August 13, 2007

Vietnam: August 6th-7th Halong Bay

Can't say I was unhappy to check out of the Thien Thuy hotel this morning, especially since the next stage of the holiday was a trip to Halong Bay, a place of amazing beauty. The minibus arrived almost on time and we set off on the three hour trip to Halong from Hanoi. The others in the group for the tour were from Spain, Germany, New Zealand and the UK. We had a chatty good-humoured guide for the tour named Tho.

To leave Hanoi we had to cross the Red River, which really was a deep brick red colour, due to the silt in the water. After that we were to pass through the countryside, where the main road was lined with rice paddies and banana plantations, and later passing through Hai Duong and Haiphong. We reached Halong port at just before one, and then we were taken on board our boat and everyone checked into their room before (a voluminous) lunch was served.

One of the many boats in the bay (not the one I was on though)

The bay contains over 1500 small limestone islands rising sharply out of the sea, covered in trees and ringing with cacophony of cicadas and birdsong. In 1994, it was designated a World Heritage site.

A fishing village on the sea.

In the middle of the afternoon, the boat bumped and jostled for almost half an hour among the other tour boats as we pulled in to an island to see the Huang Dao Go (the Cave of Marvels), a huge cave complex of three chamber quite tastefully illuminated.

Near the exit of the caves, a local from the fishing village rows past in a boat laden with Pringles and chocolate!

After the caves we sailed on a bit and moored at the fishing village. As well as fishing and selling junk food to tourists, the village's other source of income is renting out sea kayaks. Our group were paired off and we paddled around the bay and through a kind of tunnel-like cave into a grotto in an island, which was fairly peaceful. The kayaking was a lot of fun though also quite strenuous, so the hour or hour and a half we had was probably just about the right amount of time. We got back on our boat at about six, and had barely got changed before the heavens opened. The storm from Hue had worked its way up the coast, and we had a couple of hours of heavy rain and thunder to accompany dinner.

The next morning we spent more time cruising around the bay some more before returning to port for lunch and then the three hour trip back to Hanoi.

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