A must do from Hanoi is to visit Halong Bay. Here you spend 2 days and 1 night (or more) on a junk cruising around this spectacular World Hertiage site. Over 3000 small islands rise out of emerald green waters, the majority are unhabited.
It takes about 3 hours to drive to the Bay area, so once more I was able to see more of the countryside. The difference in architecture was again apparent including things like the cemetaries. We drove past working rice paddies which would have in the middle a tomb, painted brightly. Very different to the UK.
Due to booking it late on, I had booked on a fairly expensive tour. The luxury though was worth it. Our boat held about twelve people and I shared a room with another girl about my age. Having stayed in some interesting (!) places over the last few months, I could have wept at how nice the room and boat was.
As we set sail, the islands of the Bay loomed into focus. Majestic islands, covered in greenery towered out of the sparkling sea. Leaving the bustle of the cities behind it was pure paradise. You could even imagine the odd pirate ship coming out from behind the rocks.
We anchored near some islands and were served amazing fresh fish for lunch. We even had crab, still in it's shell. Never having eaten crab before it was an experience and I am embarrassed to admit that the staff had to help me break the shell! Oh well you live and learn!
After lunch we headed out to explore the caves. Climbing up about a hundred stairs we reached a majestic cave suitably lit- it would give Castleton a run for it's money. The cave stretched further back than you could imagine. Carved into the rocks were notes from soldiers caught in the wars and even dating back to the turn of the twentieth century. Our tour guide pointed various rock shapes, including one looking like a certain male anatomy! Of course to our guide, it was a cannon!!
In awe at the caves we returned to our boat and were taken onto an island with a beach and a look out post. True to form there were several hundred stairs that required climbing. The climb was worth the view. Stretching out as far as the eye could see were these beautiful islands and stunning sea. We watched the sunset behind the islands, a magical experience.
Evening brought on squid fishing. However, the seas must have been depleted as no one caught anything (except rubbish). I did see some massive jellyfishes float buy though, about the size of a tyre. This made me decide that swimming in the sea may not be the best of ideas.
Day two brought on kayaking round the coves. This was great fun especially as you could escape to a stunning lagoon. Surrounded by the towering mountains of the island, with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water it was beautiful and peaceful. The joy of kayaking was slightly marred by my experience getting back on to the boat. The crew of the boat decided to help me stand on the kayak to climb on. However, I was not expecting it and the motion of both parties pushed the kayak away from the boat with me landing in between! Grasping frantically to hands I was pulled onto the boat but not before getting completely drenched! Unfortunately I had stupidly taken my camera and that was one thing that did not live to tell the tale.
Heading back out of the lagoons towards mainshore Vietnam I was extremely glad I had the experience. Halong Bay is a stunning place, and I hope responsible tourism keeps it that way.