Sunday, 13 April 2014

Halong Bay

5 - 8 April

We arrived in Hanoi from Hue on the 5th. It was an uncomfortable ride up on the soft seat (next time we will splurge on a sleeper) but we made it in one piece. Its a lot cooler here and overcast. I think it had been raining.

Anyway we made our way to the hotel to get settled in for the night. Hanoi is Vietnam's capital, but its smaller feeling and quieter than Ho Chi Minh. Our hotel in the Old Town was hidden in a maze of tiny streets all selling different wares. We passed shoe street, aluminium street, tops street. We were on selotape and stationary street!

We weren't going to be here for long so we didn't plan on seeing many sites, but we did walk along the lakeside to see the Turtle Tower and get some lunch. On the way, there was a wedding taking place at one of the restaurants. It brought the whole street to a standstill as onlookers crowded the road trying to see the bride (I presumed).

The following day we were picked up at 8 to start our trip to Halong Bay. It was a 4 hour journey to the harbour a long another road-in-progress.

Halong Bay is a magnificent collection of over 1000 limestone cliffs and islands. It was one of the top experiences on our wish list for Vietnam and we'd booked a night on board a traditional junk boat to make the most of it.

We boarded and checked into our cabin, which was surprisingly lovely, before being served lunch as we cruised into the archipelago. The food in amazing. Fresh seafood, vegetables, meats and rice with fresh fruit. Its a good job we ate as much as we did as we needed our strength for our first activity, kayaking!
We wore ourselves out paddling through the caves in the calm bay waters then sat on deck to watch the islands float by as we sailed deeper into the bay. I remembered how much I enjoyed cruising down the Nile a few years ago with my family. There was a new view behind every cliff and island and we were away from the rest of the boats giving the illusion we were alone in the bay. It was beautiful.

A little later we climbed one of the islands peaks for a wonderful view in the evening sun, and we watched the sun set wrapped up on deck. In the evening we enjoyed another wonderful meal and sat up chatting with our crew mates from Belgium, Holland and the United States (the Vietnamese couple went to bed early).

We were up at 7 for breakfast before paying a visit to "the amazing cave". None of us knew why it was meant to be amazing! On approaching, our guide Tony tells us the rock is called elephant rock. Sure enough from the right angle it did look like the entrance to the cave was the eye of a semi-submerged  elephant who is poking his trunk out of the water to breathe.
Inside were three caves, each one larger than the last which is pretty amazing. They were cool but not wet like other caves I've been too, and the ceiling looked like sand on the beach. In the largest cave there was a rock called turtle rock (it did look like a turtle). People had left money on his back which our guide told us had something to do with praying for patience, which the turtle symbolises.

Back on board we made traditional Vietnamese spring rolls to be enjoyed with lunch as we sailed back to the harbour. We made it through lunch, but then we were forced to stop sailing as a horrendous storm passed over us. We passed the time playing Uno, as you do!

We got back to Hanoi eventually, after a bit of a chaotic ride home, with just enough time for dinner and bag packing as we are off to Cambodia tomorrow!