Just got back from Halong Bay this afternoon and it was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful–even more than I expected. We left at around 8am from the hostel and were picked up by Active travel Vietnam _ the tour company that we’d booked with. We picked up 6 others, a Scottish couple living in Malaysia and a pair of couples from Spain. We then departed for Halong Bay, about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive. We also then met our tour guide Ngoan, a slim young woman who spoke pretty good English. She was no Wasa though! She briefed us on Hanoi and Halong Bay history and then told us about where to go in Hanoi to find good dog and cat meat. (We weren’t too interested). And she told us about how Vietnamese people like to string up live cobras from trees, skin them, and then drink their blood while it’s still hot from the dangling end, like some kind of bizarre tribal beer bong. Yummy.
About halfway through the trip and after a much needed nap, we stopped for a break at a place that sold local handicrafts made by handicapped children. I bought a very cool picture done in embroidery of a Vietnamese woman carrying some mangos on those balancy things that Blake carried in the infamous pineapple fiasco. I talked the price down from to which was fair especially because as the 4 foot tall salesman kept reminding me ‘made by handicap’ children’. no word if the kids get any of the profit though.
After the break we piled back into the van and about an hour later we arrived in Halong Bay City. We jumped out and headed straight to our boat, the cruise and man was it ever. It was soooo nice. A new boat with space for 14 and just beautiful on the inside. Lauren and I shared a room with two big windows (for a boat) and Blake got his own room since there were just 9 of us total. After we set down our belongings, we headed up to the main deck to the open dining area for our seafood lunch. And it was incredible. They just kept bringing out dish after dish! We had the freshed squid salad, huge shrimp, lovely vegetables, rice, noodles, a whole grilled fish, fruit… the food just didn’t stop coming!
Fully stuffed to the gills, we slathered on some sunscreen, threw on our bathing suits and went up to the top deck. By then we were really getting out into the bay amidst the nearly 2000 islands there and it was incredibly beautiful. The islands are all made out of limestone from decayed oysters, clams, etc from the past 350 million years that grew to form a mountain range because of the pacific rim tetonic plates shifting. Eventually the mountain range was eroded by the water and the islands formed. Now they are all protected by Unesco which is fortunate because the only one that can be inhabited is the national park on Cat Ba island. Just beautiful!
After sunning ourselves we then docked briefly to visit the Amazing Cave which is the biggest of the 8 or so caves that have been discovered so far in Halong Bay. And it really was amazing. Especially interesting though were the trashcans inside in the shape of dolphins and penguins which gave the weird sensation that we were at an amusement park of sorts.
From the cave, we moved onward to an island with a lookout pagoda at the very top. One 10 minute very vertical climb later we were super sweaty but enjoying the wonderful view. Blake showed me how to do a stitch assist too on my camera so I think I should be able to join several of the photos together to make a nice panoramic. Next, we returned to the boat and then jumped off from the top of the boat into the water. I was quite scared at first seeing as I’d really never done a high dive before, but it was worth it and then it was great! And the water was wonderful, just warm enough to be enjoyable but not so warm that you feel like the person next to you just ‘relieved’ themselves in the water.
After the swim we towelled off and then were fed another enormous and delicious seafood dinner. Dinner was followed by a great conversation with the Scottish couple that had been living in Malaysia the past 2 years, a little bit of World Cup viewing, and then Blake and I laying out on the top deck to look at the stars. It was the perfect day and we didn’t go to sleep until after midnight when we pried ourselves away from the night sky.
The next morning, Blake woke me up early to have a look at the sunrise, but at 5:15 am it was already up. So we went back to bed and then got back up in time for a 7am breakfast (also way too much food). Breakfast was followed by kayaking which was incredibly fun. We paddled around for about an hour and a half, with 2 people in each kayak. Lauren and I paddled together, and with her excellent instruction I eventually got the hang of it. It was difficult though because even though the water was pretty calm, the current was really strong. We all paddled together into these beautiful lagoons by Cat Ba island which was just such a peaceful experience (aside from the aching arms) that made me feel like we were in the movie “the beach” (which I am appropriately reading at the moment).
After kayaking, Lauren and I had another swim, then it was time to pack our bags… but not without yet another inordinately huge seafood meal that we could hardly finish! It really was the perfect get away. And amazingly enough, it only costs 00 to rent out the boat per week, including food. So I’m thinking, grab a group of 14 and come back sometime in the future for some R&R.
Well I’m back in Hanoi though, wearing my new Halong Bay pearl necklace (they do a lot of pearls there) and getting very excited about tomorrow’s trips to Hanoi’s museums and then the following day at China beach between Da Nang and Hoi An! It’s going to be great!