Halong Bay... to say that the place is beautiful would be a cliche as well as an understatement. We booked a two day tour with our hostel in Hanoi, which meant that we spent a night on a boat deep within the Bay. But more on that in a minute.
So, we arrived in one piece (just about!) after a five hour bus trip, with our driver weaving through the insane traffic and cattle which were scattered across the bus' path. As we neared Halong, mountains started to appear in the distance beyond the paddy fields by the side of the road. It reminded me a bit of home! Except it is much, much greener here. And suddenly, we were there. The huge limestone rocks popped up out of nowhere, and we arrived in the harbour, which was filled with thousands of wooden ships, many of which had the old style vietnamese sails. Halong actually seemed really overcrowded at this point.
We boarded our ship, the Jolly Roger, with a group of people from our hostel, and we set sail into the sea. It was pretty amazing to be out on deck-chairs on top of the boat, as we glided through the giant pieces of limestone, which look a bit like rocky icebergs. It was actually quite cold, the skies were very grey, and mist surrounded the rocks, making the place look really eerie. We sailed for about two hours, and by that time, there were only a few other ships which could be spotted in the distance. It goes to show how huge the Bay really is. We had a delicious vietnamese lunch with lots of tofu and fried things (not too sure what they were!), and after that a few people jumped off the boat into the water (including Maz - I was being a bit of a wuss!) Apparantly it wasn't that cold. Hmm.
After that, we got into some kayaks and made our way even further into Halong, dodging some ladies selling trinkets from rowing boats - even in the depths of the Bay they try to sell you such useful things as embroidered laundry bags! We kayaked for aaages (ok maybe not that long but I'm not the world's best kayaker - shock horror) through the rocks, making our way to a hidden cave, where stalactites and stalacmites glinted away. By the time we got out of there, it was dark, and the rocks loomed aournd us against the night sky. Time to paddle back, attempting to avoid the lit up ships which were anchored nearby. The sea was really still, and kayaking through it was like gliding on glass. If we loooked closely we could see phosphorescent plankton, which was floating around, bright blue, in the sea. Flying fish also hopped out of the water from time to time, though they jumped so quickly they were difficult to see. We made it back to the ship by the light of a couple of torches, and miraculously no one got lost along the way!
Back on the ship we settled down for another vietnamese meal, and a bit of a party which went on into the early hours. The next day, we woke up to find the Bay shrouded in mist again - nothing like the sunny postcards you see, but I think that only made it more memorable, interesting and beautiful.