Misty Halong Bay

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March 22nd 2010
Published: March 24th 2010
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Legend has it that long ago a large battle between the Vietnamese and Chinese invaders culminated in the bay. The gods sent dragons to help the Vietnamese and they launched their pearls into the water to create the numerous islands that blocked and destroyed the invading ships and brought victory to Vietnam. Halong Bay is thus translated to "Bay of Descending Dragons". The scenery here is breathtaking, with hundreds of limestone rock formations jutting out sharply from the depths and continuing as far as the eye can see.

Sadly this place has become a tourist trap but judging from the beauty found here, it isn't difficult to see why. I booked a tour through the hostel I stayed at in Hanoi, and left in the morning, heading east to the coast and arriving about three hours later. I met up with the others in the same tour as me and when we reached the water, I gazed out to what looked like dozens of different shaped "junks" all moored out into the bay waiting for new passengers to arrive.The mist was heavy on this day, quite difficult to discern the islands that sat just beyond. The sky was overcast and drizzle had commenced. We took a little boat out to our "junk" and soon enough were all on board and inspecting the ship. It was really nice aboard, with nice cabins and spacious dining area and well stocked bar. There was about eighteen of us in the group, couple of which were fellow Canadians, as well as our guide and the small crew. We got to know each other over a large lunch served aboard and then stared off to the giant bay as the ship moved out and the mist lifted slightly.

The view was amazing despite the mist, it actually gave it a more eerie feel. We proceeded to a monstrous cave, the biggest one I have yet to see, and walked to area. We ascended to an opening and got a nice view of a section of the bay. After this we moved on to our next activity: kayaking. I paired up with a Swedish guy in the group and we made our way around a small area of the bay and got a close up look at some of the limestone cliffs. We kayaked around for about an hour before heading back to our junk and being served dinner, another abundant meal. As the night drew close many of us were dismayed at the price of the drinks on this junk but luckily there were these little boats buzzing around, we nicknamed them "mobile 7/11's", that served beer and other things at a fraction of the cost. Anything to make a buck in this country it seems. There was still an opening fee for bringing our own drinks aboard but they were lenient enough with it. That night our part of the bay was littered with loads of other junks, lighting up the area. Before going to sleep I provoked a pillow fight with the two girls I was sharing a cabin with, we all passed out soon after from exhaustion of a long day.

Everyone was up early the next morning for a bite to eat, and then off the junk went to Cat Ba Island. We arrived and took off on a trek through the national park there, uphill for a while, before being treated to a stunning view of the hills beyond. There was a metal tower which I climbed up, giving me an even better view although the wood boards at the top were pretty rickety. Coming back down and out of the park, we boarded a bus to the main town on the large island and checked into a decent hotel for the evenings lodgings. Lunch was served there and then back out most of us went.

We headed to monkey island, obviously named for its monkey inhabitants, and on the way there the boat drove over some floating buoys, resulting in the ropes getting caught into the propellers and jamming up the whole thing. Apparently the captain of this medium sized boat wasn't even aboard as he got drunk at a wedding the night before and never showed up, instead it was his wife that was operating it, and well we all know what happens when women drive...just joking...or am I? In any case no one else had brought their bathing suits because it was chilly out except for me it seemed, and our guide who had valiantly jumped in and tried to untangle the mess, would be needing some help. I jumped into the frigid water and asked the wife captain to pass me some goggles and a knife. Once I got these I dived under to the props, which I hoped wouldn't suddenly spring to action, and began slicing through the rope. After a short while I managed to cut away two of them but the third was so tightly wound and so far in that I couldn't get to it without the risk of potentially drowning. Regardless the prop was freed up enough to allow us to go reverse into the nearby island and offload everyone. Both the guide and myself however suffered numerous cuts to our hands and arms because of the sharp barnacles under the boat. Just what I needed, more wounds...

The monkeys on this island were angry, aggressive bastards. The Swedish guy in our group got scratched by them, hopefully he didn't get rabies. The view from here was awesome however and well worth the trip. We got another boat back to Cat Ba since our original one would need a towing. While waiting for it the wife captain gave me some vodka shots in gratitude for my help beforehand. We got back to the hotel and dinner was soon served. I was very tired at this point and started to get a fever. I passed out early that night with the onslaughts of a cold, although to be fair the town on this island didn't impress me enough to want to do anything there anyway.

I awoke feeling slightly better but knowing I had a cold to now contend with. We headed back through Halong Bay to Halong City, ate lunch and then grabbed the bus for the journey back to Hanoi. Despite the profuse amount of tourists and a few mishaps along the way the trip was definitely worth it.

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