Wednesday 18th of July saw our trip take us to Halong Bay. We stepped out of our air conditioned minibus into the humid 36 °C sweltering heat. A good day to be on the cool sea. The port was lined… actually jam packed with boats, 3 rows deep all trying to frantically manouever themselves into position. Just as we saw on the roads with the cars and bikes, we also saw with the boats. No giving way, forcing their way through and of course beeping their horns but now the horns also meant I’m in a boat…move! (see Hanoi blog). I’m sure they were being driven by taxi drivers, including our friend from the airport to hotel journey. They were constantly barging into each other and shunting each other out of the way. One hit the back corner of our boat and knocked a pipe off. This resulted in water pouring out and one of the crew members came scurrying out to make a quick fix repair. In between the boats (where there was room) were tiny canoe type boats each with 4 or 5 people on. They were dwarfed by the other boats and it must have been pretty scary to be in between it all.To get to our boat we had to navigate our way over and through another boat in front. It took us through the cramped hot kitchen and the whole boat was really shabby and not very inviting. At this point we thought that this was going to be our boat for the night and were all quite worried. Luckily it wasn’t. Our boat was quite old fashioned but also very nice. It was entirely wooden, with narrow walkways down each side, a top deck for sunbathing and a large dining area. During our trip we had lunch, dinner and breakfast cooked for us, all of which was wonderfully presented and tasted absolutely delicious. The journey out to the bay was only a couple of hours. Along the way was some fantastic scenery, an army of volcanic rocks & mountains sprouting up out of the water standing tall and strong. There are 1996 of these in total and only a few of them are named. Some of them are even inhabited by a few people, mainly those who work to conserve the area as it is a world heritage site.We reached our first stop; Hang Sung Sot, a plethora of wide open caves up high in one of the islands. They were full of stalagmites, stalagtites and mineral formations-a-plenty. I took pictures of ones looking like a turtle, a dog & a crocodile. It was very impressive and much bigger than other caves I’d been to. The only down side was that it was really busy. I mean REALLY busy. It seemed all the tourists in Vietnam were visiting at this very moment. Popular place. The hoards of people walking through ruined the effect a bit and stopped it from feeling like a unique experience.From the caves we got back in the boat for a short journey to our stop for the night. We anchored in amongst the intimidating islands and within ten minutes a few of us were in the water for a swim. Wow, the water was really warm, almost like swimming in a bath. Also, the boat was casting a shadow over us from the heat of the sun so it made for a really comfortable swim. Brian and I kayaked around the islands and in through an opening into a gorgeous lagoon. The water inside was perfectly still, and completely surrounded by tall rocks covered in rich green vegetation and trees. It really was nice, a little bit of paradise.
Back at the boat we all had dinner and chilled out on the deck under the stars. Phuong was singing a local Vietnamese song and in the distance, an electrical storm was flickering away intermittently lighting the sky. Sounds romantic hey, but it was actually more of a few beers with the group, jokes and a lot of laughs with Phuong’s singing. (sorry Phuong it was great really and whenever I hear the carpenters singing ‘every sha la la la la every wo-oo-wo-o’ I’ll think of you.) We also tried to get Brian to sing as it was his birthday but he wouldn’t budge. As it was Brian’s birthday, Phuong had arranged a cake for him and some flowers. It was a really nice gesture and really set the good mood of the trip. The cake was delicious too! A few more beers, a chorus of ‘mot-ha-ba-YO! (1-2-3 cheers!), and a card drinking game made for a nice chilled end to a really great day.