Changing Tides in Halong Bay: Wooden Junks and the Future

The interest in this World Heritage Site is nothing new; people have been coming to view the great limestone karsts of Halong Bay for centuries.

This has been, in part, due to its unique location and an important trading post for spice trade between China, Japan, and Thailand. The bay gradually became a center for cultural and commercial exchanges between these countries and ancient Vietnam.

The establishment of the Van Don port dates as far back as the reign of Ly Ang Tong in 1149. These days the Cai Lang commercial port remains a lasting relic of Halong’s ancient past.

Chinese and Vietnamese tourists have been flocking to Halong Bay for centuries due to its spiritual connections. Pilgrimages became popular as people looked for soul purification and peace of mind. This is, in part due to Halong being the birthplace of Truc Lam Zen, a Vietnamese school of Buddhism created by King Tran Nhan Tong in the 13th century.

Halong Bay later became a symbol of the famous Chinese and Vietnamese junks, the traditional boat of Southeast Asia. The creation of the junks dates back to 3000BC.

You can see Halong Bay’s appeal in several films that have scenes shot in the area. Blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island (2017), Pan (2015) and James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) all contained scenes shot in Halong Bay, most of which couldn’t resist employing a junk for a scene.

IndoChine (1992) is another great example of this, with scenes set in Halong Bay demonstrating the cultural significance of junks during the French Colonial period.

While the history of wooden junks is rich, it’s time for a new phase of water transport in Halong Bay. It will be sad to see these beautiful ships leave, but environmental and safety factors have made replacement steel ships a necessity.

Safety is an important factor when it comes to cruises and sadly wooden boats are at risk from fires and sinking. Two junks experienced major fires in 2017, while the sinking of previous wooden boats has led to worrying numbers of fatalities.

Deterioration of the boats within the harsh environment of Halong Bay has made it necessary to retire all wooden hull cruises after 15 years. In comparison, steel boats are given 25 years until they have to be removed from the bay.

The environmental impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site is another obvious factor.

Deterioration of wooden boats, as outlined by their lifespan, is huge, and this can have significant negative impact when compared with their steel counterparts. Additionally, the dubious source of the wood provided for these boats may impact on deforestation in Asia.

The People’s Committee of Quang Ninh is trying to reduce the number of wooden hull cruises. Currently, there are around 534 cruise ships in the bay, 81% of which are wooden. It is predicted that, by 2020, there will still be 400. But by 2030 they’ll be gone.

As the largest cruise liner and the market leader in Halong Bay cruises, President Cruises is proud to invest only in safe, steel boats that have minimal impact on the environment.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

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