Monday 28th February
Once we're picked up from the hostel its not long before we leave the city behind and into the country towards Halong Bay which is four hours away by mini bus. It was a good chance to take in some Vietnamese countryside and its not long before we spot large Ox, farmers and lots of rice paddy fields along the way.
We stopped once for a short break and then drove another two hours before we finallly arrive at the Coastal City of Halong, within minutes we are ushered onto a small boat that would taxi us out to our large sail boat called the Oriental Sails. Its quite a nice boat and better than we expected. Its got a large restaurant on the middle floor with a bar, a viewing deck up on the top and 12 accommodation rooms. We are allocated a room on the upper deck and its a quaint little room fitted out entirely of dark wooden panels and comes with our own toilet and shower which was a bonus.
Our Guide, Lang, talks us through the stuff we're going to be doing in the next two days. We're all sat down for a
delicious lunch which consisted of a selection of 8 or 9 dishes which were laid down on the table for us to share.
After lunch we went up on to the top deck and sat on the deckchairs as the boat sailed in to the midst of Halong Bay. The large Islands of rock are all around us in different shapes and sizes and sometimes the odd beach of yellow sand appears. There are loads of other boats sailing along side us, in front and behind us which adds to the effect of Halong bay as most of the boats have their sails up and it looks pretty on the horizon along with the many Islands.
The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate.
The bay has a 120 km long coastline and is approximately 1,553 km² in size. The bay consists of a dense cluster of over 3,000 limestone monolithic islands and everal of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves.
As expected the water looks a
bit murky with the odd bottle and plastic debris floating by and its no wonder due to the tourism. Fuel and oil, along with tourist litter, have created pollution problems, which impact on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of the islands. Human waste from portable toilets erected for tourists, finds its way into the soil and water surrounding the islands, once more altering the ecosystem functioning, through increased nutrient flow.
We anchor up and Lang informs us to be ready in twenty minutes for our short sail over to visit the 'Amazing Cave' which real name is actually Hang Sung Bot. How amzaing can this cave be we wonder as we board our smaller boat that taxi's us past some islands and into a small bay where the cave is situated.
We jump off the boat onto a jetty and followed the path all the way up the steep hill until we reached the Amazing Cave. Once inside we are wondering what all the fuss is about as it appears to be another brightly coloured lit cave but as we cut through a small passage and emerged from the ther side we were amazed at how big the
cave was. The cave has 2 chambers. The outer chamber is square and is often referred to as the waiting room. The cave's ceiling is approximately 30 m high. The walls are almost perfectly smooth as if it was built by man. The walls generate a variety of colors that blend with the setting of the area.
Theres a walkway that takes you all the around the cave and roughly fifteen minutes to walk and to be fair the dave didnt set us on fire. Theres the usual rock formations you would expect but what makes this one different from what we've seen recently is the massive roof and its moon crater like patterns.
On leaving the cave we are treated some great high views over the bay we had sailed into earlier and its a downhill walk towards our waiting tugboat which then proceeds to take us back to the main boat. We opted out of the kayaking that was scheduled for the early evening as we hadn't taken a change of clothes plus we couldn't really be bothered to be honest. We thought it better to keep an eye on the bar and keep an eye out for
incoming rainclouds on the top deck.
The scenery is amazing and its all around us and its all mysterious looking as the light is dimming as night settles in. Its not long before its pitch dark and all we can see are the hundreds of lights shining from the masts of the other boats anchored up in the bay.
We had a nice buffet dinner which consisted mainly of seafood such as squid and prawns which is presented in beautifully decorated glasses with flower shaped vegetables.
After dinner I tried my hand at some squid fishing with just a long stick and short line and bait. The Japanese man next to me caught one and its quite small compared to what you would expect but still ugly all the same.
Our room is very nice and comfortable so its a very early night as it was either go to bed or take part in the karaok at the bar, not a hard choice you would agree.
Tuesday March 1st
We enter our final month of travelling by waking up to the delightful sound of the boats engines firing up and chuggin very loudly beneath us, oh, and 6am!
After breakfast we sat up on the upper deck and lounged about while takin in the beautiful scenery of rocks and sail boats. We're sailing towards a floating village about ten miles away and we sail through Halong Bay taking in the different hills, rocks , ships and bays as we go.
A community of around 1,600 people live on Hạ Long Bay in four fishing villages: Cửa Vạn, Ba Hang, Cống Tàu and Vông Viêng in Hùng Thắng commune, Hạ Long city.
We stopped sailing and we're then ushered into the smaller tug boat which takes us the final short distance into the bay where the Village is located.
Its quite strange seeing peoples houses as we sail close by as theres people cooking, washing, cleaning, kids playing and men getting fishing boats ready for a days work.
Fishing is the main income here although tourism brings in a fair amount of money as I can see at least twenty other boats cutting in and around the floating houses. Theres a floating school, bank and also a small shop which gives you the sense that the people here are isolated from the outside world.
The boat docks along side
a shellfish and fish market where we looked at giant squids, crabs, crayfish, Shellfish and large fish contained in nets. The shallow waters have 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks for the local fishermen to exploit.
To be honest I wouldnt eat anything from the waters here as its not what you call the cleanest of water as tourism has taken its toll which is obvious from the discoloured waterline marks on the boats and around the houses.
Theres more nice rock formations sticking out the water as we sail towards the Oriental Sails and one rock in particular is used on the back of the National 200,000 Dong note. Its called the Kissing Rock and they reckon it doesn't have to long before it crumbles into the sea. We sailed very close to it and we can see how the wind and water has cut away at the base making it look as though its unstable. We're now heading back to the Oriental Sails and that concluded our Halong Bay tour.
Its only about a hour to the mainland and we anchored up and then treated to a another lovely lunch of stir fries,
rice and selection of meats which all tasted pretty good. The smaller boat takes us to shore where we wasted no time in finding our bus.
The main roads to Ha Noi are shocking due to poor maintenance as they are very bumpy and uncomfortable to drive on. We tried to doze off but every so often the bus literally took off as it went air bourne over the bumps.
The sounds of bike horns and car horns constantly blaring away lets us know that we have arrived back into the capital city and not a moment to soon and we are rattling from the boneshaking ride home.
We stayed at Rendezvous for the night and hopefully being picked up for another tour to Mai Chang in the morning which is another couple of days of touring the countryside.
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