We had a three hour bus trip to Halong Bay and there were quite a few others from our hostel. Before long we were at our destination and getting ready to board our boat. And what a nice boat it was. We had an air conditioned room with en-suite, and…and our own private balcony. Not bad eh? There was only about 15 of us on the boat so it felt quite intimate even though we were surrounded by dozens of other tourist boats.
Halong Bay is very touristy and it is easy to see why – it is stunning. We set off sailing and soon got to see the beautiful surroundings. The islands are exactly like the karst mountains we saw at Yangshuo in China but in the South China Sea.
There are hundreds and hundreds of the islands and as well as the scenery you get to see magnificent sea eagles soaring way way up in the sky, slowing making their way down to water level. We soon stopped at our first port of call – a cave – which was very impressive. We then got back on the boat, sailed a while longer before stopping for kayaking. To get to the kayaking we were transferred from the big boat to a kind of floating village where we would be getting our kayaks. The village had several areas where the shops stored fresh fish that had been caught. After kayaking we witnessed what would turn out to be our dinner, being caught, smacked on the head with a stick and stuck in a bag with some live shrimps ready to be eaten up by us. (The fish did try to make a break for freedom after being hit once on the head. It leaped out of the net but a lack of legs and delirium caused by the whack made its attempt pretty futile).
After kayaking it was swimming time. This was great fun. We had a really good bunch of people on the boat and we were soon diving in and bombing each other. The whole time you are on the boat at Halong Bay you get women in small rowing boats coming to the side offering you snacks – Oreo’s, Pringles, beer, Coke etc. As we were all swimming around in our cozzies one woman kept asking us if we wanted to buy anything. Of course love, let me just pull out my waterproof wallet, give you a waterproof Dong and transfer my undoubtedly waterproof packet of biscuits back to the boat. Now I am not proud of my next actions, but as this woman kept hassling us, nonstop for about an hour we decided to bomb off the side of our boat next to her rowing boat. (What damage would it have done – all her produce was waterproof anyway right?). She soon got the message and left us in peace.
It was then time for dinner. Now, as most people know, I am not the biggest sea food fan in the world, but my tastes are maturing and I am becoming more and more adventurous. We had many fish dishes for dinner and it was exceptional!! We had shrimps (caught and killed only minutes prior to being served), crab (delicious), and many other fishy things that I couldn’t quite put a name to.
And then it was karaoke time!! The campest man in the world appeared from nowhere (and I mean nowhere. He had never been seen previously on the boat) and turned the karaoke machine on. Unfortunately the South East Asians love karaoke but they have not realised this sentiment is not felt by most Westerners – we only do it when drunk. So before long the restaurant was completely empty, leaving Camp Man on his own no doubt to do a solo Shirley Bassey number, and we were all up on the top deck having a laugh and a beer.
It didn’t take long before the rain started and it came quick and it came heavy. There was nothing for it, everyone back to our ‘private covered’ balcony for beers and party. From here we watched the fantastic storm unfold over the stunning scenery. We had a really good laugh with our fellow passengers.
The next day, a little thick headed and with an empty mini bar in the room, we set sail. Thankfully the storm was confined to the night as we now had a glorious sunny day. By 9am the sun was really hot and we were all on the top deck sunning ourselves up.
We continued to sail through the islands and then dropped off some our fellow passengers that had opted for the three day option at Cat Ba Island. So off they went leaving only Nic and I and a couple of other passengers. We were soon joined by some other passengers that had come from Cat Ba. These two young guys walked past us, headphones in, and very moody looks on their faces. The first one was wearing a trilby, tattoos up each arm, iPod on and a scowl – I instantly assumed he was French. I am glad they weren’t on our boat – part of our gang.
We then proceeded to sail back to the harbour, leave our ‘luxury’ boat and headed to the restaurant. At the restaurant we bumped into an English girl who had booked on the cheaper ‘standard’ two day, one night trip and it sounded like they had a pretty rubbish time. Rubbish boat, rubbish food, rats on the boat, broken furniture. Thank god we spent the few extra dollars on the ‘luxury’ option.
Over lunch we got to talking to the moody French boys that turned out to be neither French nor moody. They were really nice lads from Canada and had drunk too much whisky the night before hence the sullen faces and the focus on the sun beds at the back of our boat.
It wasn’t long before we were back at the hostel in Hanoi and the decision was made to leave the following day, 16th September, on the night bus to Hue (pronounced Hway – with a phlegmy H). Several tour companies offer multi stop tickets either down or up Vietnam depending on whether you start in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Due to the shape of Vietnam you tend to see the same faces along the way even though you may stop for different lengths of time at each place. We decided to go for a four stop option – taking in Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and finally Ho Chi Minh city.
During the day of the 16th Nic and I decided to have a day apart. She went to the local tailors and had some dresses hand made and I spent the day with Richard, a Scottish fella that we had met on the boat in Halong Bay. I had seen very little of Hanoi since we arrived and I wanted to see some more. (Details of our day out in Hanoi are in the previous entry)