Wow. Halong Bay. It was a relief to leave Hanoi with its non-stop tooting traffic and the remaining Christmas blues from being away from home. On the way to the junk we’d get into the bay, we met an old Texan guy who had just come back from a motorbike tour of the north. Pretty impressive as he must be over 70, and he broke a rib whilst doing it! He was a nice guy but boy could he talk. And talk. When we arrived at the dock, there were lots and lots of boats and lots and lots of tourists; we started to wonder how relaxing it would be. Thankfully when we headed off into the Bay it all quietened down. Our junk was lovely and spacious, and given there was only 14 of us on board, not cramped at all. For lunch we had a whole cooked crab which was delicious; we met a nice Ozzie couple (Kent and Daranee) who showed us how get the meat out of the crab. For the rest of our meals there we had fish, seafood, fish and some more seafood. All delicious but when we got back to Hanoi we headed straight for the nearest steak house and got us a fill of red meat ! There were a surprising number of vegetarians on board and we couldn’t help snickering about the amount of tofu and fried peanuts they had to consume.
We cruised around the Bay and stopped at a small karst (this is what each of the limestone islands are called) with a beach. The views and atmosphere were incredible, the mist adding to the mystique of the place. We will upload lots of photographs for you, apologies if we go a bit overboard! We both think an ideal holiday would be coming to this place for a week on a junk – it’s got everything we like: good food, amazing scenery, peace and tranquility, lots of activity with cycling and kayaking and seeing how the local people live.
Anyway after a swim in some perfectly cold water, we headed off to the Hang Dau Go caves, first discovered by the French at the start of the 20th century. They are huge – far bigger than anything we have seen before, including the Cango caves in South Africa. There was a particularly interesting shaped rock called the “pink penis” – which, yes, looked vaguely phallic, although lighting it up in red didn’t much help. The exit from the caves was high up the side of one the karsts, giving great views of the tourist activity and the Bay – it truly is one of the most magnificent places we have ever been .
After some more seafood and boat-breaking record of 7 beers (the drinks by cabin were listed on a paper sheet; it was our duty as the sole Brits to come first) we settled down for a night on the junk. It was remarkably quiet, and there was something quite comforting about having a flotilla of junks surrounding us. We got up at 7am to go for a swim before breakfast; we jumped off the junk into the Bay and got a bit of a shock from the cold. But it was the best way to start the day, if only our commutes into London could begin like this…
That day was another eye-popping, tranquil day – we cycled through a large island past farmers and small villages to reach some really remote spots. At one point, we were on a dirt track about 1 foot wide which scooters also used as the main transport route to the village! We had to cross over some rickety wooden bridges – one broke underneath B (due to the rotten wood I hasten to add) but luckily no injury was received. Lunch was a BBQ (well they cooked it on the boat and served it on the beach, so they called it a BBQ) on a beach, where G swam some more. They had to move the boat out to deeper waters, so we were truly isolated for a couple of hours – it was a great feeling. Shame there was other people there…
That afternoon we went kayaking. There was one cove you could reach only by water, passing under a small rocky overhang to a circular body of water surrounded by limestone cliffs. When you banged your oar against the kayak it echoed around the bay, so Kent and I got a good drumbeat going. The peace and permanence of the place is difficult to describe. When we finished kayaking there was tricky walk across some narrow planks that formed a village compound to get back to our boat. We were lucky not to fall in to the fishing nets but it all added to the experience. When we got picked up from the beach, we had a scale a plank of wood at 45 degrees onto the boat with no handrail or rope; let me just say that Vietnamese health and safety hasn’t really taken off. But it is a liberating experience not to be mollycoddled around, and (until something happens I can hear my mum say) preferable. One last thing to mention about Halong bay – the women that rowed about in individual boats trying to sell water, cookies and bananas. They were incredibly persistent, and popped up everywhere with a refrain of ‘You want buy something from me?’. Their oarswomenship was quite impressive though, negotiating their way through tiny gaps between rather large boats!
Arriving back in Hanoi was a bit startling after all that relaxing – however we headed straight for the meat at the Cyclo Restaurant with Kent and Dee . Cyclos are push bikes that transport tourists about, with the driver behind and the seat in front; the restaurant had these for seats. It was great to have some red meat, and after a few hours, the natural rocking of our bodies caused by being on the water for so long stopped.
Drpymm (From United Kingdom)