My watch has died. This is a sign. The rest of the trip needs to be more relaxed. Yesterday, we headed for Halong Bay, about three hours outside of Hanoi. A private car out was included in our tour, but were we to do it again, we would forgo the car, save our money, and take one of the many buses we saw. We reached our junk around noon and were pleasantly surprised by its high class. We have our own cabin with a private bathroom, toilet, shower, the whole deal. The dining room has linen tablecloths, etc…There are six other people on the boat, not counting the crew, who I think out number us.
Halong translates to “where the dragon descends into the sea” and legend says the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon who lived in the moutains. As the dragon ran to the coast, its tail trashed and gouged out valleys and crevasses. Then, as it plunged into the sea, the land dug up by its tail filled with water leaving only the high land visible.
As soon as we got the papers to clear the harbour, lunch was served, a medley of seafood including shrimp, crab, squid, and just plain fish. It was another one of the those try to be polite meals for me, and I feel so cultured now (if still hungry) because I know how to eat the little buggers.
After lunch, we enjoyed the scenery and each other’s company. It was blissfully overcast keeping the heat away both days we were on the water. The amazing thing is there are people who live out here. I don’t know how they get fresh water, but we passed several floating houses and fish farms. Eventually, we reached the largest cave complex in the bay. They were pretty much like any other caves except for the fact that they had, at one time, been filled with water, as evidenced by the interesting design on the ceiling. There was also some cool “mood lighting.” My pictures are pretty crummy as it was dark and I have a basic camera, but maybe you’ll get the idea.
Back on the boat, it was time for kayaking. I highly recommend this option for anyone touring Ha Long Bay. The guide’s sketch English made kayaking a little frustrating at times as we never knew where we were trying to go, but still very very cool, as the pictures later on attest.
We met up with the boat (it had moved since we started paddling) near an island with a beach and lookout on top. Already quite wet, we went for a swim. The water was very warm and quite deep, too. After swimming, we rinsed off with fresh water on board and headed to the top of the island for breath-taking views of the Bay for our 418 steps.
Dinner was at 7:30 (more fish) while the junk headed a ways off the island where we could anchor for the night. Most people turned in after dinner, but tired as I was, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to go fishing off the end of the boat. I had a bamboo pole with a string, hook, and bait attached. I mostly just played, letting the hook sink and bringing it up again. The water was clear, partially lit by a lamp hanging off the boat, and I could tell that, for the most part, the only fish around were the tiny ones eating the algae off the bottom of the junk. They were smaller than the hook, so no way was I catching them. Finally, I did manage to catch a fish, twice, in fact, but it got away both times, which is just as well. I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea what to do with it had I been able to get it on board.
Breakfast today was bread, fruit, and fried eggs. Boring sliced bread with no jam or whatnot, but I ate up figuring on more fish for lunch. We went for a post-breakfast kayak, just us and a new truly terrible guide (we kayaked better than he did!) We slowly wandered around several islands before coming around one to find the boat right in front of us. Hide-and-seek in Halong Bay. The other passengers were already in a boat being rowed towards a cave. We paddled ahead and discovered it wasn’t a cave at all, but the only entrance to a lagoon entirely surrounded by the rocky island. Very cool. We paddled around the lagoon, getting much closer to everything than the folks on the boat, before heading back to the ocean. Back outside, we tied our kayaks to the guide’s and hopped out for a swim back into the cave and then back to the junk. The water felt wonderful and maybe this is weird, but I’ve never swum in the ocean far away from land before. It was an entirely foreign feeing to me to not have accessible land near by and to have no idea how deep the water I was in was. I felt so little in the big ocean, but also free. Cool!
We eventually got out at the boat and headed back to Halong Bay City and then on to Hanoi to wrap up our trip. Halong Bay has certainly been the highlight of my trip and were I to do it again (which I probably will sometime) I would do a three day/two night trip with lots more kayaking. The scenery was just too spectacular and the trip too relaxing to have spent only two days out here.