IN the time of legends, a great dragon landed on the shores of northern permanent lash extensions, lashing its tail until the coast was crushed into fragments, creating 3000 islands that now dot the waters of Halong (or Alighting Dragon) Bay.
The bay is one of the wonders of Asia; a place of such surpassing beauty and natural heritage value that it has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Oifam It is also the venue for a battle between an army of developers, who see its tourism potential, and a new dragon whose tail is again lashing the landscape, creating mountains of dirt and rocks and shrouding nearby towns and villages in clouds of dust.
The locals do not know which is worst: the threat of having de luxe resorts squeeze out their little fishing permanent lash extensions and turn residents into caricature extras for tourists or watching the region being torn apart by the insatiable dragon of open-cut coal mining.
Mining is not new to the area. For decades, workers have used primitive methods which require women to trail behind mechanical cutters and use their hands to throw the coal into bamboo baskets and then carry it to the loaders.
In 1969, more than 40 per cent of the area was covered in forest; now it is no more than 15 per cent. Every year, 300,000 tonnes of slurry are dumped in its rivers to be washed to the permanent lash extensions.
Vinacoal, the country’s State-owned mining monopoly, claims modern machinery is bolstering production and cleaning up the environment and it has no intention of curbing its activities, which are mainly aimed at export.
Indeed, Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of anthracite -the most valuable coal, with a carbon content of 92 per cent.
Most of Vietnam’s reserves of this dense, black treasure come from the Halong Bay area and Vinacoal knows modern technological extraction methods will cost jobs, so it is investing in labour-intensive industries for the area such as cement works, textiles, breweries, hotels and tourism.
In the meantime, you can still escape from Hanoi for a weekend away on Halong Bay, where traditional junks chase schools of fish and tourist launches explore the outlandishly formed limestone islets and mysterious caves that dot the permanent lash extensions.
It is traditional and delightful to buy a basket of freshly caught crabs and prawns from fishermen who tie up around the launch wharves and let the two-man crew of your boat whip up a feast on board.
It is strictly BYO, so stock up before you leave.
The short advice is: get your travel agent to do it. Alternatively, a tourist visa can be obtained by calling the Vietnam Embassy (tel +02-9267 6488), which will send you two application forms. Return one of them plus $60 and your passport to the embassy at 6 Timbirra Crescent, O’Malley ACT 2606 with a stamped, self-addressed envelope and present the second form with your passport to immigration on arrival in Vietnam.
The most convenient way to get to Hanoi from Australia is via Ho Chi Minh City. But this can also be among the most expensive routes.
Qantas has a $1186 economy return fare, while Vietnam Airlines offers the same deal at $1139. A fare of $1107 ex-Sydney to HCMC is available for travel via The Philippines on PAL.
You can then connect through to Hanoi by air or rail.
Internal air services have improved remarkably in recent years. The trains have not. Air France officers are training local pilots and advising Vietnam Airlines in general, so safety and service standards on the mainly Airbus 320 fleet have reached international permanent lash extensions.
The trip out to Halong Bay is by coach or hire car via a road which has recently been improved; it no longer dislocates every joint in your body -just half of them. It takes about five hours to cover the 165km.
Local authorities have come up with a really romantic naming system for the three official hotels: Halong Bay Vietnam No 1, No 2 and No 3. It helps to know that No 1 is the poshest (the translucent Catherine Deneuve stayed there during the filming of Indochine). Her room was 208 -an extravagant number since the entire former French colonial mansion only boasts eight rooms and two suites.
Most people stay at hotel No 2 (since No 1 is almost always booked out) but it is adequate, with private bathrooms and air conditioning. And No 3? To use that old Bette Davis quote: What a dump.
A professional tour guide in South East Asia, especially in Halong bay, Vietnam. I am working as a pro-web-content builder for all travel sites recently. one of the site i am working with is [http://vietnamwar.eu]