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Published: February 26th 2012
Ha Long Bay
It was a bit cold
10th Feb ’12 Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
We set off from Hanoi on a grey, damp and gloomy morning on a minibus to Ha Long Bay. It took about 4 hours to get to there with a stop half way for the loo and tea – well actually it was at a centre for people with disabilities who make a wide range of crafts and flogged them to tourists wanting to use the facilities.
We got off at the port which was set in a new development of apartments, a kind of theme park and a dolphin show arena. We skated across the rain slicked floor and out to the water side, where we boarded a smallish boat to take us out to The Opera Cruise boat (our upgraded treat!).
We soon left the harbour and got our first real glimpse of Ha Long Bay and the scenery was breath taking. Somehow the misty drizzle gave the whole area an unreal otherworldly quality, with towering limestone peaks covered in jungle rising out of a very striking green sea.
There were only a total of 19 of us on this trip including Nick the quintessential eccentric English
Ha Long Bay
gentleman in waistcoat, pith helmet and Ho Chi Minh watch. He was great!! And he was a writer so I was well impressed. There was also a couple from Manchester who wanted to do what we are doing and whose life and kids seemed to mirror ours! My only advice to them was sell the house out from under them ha ha. There were also a party of 4 Australians, Mum, daughter (also called Melanie) and grandparents who we shared an evening meal with and had a right hoot.
The ship was lovely, all wood and in the style of a traditional junk – but with lovely cabins with a heater, a bathroom with a shower and all mod cons – very impressive.
After a sumptuous lunch we headed out on a smaller boat to visit a floating village, where all the houses and buildings were on rafts, from which you could go either kayaking or for a tootle around in a basket boat (little boat that looked like it was made from a very large basket). As it was cold, damp and wet we declined the kayaking and were rowed around by an old boy who grinned
constantly. After this we all returned to the ship to dry off and thaw out!
We were then given a demonstration of how to make spring rolls and then we all had to have a go and the results were then cooked and given to us to eat and a glass of red wine, presumably to take your mind off the taste of the rolls!
11th Feb ’12 Ha Long Bay
There were only 8 of us staying on board for 2 nights and only 4 of us who wanted to go out for the day! The Australian family of 4 opting to stay put in their cabins…… So Howard and I plus another couple (she was a vet and Scotish and he was a cook and English) got onto our small boat for the day. The weather had improved and although still grey, it was at least not raining and even the misty fog didn’t seem as dense as yesterday. So we had the whole boat and a guide to ourselves – which was great but also meant the pressure was on to drink more cups of strawberry tea and beer as it was the only
way the crew made any extra cash. I managed 5 cups of the fragrant tea before I had to call a halt!
The route took us right through the bay area (which is made up of 3 separate bays) and the myriad of limestone ‘islands’, most of which are very large, very tall towering limestone jagged peaks.
We visited one larger island where we climbed the 1000 steps up to the viewing area/temple at the top which had fantastic views all around the bay. We carried onto another floating platform where we took kayaks and paddled our way into caves, through rock tunnels into an internal island lagoon and it was marvellous. As you can imagine there was quite a bit of swearing going on, due to our lack of co-ordination and several near misses with rocks and the guide’s kayak, all Howard’s fault of course!!
On another island we visited a cave where people used to live, it was brilliant, all twisty tunnels, narrow gaps to squeeze through then opening out into large caverns. We also picked our way down a gazillion slippery steps to the edge of another internal lake where we spotted monkeys jumping
from tree to tree.
Another huge lunch followed – I reckon we got all the food meant for the 8 of us who should have been on the trip, but we valiantly ploughed through it. Then we did the obligatory visit to the Pearl Factory – which was pretty interesting in fact as they showed us how they do the whole process and we then wandered the shop having a competition to find the most expensive pearl, needless to say none of us bought anything.
The trip ended with a visit to a beach, which would have been lovely if it had been sunny but as it was it wasn’t so after the guide made a token gesture at trying to get us to play football we all agreed enough was enough and it was back to the ship to get warm!
Another set of passengers had arrived on board by the time we got back and now the boat was really full and made us appreciate the small group we had been the night before. We left them to the spring roll making but did go out to watch some of the girls trying their hands
at squid fishing, which involved a lot of laughing and not a lot of squid!
12th Feb’12 Ha Long Bay to Hanoi
In the morning we went on a visit to the ‘Surprising Cave’ on one of the many islands and surprising it was. It was an amazing cave which looked like it should have been a set for a fantasy film like Conan. It was HUGE with lots of steps and walkways going through it, everything was really well lit to show up the rock formations and very impressive. As we emerged and walked down to the boats monkeys came down the cliffs and near the boat a woman was in a boat with her catch of squid and octopus.
Then it was back to the ship and yet another bumper feast for lunch as we cruised back to Ha Long and then the journey back to Hanoi. Once again we stopped at the same place and entertained ourselves by looking at the Customer Reviews for the giant marble statues that they had purchased and had shipped back home. It’s amazing how many people (and there was photographic evidence and full addresses to prove this) when
on holiday in Vietnam decide to buy such huge statues – with the appropriately huge price tags. I took quite a shine to a 10 foot Buddha, then remembered I don’t have a home much less a garden to put it in so that saved Howard a few thousand pounds.
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