Karsts, Caves and Kayaking
15.02.2010 - 18.02.2010 12 °C
We began our 3 day Halong Bay trip with a tight squeeze into a packed minivan for the 3 hour journey from Hanoi. The very chatty and friendly tour guide helped the journey go quickly though and we found out a few interesting facts about Vietnam. Apparently Hanoi has a population of 6million people and 3million motorbikes!
We thought it had been cold in Hanoi but it was far chillier when we arrived in Halong City. The locals had cottoned on to this unfortunate predicament and, ever the opportunists, had set up stalls everywhere selling warm clothes! (Dani bagged a rather fetching wooly hat!) We took a small boat out into the bay to board our larger boat, or 'junk', to take us on our cruise. The scenery around the bay is really beautiful. There are over 2000 limestone islands towering out of the sea, and we weaved between them on our way to our first stop, Surprising Cave.
True to its name it was surprisingly large, with three enormous caverns, lit rather dramatically in various coloured lights. Our guide tried to convince us that lots of the rock formations looked like various animals ("look, a monkey!") but most of them were tenuous at best!
After visting the cave we headed to a small floating fishing village where we got a kayak to explore the bay ourselves. Being down at water level made the karsts look even more impressive and we paddled around for about an hour exploring the different formations. Then it was back on the big boat for a not so tasty buffet style Vietnamese dinner and a chance to have a go at night-time squid fishing off the back of the boat. They shine a big light into the water to "attract" the squid which were supposedly very easy to catch, but after about 45 minutes no-one had had even a little nibble so everyone (apart from us!) called it a day. Another hour later and the best we'd managed was to excitedly hoist a juicy squid out of the water only for it to wriggle off the hook! We were pretty disappointed but to be fair I'm not sure we would have known what to do with a squid had we caught one!
The next day we had breakfast on the boat before cruising to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in Halong Bay. First we were taken to the National Park for a very muddy and slippery climb (literally) to the top of a mountain. Unfortunately due to the weather you couldn't see very much, but our guide told us that on clear days you can see Hawaii (he didn't seem to be joking but it doesn't seem possible). After we'd washed off all the mud we were taken to our hotel, which we'd expected to be awful since it was included in the package tour. It actually turned out to be pretty nice with a TV, bath and even a minibar!
In the afternoon we got on another boat that took us to 'Monkey Island'.
On the way we passed a fishing village, that was more town-sized, which was all floating on the water. It was amazing to think that people can actually live in tiny wooden huts floating in the middle of the sea. When we got off of the boat all the monkeys cam running down the beach looking for possible food sources. A Korean lady got out a bag of nuts and one of them jumped onto her to get them, which looked pretty scary. I was holding an empty 7up can which you wouldn't expect a monkey to be interested in, but they were. It creeped up behind me eyeing it up and (not wanting an close encounter like the Korean lady) I was more than happy to hand it over! The clever little monkey caught it and actually tipped it up to drink like a human would. It was such a funny sight!
The third day was mainly spent getting back to Hanoi, but the trip was really good (even though it was rather touristy). Halong bay was beautiful despite the weather, unfortunately the photos don't really do it justice. It would have been 100 times better if it were sunny though!
We arrived back in Hanoi for one last night before catching the bus to China in the morning. Only problem was that the bus tickets we'd booked at our hostel 5 days ago hadn't arrived. They told us that the reason they hadn't got them was because there was a 'special promotion' that was only available if we bought the tickets at the station in the morning. What this actually meant was that they'd forgotten to buy them for us and the "special promotion" was just the normal price without the hostel's commission. We were seriously concerned this might mean we wouldn't be able to get a ticket but the receptionist assured us there would be plenty available at the station in the morning. Fingers crossed...