Halong Bay, Vietnam (2nd Dec 2007)
Another early morning and disappointing breakfast later we checked out of our current hotel and headed to our next hotel where we dropped our backpacks off and set off with our overnight bags for Halong Bay. We were unable to get on the same trip at the Intrepid group so we were out on our own again but we managed to book ourselves on a 2 day 1 night tour of the bay on a luxury junk boat, all meals included. The bus journey to there seemed to take forever, with numerous stops to pick up people at different hotels and then a stop at another handicrafts workshop along the way! Arriving at the harbour was quite a surreal experience, with what seemed like hundreds of Junk boats and tourist boats swarming the area, one of which we had to climb over to get onto our boat! We were again pleasantly surprised with our home for the next 24 hours.... the top deck was clear for sunbathing and lounging around, the middle deck the was the dining level and the lower level was the accommodation, although we ended up at the back of the dining level in possibly the smallest room but with the best views so we couldn't really complain! We set sail so to speak and headed out to tour the bay, while we were served up seafood lunch which as you can imagine didn't go down particularly well with either of us....good job there were chips and salad on the side! The weather prevented any form of sunbathing but we were still able to sit on the top deck and enjoy the scenery which soon became breathtaking as we stopped to visit one of the main caves at Halong Bay. The cave was spectacular, helped along with cleverly placed lighting to create eerie glows and shadows. Our tour guide pointed out particular rock formations and what they symbolised and it was nice to just wonder around figuring out shapes and outlines ourselves. On the climb down from the cave the numerous Japanese and Korean tourists seemed oblivious to the fact people were walking slowly down the steps for a reason and seemed to make it their aim to get down to the bottom as quickly as possible regardless of what or who was in front of them! Constantly on the lookout for our intrepid pals on passing boats we carried on sailing through the many islands of Halong Bay before again stopping to disembark, this time at a quiet little cove where swimming in the sea was an option, as was a walk up to the top of the island......we opted to walk half way up the island and sit and enjoy the view as the sun slowly set, trying to avoid the many men emerging from the water in their little Speedos! Just after dusk we anchored down in what seemed like a relatively quiet area which soon became like our own little floating village with all the other boats that came to join us. A few of us gathered on the top deck and we soon got talking to a family from Perth, Grandma, Grandad, Mum and son, until we were called down for dinner at half six (although it already felt like 10 after the past few days and lack of sleep!) Dinner was served and what initially was disappointment soon turned into satisfaction as Mark sampled a few of the local seafood dishes (shelling his own prawns and enjoying the battered shrimp and calamari pieces!) and Kara was served an omelette after first being told there would be no vegetarian food. After heading out to the front of the boat and watching Ty, the little boy fish for a while, we headed to bed, realising it was only 9pm but glad of the early night! Being on the boat made us feel like very lazy English as there were three European couple on the boat who spoke very good English and put out bilingual skills to complete shame.
After a breakfast consisting of 4 rounds of stale bread and an egg our junk boat took us on a tour of a floating village that was nestled away in between the many islands of Halong Bay and home to 70 families. It was different to the other floating villages we have seen before as the homes are scattered across the sea rather than lining a river bank. Next came the part of the tour we were most excited about....the opportunity to go kayaking! We docked at a small floating raft where we were shown a pile of lifejackets and told put one on (easier said than done when half of the zips weren't working and the buckles were bust!) before been lead to our two man kayak. In the open water not much attention needed to be paid to steering so we concentrated on our paddling technique and slowly weaved in between the rocks until we reached a small cave which lead to a tranquil opening where a few strokes of the paddle was all that was needed to glide along. The excitement deteriorated towards the end of the hour trip as we realised just how much work kayaking really is and how out of shape we both are, but in our defence we were fighting the current half the time! We spent the next hour making our way back to the port huddled on the top deck, imagining what it would be like to experience Halong Bay in the beautiful sunshine!