Halong Bay is a World Heritage site that is made up of thousands of limestone karsts. A true natural sight to behold and one of the expected highlights on our
itinerary. We carefully shop around to establish a fair price against comfort, and hopefully the legitimacy of the company we decide to go with.
We leave Hanoi at 8am, crossing the Red River and sampling hundreds of musical sounding horns (I think it is part of the Highway code here that you have to use them for 80 percent of the time that your vehicle is in motion). Our guide Hoi is a chirpy and smiley and all you expect in any tour guide. It isn't long before we are taking a stop to stretch our legs at a factory where victims of Agent Orange produce embroidered pictures & clothing. These guys are hard sell and not afraid to use the emotional blackmail of their plight to seal the deal. Emma and I must have hearts of stones but believe me, you will thank us when we aren't palming a multicoloured oriental dragon with gold ornamental frame off on you as our far-sought-souvenir-gift on our return.
4 hours after leaving Hanoi, we join the bun fight at the docks to board our Junk boat on which we will be sleeping overnight in Halong Bay itself. There simply isn't enough room at the docks for the hundreds of Junk boats trying to pick up passengers. So instead, we scramble over other people's boats to board our own that then proceeds to barge its way past other vessels into the open sea. Soon most are in hot pursuit as scores of Junk boats make their way towards the World Heritage site.
Lunch is served pretty much straight away and we soon establish that anyone's dietary requirements that were made at the time of booking were be considered in a similar vein to the size of the dock verse number of boats. The idea is that each table of six should get a variety of dishes to share amongst themselves. The problem herein is that only two of those dishes are vegetarian, a plate of fried bok choi, and the second a plate of steamed rice. Those who didn't want any seafood didn't fair much better with one extra dish of chicken, at least I think it was chicken.
So that left one person on a table of six, to eat the fish served up (head and tail on), the squid, and some other fish based product that was pretty hard to identify. This wasn't as intimidating as you would think. I know quite a few fully grown men who would consider this banquet no larger than a portion of tea served up before nipping out to the pub with their mates to watch Champions League footie.
Pudding was OK for everyone though. Fruit, orange, just the one mind, for the whole table. We just about managed one segment each out of the thing. I know Jesus worked wonders with bread and wine and all that but even he I think would be scratching his head at this spread.
Soon after lunch we visited the enormous limestone cave called the Thien Cung grotto, lit up all nice and pretty for the tourists like. To dock here is a similar jockeying for position that got us on the vessel in the first place as our captain, not to shy of a bump or two, barges his way obstruction or none to the jetty.
After dropping some day trippers off at Cat Ba island, and ramming our way back into open water, the overnighters get shown to their cabins, cute little rooms, double bed, private bathroom, a black and white picture hung above the bed of a naked man sharing a passionate embrace with lingerie clad busty woman, bra strap seductively fallen off her shoulder, flowers in her hair. Think 80's Athena, think soft focus, think I can't be romantic for laughing too much.
Instead of dispersing around the 1000 odd karsts within the area, the what can only be described as an armada of boats regroup back at the caves to let everyone Kayak for an hour giving us plenty of time to miss sunset in one of the most sunset spectacular landscapes on Earth. The imperial fleet of junk boats then head to a deeper bay around the corner to let everyone swim.
After a long hot day, most passengers were looking forward to jumping from the sun deck into the cooling waters some 5 meters below. However due to the congestion of boats (maybe some "ring of fire" strategy to protect us from pirates) we were jumping into a big pool of diesel juice.
Food for the evening is yet a struggle (same menu, same portions) during which our attentive staff are busy watching TV, on board entertainment would be DIY tonight.
Due to the heat, most of us opted to sleep under the stars on the sun deck. We wake up at around four with the moon behind us, silloutetting surrounding boats while before us, a thunderstorm looms silent but bright with lightening flash. We retire to our cabin 5 minutes before the rain reaches us.
Breakfast is served with an unenthusiastic dissapointment and then a 2 hour sweaty trek on Cat Ba Island above the tree line for a jungle panarama.
Next is Monkey Island. We join a German couple and a guy from Poland on a short ferry ride through a floating village, fish nests and squid boats fully ladened with floodlights straight out of a football ground from the 60s. Out into the open sea our little charter rocks and bobs while we are surrounded by locals taking photos of us on their camera phones.
Sunbathing and swimming, we laugh at an aging drunk Japanese fellow. Imagine your grandad showing off, disobeying a shouting grandma, peeling off his clothes, string vest and all, down to his keks and into the water, rolling around like some Baywatch centerfold until he comes to rest sat like some toddler contemplating his navel. He was having a whole heap of fun.
There is some disturbance in the trees behind the beach. The monkeys that give this place its name have come across the German couple who were exploring the forest and are now terrorizing them. Even from the shore we can hear the screams and yells as the pair of them scramble their way down the hill and out of the undergrowth (minus a shoe or two) with a dozen or so monkeys in toe. These inhabitants have a reputation of trying to steal food out of backpacks and even open cans of beer to get wasted. The entertainment of this, and the drunk Japanese guy is all too much as we get rowed back to our boat for the return trip.
The evening is equally action packed but the drunk Israelis, Korean girls in bathing suits dancing provocatively around a Filipino singer, and Emma's solo Karaoke performance in an empty bar is an entirely different story.
The next day we return to the mainland, nobody is happy with the service of the trip but once can easierly forget all this when considering the wonderful landscape in which this was all set in.
Source: Travel Blogs