Halong Bay 16 - 18 July 2008

 Generally we tend to never book tours as travelling independently we never have the public transport hassles most people have ..we just jump in the old Toyota. Here we are in the same boat (or bus) as everyone else so to go to Halong Bay a nearby natural wonder we decided to bite the bullet and book a tour which included 2 night’s accommodation food and transfers to and from the hotel- $65 USD all in.  We drove in a (somewhat cramped) little mini bus for the 3 hours to Halong Bay to the East of Hanoi.

When we arrived we really felt we’d hit the tourist circuit there was a big sign saying “Tourist Pier” and literally hundreds of tourists waiting to board hundreds of boats – my vision (inspired by the brochures)  of sailing peacefully alone across an empty bay vanished!! Halang Bay a designated world heritage site is really pretty spectacular consisting of around 3,000 craggy limestone islands rising from the emerald waters, interspersed by various grottos and caves created by the winds.

Whilst it was a bit overcrowded out on the bay it was quite beautiful sailing around and the other boats were nice to watch.  We stopped at one of the caves Hang Sung Sot which consists of 3 large chambers which are lit up for effect. You enjoy the cool (if a bit slippery!) walk around inside and then back to the bay. We also had a go at kayaking ..it was very Asian we all fished around and found a life jacket out of a pile that were mostly broken and off we went ..no instruction or anything! It was good fun though I think I need to hone my technique as my arms felt like they were dropping off!  I think Andrew was free loading behind me so I was doing all the work!!

We spent that night on the boat and the cabins and dining room were really good. There were about 16 on our boat – a multi cultural little bunch we were too- from Holland Austria France USA & Taiwan as well as 2 other Aussies Fiona and Jen from NSW and Victoria respectively. I’m not big on the whole organized tour thing but being on the boat was great fun and it was very  relaxing watching the sun go down. Our guide threatened us with Karaoke as they had a machine on the boat (what is it with Asians  and Karaoke??!) but mercifully we were all so unenthused he relented!

As we settled down to relax we worked out what the ladies in little boats were doing ..ferrying round selling drink chips etc to those on board. Along with Jen and Fiona we decided that a G & T would be just the thing and we had all the boats going frantic to track down a bottle of Gordon’s or similar. Unfortunately the only one we turned up was an ominous looking bottle of rice fermented gin ..so we switched to the French  brandy and lemonade instead!

The next day was a bit drizzly but we still enjoyed a last look around the islands prior to heading for Cat Ba island where we were spending the next night.  The island is a national park which apparently has a great deal of wildlife but we stayed in the town a fishing village now equally  given over to package tourists and again screeching karaoke bars! It was too wet to do the trek we were supposed to do so we went for a wander around the town. It had  a few interesting restaurants but as we were still in an “all inclusive” deal sadly we were tied in to the provided food ..which was ok but starting to get a bit samey! On the positive side we didn’t have to eat sea snakes or scorpions which were being sold in local food shops so maybe we were fortunate!

We also took a boat trip out to Monkey island ..full of my favourite little pals – and had a quick swim. It was very packed ..quite a few Vietnamese tourists, some of whom must have been from remote areas as they were taking pictures of the weird looking foreigners (us!) which hasn’t happened since Indonesia.  The whole thing was great fun (and we really enjoyed Jen and Fiona’s company over a glass of brandy and lemonade)and Halong bay is definitely a real natural wonder but we were  glad we can usually travel more independently as the whole package tour thing isn’t really us. We got back on the bus and headed to Hanoi where we had a day to recover prior to heading for Sapa in the North West.