Halong Bay (08.07.2012 to 10.07.2012): Wow wee. We have just returned from the most magical cruise around Halong Bay. We are certainly in love with Vietnam again.
Halong Bay is one of the world's natural wonders, located northeast of Vietnam. It is also a Unesco World Hertigage site, we have now seen all three Unesco sites in Vietnam. The bay is made up of 2000 islands made of mainly limestone and karst formations. We visited the less touristy Bai Tu Long Bay. The bay really is a work of art; the scenery, breath-taking.
It is such as shame that only 3 months ago there was a law passed that all junk boats be painted white. Apparently the leader had been to the Mediterranean, taken in all the white boats and decided that this was what he wanted for Halong Bay . The boats were sprayed (rather hurriedly as is obvious) overnight or they were not allowed to cruise. The mistake is now obvious to all. The boats have completely lost their beauty and charm from the outside. It is hoped that they will be allowed to go back to being varnished wood in the near future.
We arrived at our junk boat in Halong City at around lunchtime on Sunday following a 4 hour drive from Hanoi. We checked into room 304 on Dragons Pearl III and met Phuc our amazing tour guide. The room was small but full of character with a nice bathroom and an amazing view out the back of the boat. There was both an indoor eating area and an outdoor one with a huge sundeck on the 3rd/top floor. There were 20 passengers in total which was just about right - they were all lovely and easy to get along with.
After putting our bags in our room we sat down at the outdoor eating area for our first of several 8 course meals!! I was fully catered for with a dish made special for me every time one was brought out for the carnivores. We have never had such delicious food or so much. Adam had prawns, squid, clams, oysters, crab.. the list is endless.
During the three day trip we did a huge amount of relaxing on the sundeck enjoying the views. It was so nice after many weeks on the go. I now feel recharged and ready to properly check out Hanoi tomorrow. We did some swimming around the boat and also quite a bit of kayaking. The boat pulled up in various spots throughout the day including a really nice beach. The staff were incredibly attentive - we made the most of the unlimited tea (with fresh milk, we haven't had that for weeks)! It was sad to find out that the staff only have 4 days off in a month. Meaning this is the only time they see their families. Our tour guide (the only woman) has a 6 year old daughter who she barely ever gets to see.
On the second day we visited Vung Vieng fishing village. The village contains 300 inhabitants, the villagers either live on boats or in little wooden or bamboo houses on stilts. There was one school - a primary school only. The villagers have been living that way for hundreds of years, making an income from fishing alone (around $4000 a year). Boats from the mainland bring in supplies and take away the fresh fish. Their way of life is so different to ours and our guide was very informative, giving us a great insight. There a quite a few dogs in the village, our guide explained that whilst they are pets, when they have a big family feast they will eat one of two!
Without a doubt the highlight of the trip was our BBQ dinner in the cave last night. Before we headed to the cave we watched the most amazing sunset before walking up a wonderful lit up stone stairway. The cave that awaited us was spectacular. The boat staff had put candles everywhere and clapped and played music as we entered. We felt like royalty. We sat down to an amazing feast (the only odd thing served to me was a barbequed egg). The staff made lots of incredible carvings out of vegetables including a carving of our boat. The atmosphere was amazing and we had a great time with the rest of the guests. After the meal there was a brief sing song before we retired to the boat and headed straight for the sundeck. The sky was completely clear. I have never seen so many stars and it was an unforgettable experience to be in those surroundings looking up at the many stars. We stayed there as long as we could stay awake.
We are now back on dry land and back to our hotel in Hanoi. The staff at the hotel seem to have been wondering where we are so glad we are back before they sent out a search party! We now have two days to explore Hanoi before heading on our flight to Singapore. This time next week we will be in Australia!