After a cramped 'bus' ride (15 people crammed into a Ford Transit van), we arrived at the harbour amongst hundreds of other tourists and were directed to our Chinese Junk - there are 500 boats in that harbour, so losing touch with your group at this point would be an absolute disaster; therefore, we remained as tightly knit as we had been in the van. The junk itself was terrific and we all spent the next couple of hours reclining on lounges on the top deck, taking in the misty splendour of the bay.
We were informed that there are 1,969 islands in the bay and that we were first visiting one with a cave -
Sot Cave to be precise. Neither Marty or myself had ever been in a real cave before and we envisaged a cramped, dark enclosure. How wrong we were! The cave was illuminated by many coloured lights (blue, green, red & white come to mind) and was big enough to house an entire city. It was enormous and left me awestruck. Sometimes it helps to not read the itinerary, as this was all a wonderful surprise to me. I had envisaged simply drifting around
the harbour on a boat for a couple of days.
The visibility in the bay was not very good; however, the mist-covered peaks rising out of the ocean water triggered a 'dawn of time' setting. I could imagine that in summer, the experienece would be completely different, with a dazzling blue sky before you and being able to cool off with a dip in the lime-green water.
At night, the lights of all the boats in the bay was a pretty sight and we had fun talking with an Irish couple who were full of cheer, and two Danish girls on their way to China to study for 6 months.
On the second day we cruised to Cat Ba Island and went for a two hour trek over one of its peaks, enabling us to get a wonderful view of the bay. The island was a quiet place to stay, which was a welcome change after the noise and clamour of Hanoi. For the first time in two weeks I went to sleep without the sounds of tooting horns and motorbike engines - bliss.
We had a wonderful (and cold!) experience at Ha Long Bay and
met some interesting people along the way, one of whom we ran into again in a busy Hanoi street a couple of hours after our return. We agreed to meet up for dinner and this stonemason from Slovenia filled our evening with much laughter and good conversation. We may even visit him when we venture through Europe in the second half of the year.
This night also marked the celebration of the New Year in this culture and there was a wonderful festive feel around the streets. Marty and I ventured down to Hoan Kiem Lake to watch the fireworks display at midnight - and what a display! I have never seen - or heard - fireworks like I did this night. The sound was akin to cannons blasting on a battlefield in a time gone by: deep, rumbling and loud. The fireworks themselves were a wondrous display, a choreographed performance of brilliant lights dancing in the heavens. After a quarter of an hour, I was still transfixed. The finale left me tingling all over, it was that beautiful. I can't help but think that whenever I see fireworks in Australia again, I will be a little disappointed and will be left to reflect upon the dazzling display I witnessed in Hanoi.
On the first day of their new year, we are leaving Vietnam and heading to Thailand. We had planned to go to China, but the recent bout of bad weather there has interrupted many of their transport services, so instead of being stranded in a snowstorm, we are heading to warmer climes before flying into Xiamen on February 24th to begin the Chinese leg of our journey.
Source: Travel Blogs