The glorious Halong Bay
Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
142Trip End Jun 18, 2011
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Once we had arrived in Hanoi we went to a local travel agents and booked a 1 night/ 2 day tour out to Halong Bay on an old Chinese junk boat. We were really excited but a little bit nervous to see what the boat would be like; the trip was quite expensive (by Asian standards) so we were anxious about getting value for money. But we hadn’t of worried at all! We were picked up in a mini-bus by our tour guide and driven to Halong Bay, which is about 4 hours away. On the way we noticed another mini-bus from our tour company which was packed with drunk backpackers (it was only 8am) and we started to panic that we were going to end up on a 2 day booze-cruise which, considering how much money we had paid, we wouldn’t have been happy with. When we arrived at the Halong Bay dock we quickly realized that we weren’t going to be on their boat and we relaxed a little. The boat we were going on could hold 24 people but there was only actually going to be 12 people on our trip, which everyone was really pleased about. Because our boat was quite large it couldn’t dock at the harbour so we had to get a little taxi-boat out to the junk. On the way we got our first glimpse of the limestone monoliths and islands. In the distance we could see a row of tall, jagged islands covered in greenery and behind them innumerable rows of shadowy cliffs descending into the horizon. It was an amazing sight to behold
As we approached our junk boat for the first time Tom and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other. It was perfect! A huge, old, dark wood, Chinese junk boat with two decks and traditional carvings all along the bow. We couldn’t have been any happier. Onboard we were shown to our room for the night; it was an old fashioned Chinese room with golden paintings on the walls and calligraphy carved into the doors and woodwork. We were almost doing cartwheels! We set sail a few minutes later and started sailing towards the maze of limestone islands that would be our home for the next two days. We went for a look around the boat and immediately started chatting to all the lovely people who were also onboard. We weren’t to know it at the time, but by the time we were to return to Hanoi we would have made some amazing friends with our fellow guests. Before too long we were all getting along like a house on fire and Tom and I were having a brilliant time getting to know everyone on board. We were called to lunch a few minutes later and we sat down to a fantastic lunch. Regardless of the fact the chef was cooking in a kitchen the size of an airing cupboard the food was phenomenal! We had more food than we knew what to do with, including BBQ prawns, veggie soup, salad, stir-fried squid, rice, pork escalope, Thai fish cakes, baked tuna steaks and fruit salad. By the time we had finished eating and chatting we had arrived in a cove surrounded by islands and cliffs. Our camera took quite a battering as we took hundreds of photos! The cliffs were just amazing; it was like being in the middle of a huge mountain range which had been flung into the furthest recesses of the ocean.
The boat anchored here for the remainder of our trip and we used the little taxi-boat to move between the different sites
From here we were ferried over to one of Halong Bay’s many floating villages. There is an ethnic Vietnamese group which live out at sea in floating houses and, unless they need medical help, they never set foot on dry land (kind of like the sea-gypsies of Thailand and Malaysia). Their houses are set on top of floating barrels which are lassoed together to make a floating foundation for their homes; these people can live in their houses all year round, including during the monsoon season when villages of up to 300 floating houses are tied together to make them more rigid and to enable the villagers to quickly move between the house and help anyone in need
Back on the junk boat some of the guests went for a swim in the sea but we decided that the water looked a little bit murky and dirty so we gave it a miss; the boat staff ended up jumping off the top deck into the sea and before too long all the swimmers were flinging themselves off the deck while the rest of us enjoyed the sunset with a drink and some more fruit salad. Once everyone was out of the water our tea was served and it was another roaring success; this meal included fresh tiger prawns, soup, stuffed crabs (amazing!), peppered chicken, breaded tofu, salted braised fish and rice. We finished eating at about 8pm but sat around chatting with a group of people on board and when we next checked our watches it was almost midnight! The time had flown by and we had got on really well with four of the other guests, so we all decided to sit up on the top deck and look at the stars for a while; the boat staff turned off all the lights for us and we got a great view of the stars…we haven’t seen a night sky that good since back in New Zealand!
The following morning we woke up really early because we wanted to watch the sunrise over the limestone islands, however when we woke up at 5am and looked out the window it was really foggy so we decided to go back to bed for a few hours
The drive back was long because everyone was tired and we got stuck in a rainstorm of monsoonal proportions. Back in the Hanoi we all said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. We had actually made such good friends with some of the guests that we arranged to go out for some dinner together later that evening. It turned out to be a brilliant night and it really lifted our spirits to think that we had made a new group of friends to spend time with all these thousands of miles away from home. Our night out with friends was great, the food was brilliant and Tom was especially happy because he got to share some weird and wonderful dishes with fellow meat-eaters… steamed giant snails and deep-fried whole sparrow birds anyone? Tom assures me they tasted nice but I wasn’t so sure!