Welcome back kids for another instalment in our (cue cliched oriental music) South East Asian adventures!
Today is, of course, a special day as it is the the beautiful Caroline's birthday! (yes, this is Shane writing it in case you thought Caroline was giving herself some big-ups) For someone this special, a special day is called for and so today we have booked an
overnight trip on a junk (the boat, not the assorted detritus) in UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is a bay full of limestone
islands...thousands of them...on the coast near Hanoi. And rather stunning ones we might add. Apparently there are few places like this anywhere in the world, and even fewer on this scale of grandeur, and judging by the number of tourists that make there way here on a daily basis, we'd say they must be right or there is one unholy PR machine at work out here.
All that aside, after an early start and a quick breakfast we were met by our driver and we hopped aboard a nice little SUV with leather seats under yet another grey sky. We thought this must really be the VIP treatment getting our own car but as it turns out we had some other guests joining us. Still, better than than the legion of minivans doing the rounds in this town, and it turns out they were a very lovely french couple by the name of Pascal and Stephanie. We chatted with them over the
three hour trip to Halong Bay, it turns out they are from a small-ish town a couple of hours from Paris (apologies if you read this guys but I don't remember the name of your town, nor could I pronounce it when I did remember it) and have two children. Being the smart couple they are, they left the kids at home for this particular sojourn!
On arrival at Halong Bay (following the obligatory toilet stop at a factory selling assorted tourist junk made by 'disabled' Vietnamese - sorry if that seems insensitive but you don't really see any of these unfortunate people and the prices are astronomical) we were ready to commence the real birthday celebrations, and as we arrived at our destination we saw the first real stretch of sun since we arrived, and not a moment too soon!
Our boat, the
Explorer, holds up to eight passengers in four cabins and so whilst it costs a little more it is a damn sight better than some of the boats we saw which could well have been on there way to Nauru judging by the number of people crammed on board, though I'm sure those poor refugees seeking safety and a better life weren't subjected to karaoke on their boats. We don't think they even allow that in Camp X-Ray.
Fortunately we lucked out with our particular vessel, even more so when we found out that aside from Pascal and Stephanie we had only two other passengers joining us on board - enter Mike and Midori, a blindingly smart American guy and his equally cool Japanese wife. Everyone introduced themselves and chatted, we had a quick prep-talk from our Captain for the journey and soon we were on our way.
The cabins were very nice, we had our own ensuite, air-con and a lovely view out on the bay from our window (or large porthole if we want to be all 'nautical'). One thing we should note, however, is the Vietnamese bathroom concept, made even more noticable by the size of ours in this instance. The shower does not exist in a shower cubicle, per se, rather it just sticks out of one of the walls and the bathroom itself acts as the shower stall. Great if you ever wanted to have a shower and go to the toilet at the same time, if you enjoy a dry-ish bathroom floor, however, you're shit out of luck.
We stowed our gear, took a few moments to relax and then we headed up for the first of our many feasts prepared by the on-board chef. Waves and waves (now we're getting nautical) of plates kept arriving at the tables carrying all sorts of meats, seafood and vegies (Mike and Midori are vegetarians), which we duly scoffed down until we could scoff no more. Once the food was done and the chat began to subside, we headed top-side to soak in
beauty of Halong Bay.
This place is stunning. I won't bore you too much trying to verbalise the experience (especially as getting photos on this thing has proved harder than first anticipated), but needless to say the place is definitely an experience. Being able to do it in relative privacy, as well, only served to enhance the beauty of the place. There were sundecks on the top deck for chilling out and this was exactly what we did, kicking back and watching this rather unique piece of the world go by.
A little while after lunch we arrived at a floating village in the bay where local fisherman and their families live. We piled into a smaller boat to take a tour of the village and enjoy a few more sights and sounds. Now, a floating village is exactly what it sounds like, a bunch of houses built on big rafts. We jumped off at one and sussed out the fish farm they had underneath the house, as well as generally having a stickybeak at their floating pad. Not a bad set-up really. One thing we noticed (and noticed a number of times after at similar places) is the number of dogs that live at these floating villages. Now dogs love a nice dip in the water when given the chance, but they don't exactly get a lot of room to run around in at these places. At least you don't have to worry about them digging holes in the lawn, and running away too far for that matter.
As well as farming fish and fishing the traditional way, this village also had an oyster farm set up for pearls. Unfortunately for Caroline they weren't giving any samples away today. Everyone was very keen to have a swim seeing as the sun was out and the water looked nice, we were told by our guide on the boat that this was the first sunny day in Halong Bay for two months! How's that for good timing?
After much stuffing around we eventually got back to the boat. By the time we got to the spot where we could go for a swim it was starting to cool down, and the water was filthy. Unsurprisingly, no one swam. A bit disappointing but what can you do? By this stage Shane was running a bit of a fever, and we're not talking about Disco Fever. He persevered, however, as this was of course the special day for Ms Caroline, and more relaxing was endured in the run-up to dinner.
Dinner was a feast to match lunch, with bonus cocktails to celebrate the birthday girl (Caroline ordered a 'Kangaroo Jumper' for a little of that down-home flavour) . We cracked the dodgy Russian Champagne bought yesterday, much to Pascal's amusement ("Russian Champagne? I'm sure it will be very...uh...strong"), and true to his prediction it did the job as far as getting us very tipsy was concerned. A bottle of that between us and we were well on our way to pissy. Following another smorgasboard of food we spent a few hours discussing the world with our new French compadres, which eventually ended with a long discourse on wine. Pascal, if you ever read this, I swear it is true - there is a french wine available in Australia called 'Arrogant Frog' and I will send you the label should you ever pass on your details.
Following this day of unbearable decadence, we retired to our luxury cabin where we pondered on such a marvellous day. Well, actually, Caroline did that, whilst Shane coughed, spluttered and checked his forehead temperature every five minutes.
So in closing, Happy Birthday Caroline! For those of you that know her, I don't need to tell you how great she is, but for those who don't, a day in such a paradise still doesn't do justice for her birthday. She's a wonderful and kind person who should be awarded a birthday every month. Still it was nice way to spend a 21st, or at least that's what everyone on board guessed her age to be. Who loves ya, baby? xoxoxox.
Source: Travel Blogs