Thursday, March 27, 2008

Halong Bay

There's more to Vietnam than just cities; I know because I looked it up. After a few days in Hanoi, the next stop was a 3 day tour of Halong Bay.This entails a 3-4 hour bus ride from Hanoi to the bay. Then you board a junk and set off. From there, it's literally smooth sailing. We had 16-ish people on the boat, I'd guess, but that number became 10 once the non-sleep aboards left later in the afternoon.

One hour into the trip, we made a stop at a cave system that is pretty impressive. A walkway has been created through two chambers; the first is very big and a bit jaw dropping.

The way it is presented is a bit strange; there are tons of colored spotlights that make it feel a bit like a theme park ride, but there is no denying how cool most of the formations are. There is a second [less popular] chamber as well, and I liked this one more as it was simply lit with no extra theatrics.

We opted to stay one night on the boat, and one night on Cat Ba island, which is the big island on the map above. The islands in this bay are almost dream-like in their shapes, aided by the cloudy weather we had. The views are non-stop and in every direction. Calm water too; promising padding ground except that most of the islands don't really have a shoreline you could pull up on. Eventually, the anchor dropped and we settled in for the evening. Dinner than sleep, but one word about Vietnamese cuisine: its good, but expect to eat a lot of pommes frites. Daily.

Next morning was kayak time in the rain. Later, we took the boat to Cat Ba island. On the island, we had a short but mean day hike. Steep. Very Rocky. Narrow. After checking into a hotel in the afternoon, Bionica and I rented a moto and explored the island a bit. I think that the sight of two tall westerners on one moto was highly amusing for the locals, and we received attention wherever we stopped. We need gas at one point and stopped in a very small village. There is no such thing as a gas station out here; instead, the locals sell it 1.5L water bottles. Between ourselves and an old woman that was sitting near us with a basket a fresh shrimp, the whole community came out to see what was going on. At one point, I reached in to my backpack to get my camera, and an old guy practically leaned over and stuck his head in my bag to see what I was carrying. Funny. A beautiful island.

Power was out part of the evening back at the hotel, but they got it going eventually. The next day was heavy rain. Back to the boat, back to the main port, and eventually back to Hanoi.

Stay tuned...