Vietnam tales – Halong Bay


Right, where was I? Oh yes, we were just leaving Hanoi after a wonderful few days, heading for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and gobsmackingly beautiful Halong Bay. On the north-eastern edge of the country, around four hours from Hanoi, the bay is very firmly on the tourist trail, and you’ll be hard pressed at times to avoid the crowds, even outside of peak season.

It is possible however. Hanoi is literally teeming with travel agents who will organize a one in a life time trip out to the bay, sometimes for as little as $45 per trip. However, be warned, you will definitely get what you paid for here. It might be worth paying that little extra and going with a reputable tour company. It is possible to do the bay under your own steam, and if you have no time constraints, I’d say go for it.

 Anyway, on the advice of a few friends who had been in Hanoi a year earlier, we booked a 3 day trip with Hanoi Backpackers. Although they have a bit of a rep as a party outfit, they are incredibly organised, and if you’re of the travelling variety where you prefer people to hold your hand and point you in the right direction, then theses guys will make your travels a breeze. For a price of course.

Our junk - The Jolly Roger

 Anyway, an early start saw us crammed into a minibus for our four hour trip out to the bay, Only 200km away, a combination of Vietnamese roads, driving, and a welcome dislike for speed (very welcome when you consider the driving skills on offer) we made it to the bay around 11:30 or saw. Along with what seemed like half the foreigners in South East Asia. The place was awash with travellers and tourists, all keen on getting away for a little…

 Only once we had navigated round the masses, and hopped on a little tender to take us out to our junk, rather boringly called the Jolly Roger could we begin to appreciate the beauty and splendour of the place. According to our junks skipper, which rather conveniently tallies with all knowing Wiki, “when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. After that, dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the earth, and then decided to live here.” Lesson endeth.

 Now that you’re educated, let’s move on. We said goodbye to the hordes, and went steaming into the bay, thankfully in a direction opposite to most of the other boats.. Beer in hand and up on the top deck, it was difficult to chat to any of the fellow backpackers on board, because the views on offer were just too distracting. Limestone cliffs that seemed to defy gravity were dotted all over the place, and they seemed to hide so many little bays and inlets that it would surely take years to explore them all. With hardly another boat in sight. The views were so good I had to be called twice for lunch. A mistake I only made once. Prawns, grilled fish, fresh fruit and veggies, beef stir fry. And endless quantities……Rarely have backpackers eaten so well.

Limestone cliffs and outcrops that seem to defy gravity

 It was just as well we fueled up. The afternoon was passed in a blur of activity, jumping off the top of the junk into the waters below, a kayaking trip through the caves and tunnels, and a little light caving. Once we had all wriggled our way though the cave, we came out into a hidden pool of water, totally surrounded by the tall limestone cliffs. It looked like something straight from the movies. Floating in the warm water looking up at the sky was the most epic way to pass a Monday afternoon. That evening was spent under a full moon on the deck of the junk, after yet another wonderful meal and a few cold beers. Mercifully, the few other junks that were moored in the same bay were well scattered, so it was quiet and peaceful, and truly beautiful in the moonlight.

Our secret swimming hole

 Bright and early the next day, we transferred onto a smaller tender, and set off for a two hour cruise deep into the heart of the bay. We passed a few of the local, floating fishing villages, and saw some of the fishermen in action. Almost all of the little floating villages had a few dogs living on them, and as our skipper explained to us that the dogs are used for security when the family goes out to fish. They, like the fisherman will hardly ever go onto dry land, and will spend most of their lives on the water.

Guard dogs out on the water

 And then, a little piece of paradise. Overlooked by sheer limestone cliffs on three side, we came across a small bay, with a little white beach, some palm trees,and a few beach shacks. This would be our home for the next couple of days. Complete with hammocks, English books(a rarity in Korea), snorkels, a speedboat with skis and a banana boat, great food, large quantities of cold beer, twenty or so backpackers, it was a tough place to spend a few days. But someone has to do it…

Our 'Beach'

 Stay tuned for the next installment. Hue and Hoi Ann….

I hope heaven looks something like this

Published in: on 24/08/2010 at 7:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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