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Published: August 30th 2008
Called secret, because its only accessible if you row out into the open ocean, and then turn back around and head back into Halong Bay. This really was gorgeous - not one other person around on a pristine beach.
Today was to be a momentous day - the very first day for a Thambiratnam to ever embark on an 'adventure' holiday - well, as adventurous as a 2 day kayak trek on flat water can be considered. Yes, we were off to Halong Bay, Vietnam's most famous natural attraction, to explore underwater caves, hidden lagoons and secluded beaches, all while surrounded by spectacular water-submerged karst splendors. Karst, for those uneducated individual out there, since everybody
knows what karst is, is a fancy name for big gray moutains of limestone that have lots have caverns, streams and sinkholes running through them.
But first off, we had to enjoy
a completely unscenic 4 hour drive to Haphong, an industrial city that also served as the port to the Halong bay area. We then hopped onto a ferry that whizzed us across to Cat Ba Island. 5.5 hours on clock so far, and we disembark to discover that we still had to catch one more boat. But this boat was cool - a beautiful 50 seater wooden carved barge with a passenger list of 2 - just us. Essentially we had this monster of a boat as our private little shuttle to
Emerging from the Secret Lake
This little cave is only accessible at low tide. So the lake on the other side is hidden from the rest of the world for most of the day. Felt very intrepid entering that lake - an untouched world - that is, until we saw the 2 other boats that had beaten us too it.
our final destination - a little beach on the edge of a karst island populated by 3 little huts, a shower/bathroom area and a boat shed. Very quaint, particularly romantic, and the perfect placebo for agitated tourists how were tiring of a 7-hour trip that had meant to be 4 hours.
This place was gorgeous - imagine Robinson Crusoe, only 2 years later when he had introduced running water and found enough raw materials to build 3 simple huts. Surrounding the island were many other small karst islands - mini-mountains of gnarled rock decorated by the occasional patch of brave greenery that had somehow managed to nestle a home into the solid rock wall. In front, your own private star-fish strewn beach (which is beautiful at low tide, but torturous at high tide when you end up stepping on them while swimming).
But enough gawking at scenery - we were here for adventure. As we changed into our swimming clothes, we couldn't help wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. Two days of kayaking?? For unfit, lazy people such as us? Here's hoping our guide's boat was a speed boat that we could hitch a ride from.
A very typical Halong Bay photo
Every tourist has a shot just like this
no electric kayaks, just a hand-powered double kayak. The pace though was rather slow, so it wasn't too tiring.
We started off drifting slowly amongst the huge karst islands. There is something magical about those islands - perhaps its the complete silence, and ambiance that is non existent back home. Or perhaps its the fact that we paid so much for the tour that it better darn well be magical. Each island had its distinct shape, which gave us hours of 'what animal does that look like' games. Many had large low overhanging cliffs, which meant we could glide underneath those rocks, pretending we were in underground caves.
After an hour of paddling we came to our first stop - a floating fish farm. Out here, there are numerous of these - little floating piers about the size of 6 car park spaces, on which the farmers have built a house. They live out here, on their tiny little man-made island, rearing fish, together with their families. We saw little kids, and even dogs living on the floating farms.
Next up we went to a 'secret lake'. Not quite as secret as it was meant to be
Our huts on our private island
Quaint little huts complete with all the necessities of life, including a door, a floor and even a luxurious window.
though, since there were two other boats there when we arrived. What made this place secret is that you can only access it at low tide, when the water level drops below a mountain ridge revealing a very short little cave that lets you past. On the other side awaits a lake, secluded from the outside world by the surrounding monoliths.
We then headed over to a little beach for some paddling and sun baking. The water here is reasonably clean, but smells and tastes fishy - I guess that's why they have so many fish farms around. So after a quick dip, we emerged from the water exuding odours akin to the local fish market.
By now it was rather late, so we headed back to our island base for dinner. This was rather special, as the cook had hand picked everything from the island and surrounding waters. So the fish we ate was from right outside our hut door, the pipis from the surrounding beach, and some of the vegetables looked suspiciously like the foliage behind our hut. It was all terrifically delicious - one of the best meals we had in Vietnam - but then
again, we were so tired that cardboard seasoned with dandruff would probably have tasted just as good.
We spent the night chatting with the two other guests staying on the island (which happened to be from Australia as well), before retiring for an early night.
The next day we headed out in the kayaks for a second day of exploring. By now, we were kind of sick of Karst scenery, so our guide said he would take us underground caving. Alas, when we arrived at the cave, the tide was too high, and hence we were blocked from caving. But not to fear - the back up plan was just us fun - though a heck of a lot more tiring. Duc took us out into the open ocean - across big waves (I'd like to say 2 meter waves, but they probably weren't). Just when we were at the point of exhaustion, we pulled into a quiet little bay - the home of a private pristine little beach. Now this is the kind of adventuring we love - secret little spots at every corner!! This was a gorgeous little place, so we camped out here for a
Yet another mountain shot
These mountains are made from limestone which is then carved into weird shapes by the gaseous emissions of creatures.
few hours, just enjoying the solitude and a blue blue waters.
We did a bit more kayaking afterwards, seeing a few more sights, before heading back sadly to our huts for the trip back to Hanoi. Our boat back to the main island this time was not quiet as elaborate as the one we had arrived on. But a heck of a lot cooler. It was a little diesel tug boat made of random pieces of wood shoved together. We rode sitting on the back on some plank, with the engine puffing right below us. It was a fun experience - felt very 'back to grass roots'.
So ended our Halong Bay experience. We're glad we decided to the do the kayak trek, because although the scenery of Halong is beautiful, its much more of a place to be 'experienced' that to be gawked at.
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