Thursday, March 19, 2009

Halong Bay, Northern Vietnam

I'm doing a very bad/LAZY thing, I went on an amazing tour of Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. I went with a great couple Joe and Hannah from England. She wrote about it on her blog and did such a great job, I thought I would copy parts of it. Thanks Joe and Hannah.

I've put some pictures on Facebook again, you can see then with this public link:

At 8am we took a very small (and quite precarious looking) boat to our new home / boat for the next 2 days. Our crew Bin, Tim and Fi, made us feel instantly at home by bringing us a cup of traditional Vietnamese Tea. We sat up on the roof deck, lounging in our reclining chairs feeling like lord and lady muck! Shame the tea had been boiled in the same utensils they use for tea, as it had a very fishy taste! The three of us (Max has come with us, and the 3 of us have a huge boat all to ourselves) dutifully drank the tea, making the correct, polite um and ahh noises until Bin had gone down below, and we threw it over board, hoping the crew would think it was a fish jumping!

We motored out of Cat Ba Town Bay and just went around lots of different islands, each new turn providing a beautiful scene, fit for a kodak moment. Although the weather isn't great (its the low season, a bit cold and misty) it added to the magical sense. After a few hours of lounging about, admiring the scenery, we docked at one of the floating houses. The only other boats we have seen have been local fishermen and their floating houses / fish farms where they keep lots of dogs to amuse them. The fishermen keep fish in nets to fatten them up, an also grow muscles and other shell fish, but it can take 3 years for them to grow so they have a lot of spare time on their hands! We picked up some kayaks and donned our swimmers, before taking off on an hour long kayak tour around the bay we were in to a lovely beach which was covered in purple shells. There were all different types of shells, yet they all ranged from light to dark purple, it was quite bizarre, but very beautiful. There are so many little beaches where no one goes all around this area.

After the feast called lunch (fresh fish, veggies, spring rolls, rice and seafood - which Max ate, he's so happy he's on a tour with us, as he gets to eat all the stuff we don't like!) we once again motored out, the boat is called a junk, but it doesn't have those lovely red sails we were hoping for but its still a wonderful experience. After taking loads of photos, we once again kayaked in the afternoon, this time going though a cave complex (which got a bit dark and scary at one point!) which has been hollowed out of the cliffs by years of erosion, to bring us out into a lagoon.

The afternoon involved more motoring between the small islands. We just relaxed and enjoyed the views, soaking up the scenery. We visited a fish farm in the afternoon where our lads got a fish for tea -so fresh it tried to escape!

In the evening we ate yet another feast before retiring to bed down below at about 8pm! There isn't really too much to say, as most of the day has been spent up top, just relaxing! Perfect!

Day Two on Halong Bay

Arose at about 8 am, (Max rose just after 6:00) and we were promptly fed a lovely fried egg butty by the boys on our boat. Soon after we were underway with Captain Fi and his very cool quiff hairdo pushing us on further and deeper into the huge limestone monoliths. This morning he took us to some floating fishing villages and we all hopped in the kayaks for a closer inspection.

The trip over the shallows was fantastic and we managed to see some pretty interesting coral through the vivid jade coloured waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The crabs all take on a lovely purple colour as do most of the other shell fish and we loved getting close to the edges of the karst towers to see them scatter away when we paddled near. Once back in the boat we were taken to Thien Cung grotto which is a huge cave complex comprising of three large chambers containing large numerous stalactites and stalagmites. After 40 mins of walking around the caves it was time for lunch and once again it was a feast fit for kings - except the tea we had yesterday was twice as strong and fishy this time!

At about 1 ish we dropped anchor at another limestone tower that had some more interesting coral and a lovely beach and spent a good 50 min paddling slowly up and down the edges taking in the surroundings. Sadly our Halong Bay time was coming to an end and the junk we have been on for the last 2 days set course for Cat Ba island. It took us no time to get back as we reflected on the great couple of days we've just had and we were back at the hotel for 4:30pm. For anyone considering coming here - do it! - t'was superb - maybe check out this website and see what you think - - get thee to Phong Lan hotel and Mr Tung will sort it!

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