The Flu and Halong Bay
Trip Start Feb 18, 2009
42Trip End Aug 10, 2009
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Arrived in Hanoi about 5am on Saturday, March 28, 2009, and decided to walk to the hotel... it didn't look far on the map but apparently when I thought about the distance I didn't take into account the luggage on my back! The only real problem was that I didn't know where I had exited the train station. A motorbike taxi driver kept trying to get me to go with him and I kept refusing. Finally he showed me on my map where I was and pointed me in the right direction. It was a little unnerving walking when it was still dark and so quiet... Hanoi is usually so crazy and noisy... but it was really nice. I had to stop once and ask a guard for further directions but finally made it to the hotel. Spent the morning running around taking photographs, booking tickets for my two night/three day Halong Bay boat cruise and getting sleeper bus tickets to Hoi An. Also took some time to visit the Temple of Literature (honours scholars and men of literary accomplishments) and get another massage at Just Massage. I stopped for a quick lunch and then went back to the hotel to shower and rest as I wasn't feeling great. That evening I was dreadfully ill. Spent the night in the bathroom throwing up. By morning I was even more exhausted than after climbing Fan Xi Pan! The thought of packing, catching a 3 ½ hour bus to Halong City and then getting on a boat was all too much. I thought about canceling but I had already pre-paid so that wasn't really an option.
I slept most of the bus trip to Halong City... my body was simply spent. Even after getting on the Pinta Cruiser (our junk) I had to go lay down while we made our way out to the bay. Our first stop was at a huge cave but I didn't even have the strength to climb up into it so I stayed on the boat and slept on a deck chair! I had eaten a banana that day (nothing else) and could only eat a bit of rice for supper that night. I went to bed early (about 8:30) and slept soundly all night. I woke up the next morning feeling a million times better... I even had an appetite!
There was a good mix of people on our boat the first night... two couples from the US (one of the couples worked for the Embassy... previously in Moscow and now in Beijing), two couples from the UK, a Malaysian couple, and a couple with three kids from Denmark... all very nice, fun and interesting people. After breakfast we went kayaking to some hidden lagoons through tunnels and caves. It was fascinating to see the rock formations up close and the water was the most beautiful green colour. After lunch the Danish mom and her two daughters and I went on a smaller junk (the Nina) with Duke (our guide) to Cat Ba Island and trekked through the jungle... her husband and son had become ill... I felt so bad thinking I had given them something but then you never really know if it's the food or the flu! Initially I thought the jungle trek was pretty boring but I think I was just hot and tired but after it was over and I thought of how cool it was to be in a jungle with no one around. We came upon a fish farm and the home/farm of the couple who ran the fish farm... the man gave us some fruit to eat and let us look around his farm that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. After hiking back to the boat we went to a wonderful private secluded beach where we swam and gathered shells. After a couple hours on the beach we went back to the big boat and met our new shipmates for the second night... two Aussie couples plus another Aussie woman, one couple from Singapore, one Brit couple, and one Canadian couple (originally from China). On the second night there was no room for me on the Pinta so I stayed on the Nina. I kept joking with everyone about having the entire boat to myself saying 'excuse me while I retire to *my* boat'!
The next morning we went kayaking again. While the others did the same route we had done the previous day, I went on a private tour of a fishing village. I didn't want to get wet (had to catch the bus to Hoi An later that day) so Duke took me in the front of his kayak and I didn't have to even paddle! So spoiled! It was a bit awkward cruising by people's homes but so interesting. Every house had a fish farm in the front, a small 'deck' and the house itself. Most interesting was the school (although we saw many children at home and not at the school... a sign that education is not valued by a lot of people) where we saw the children outside playing and the 'parking lot' where they hitched their boats. There was a small cove just passed the village that had the most exquisite coral that we could see from the surface of the water. My favorite was the big green brain!
Our bus trip back to Hanoi was pretty uneventful. They've set up 'International Stop Over' places half way between Hanoi and Halong Bay so people can get out, stretch their legs and do that last minute shopping.
There is only one world to describe the food on the Pinta... WOW!!! It was SO incredible. The best seafood I've had and everything was so fresh. I forget exactly what we had but I just remember it kept coming... plate after plate after plate... I felt so bad that I couldn't eat more. The presentation was the best part... my favorite was a hollowed-out pineapple with little cut-out patterns all around, a candle inside and skewers of fruit pieces sticking out all over.
Overall Halong Bay was breathtaking... maybe not quite as amazing as in the photos/postcards I've seen but then they are taken by professionals, taken in the best conditions and very likely some of those pictures are enhanced. My photographs just can't do it proper justice. Still I'm SO glad to have seen it... it reminded me of when I went to Greece and was awestruck by the fact that I was sailing through the Greek Isles... I wanted to cry as we sailed between the stunning sculptured rock formations... it was like being a part of the myth. The legend of Halong Bay states that it was 'created by a great dragon that lived in the mountains. As it charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles visible'. Halong Bay was one of the top 10 places on my list of things to see in this world and I'm really glad I went now as I don't know what the future holds for it... there are so many boats in the bay causing major pollution and parts of Cat Ba island are being heavily developed. I'm not sure exactly what the solution is for a country that relies on tourism so much,... it is a tricky question. Anyway, another great adventure!