The day we arrived back in Hanoi from Sapa we made our way to the Hanoi Mausoleum Complex. Unfortunately once we had grabbed a coffee and some breakfast and walked the long walk over there from the hotel it was 11am and it was closing! Oops! Anyway it seemed most of it was being refurbished and Ho Chi Minh's body had been moved to Russia for a bit so we couldn't see him anyway. A bit of a disappointment really but we got to see some super communist buildings and we both love walking the streets of Hanoi because they are full of life (and scooters) so the walk there and back was great.
We had another street food experience at lunch with some rice pancakes wrapped around pork and chicken. They were ... slimy, but nice and it was good to try some local grub. In the afternoon we both passed out and had a nap for a few hours before a quick dinner and an early night.
Thursday morning we were picked up at 8am by our tour opera tour for the 4 hour drive to the jetty where we were to board our boat for the Halong Bay three day tour. We had decided to book one of the nicer boats somewhere in between the cheap 'drink as much as you can and party' boat and the 'Champagne on the personal balcony' private tour boat. When we arrived at the jetty the boat looked huge and we had to take a smaller boat from the jetty to get on board. There were about 30-40 people on the boat in total.
After boarding we we're give a quick safety talk and introduction before we started cruising between the 1000's of islands around Halong Bay. The scenery was simply spectacular and we were served a lunch of seafood and chicken while we made our way to our first stop for some kayaking around a fishing village.
The fishing village was set up on stilts next to a cluster of islands and it felt like a long way from the mainland. Their houses were cobbled together with bits of what I can only describe as rubbish and there seemed to be whole families living in these shed sized homes. These families make their money from fishing and pearl farming and it seems like a tough, isolated existence. We kayaked from the boat through the village and around some of the islands before heading back to the boat. Our kayak kept going to the left all the time which drove Esben crazy, I was okay with it as I considered myself more commander of the boat than rower ;-)!!
In the evening we enjoyed a few cocktails during the 2 for 1 happy hour then tucked into the buffet which wasn't bad. Next it was sleep time in our cabin on the bottom floor of the boat, it had a nice double bed and big bathroom, quite luxurious to be honest!
The next day we rose super early for Tai Chi on the top deck. This was quite funny as our teacher didn't speak English and neither Esben or I were naturals but it was good for a morning stretch. After breakfast those of us doing the three day tour hopped from the big boat onto a smaller one for a day trip to the coastline of Cat Ba island. Something I hadn't mentioned is that throughout our boat trip so far we seem to have spent a lot of time in close proximity to the most miserable couple I have ever experienced, about our age, Israeli and clearly on holiday they constantly looked like this :-( and were super antisocial. I think the most words I squeezed out of the were 'can you take our picture please?'. I mention it here as they were 2 of the 12 of us on the small boat ... Joy :-D!
Anyway, first stop of the day was the largest dry cave in Halong Bay. It was sort of cool, as you can imagine it was a massive cave and there's not really much else I can write about it. Next was kayaking around Cat Ba Islands national park islands. This was beautiful and we got to kayak through some cave tunnels, a boiling but beautiful experience. After kayaking it was time for a swim off the boat and we had fun leaping off the top deck into the warm water. The Israelis even got involved at this point but the girl would only jump off the bottom bit, wimp ;-). Lunch was a lot of squid which neither of us were particularly keen on but we managed to swallow some. The last stop of the day was a pearl farm where we were shown round by a local girl. Unfortunately our guide had such bad English that I am not entirely sure how they make pearls in the farm but I know what a farm looks like....!
The second evening was the same as the first just with fewer cocktails. On the final day we rose early to catch the small boat to TipTop island where there was a lovely beach we could swim at for an hour before boarding the boat back to Halong Bay harbour. The water was crystal clear and really refreshing for a morning swim.
I have to say that Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and I never imagined how special it would feel cruising between the islands. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to visit Asia.
Once back at port we boarded the boiling minibus for the boring 4 hour journey back to Hanoi. We were both a bit warm and fed up when we reached Hanoi and we then had to wait 4.5hours to get on the 14 hour night train to Hue. We did however eventually arrive in hue and spent the day visiting the citadel and laying in air conditioning as it was BOILING again. It seems to be boiling everywhere.
I won't do a seperate blog about Hue as we didn't spend long there. Next up will be Hoi An where we are enjoying ourselves at the moment.