling just a little bit melancholy…

From the look of it, large numbers of 20-somethings from Europe, the U.S. or Australia hang out at Serendipity for weeks on end. It’s a daily party. Beach, booze and bikinis. And the communal sing-along before turning in.

The original island getaway

If you feel you’ve had enough of the daily party (or if you’re no longer a 20-something), a trip to the islands off the coast of Sihanoukville might be a good antidote.

Boat trip to the islandsMost of the islands are small, barren and uninhabited. Just rocks and jungle, surrounded by some coral reefs that make  pretty good snorkelling grounds.

Local tour operators offer day trips to three islands just off the coast. The trip will cost you $ 15 (and that includes soft drinks and lunch).

If you’d like to stay on an island, you can also take the ferry boat to Bamboo Island, or Koh Russei, as it’s also called.

Bamboo is the only island with some very basic hotels on it.

The ferry costs $ 10 and leaves the mainland at 10 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m. every day.

What you get is pure paradise

Bamboo Island is small enough to cross it on foot in ten minutes. It basically consists of two beaches and a few no-frills bamboo huts where you can stay.

Bamboo Island, CambodiaDon’t expect comfort.

But if you’re willing to leave all luxuries behind, if you don’t need 24-hour electricity and hot water, then Bamboo Island can be like paradise.

The island’s beaches can only be called under-crowded. Xou’ll only see the few people living or staying on the island. And for a few hours around noon, they’re joined by the visitors the tour operators have ferried in.

But come four o’clock, they’ll all return to the mainland and Bamboo Island will fall back into its almost-paradise-tranquility.

A handful of tourists and locals, who are one with the sea, the breeze, the sand, the jungle.

Cows on the beachOh – and not to forget the cows, chickens and goats that belong to the locals. I’m afraid you’ll have to share the beach with them.

They cows, for instance, love to stroll along the beaches looking for food (e.g. left-overs from the picknick lunches on the beach).

I guess we’re talking about real beach animals here. And real Chicken of the Sea

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