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Published: July 10th 2006
I arrived in Hanoi early from my night train, and met up with Khay again who had booked us on a tour to Halong Bay. We went and grabbed some of the now staple Pho Bo (noodle soup) and then walked around the lake killing time before the tour pick up.
Walking around the shores of Hoan Kiem I was presented with one of the most funny and surreal sights of my travels thus far. What we found was essential a massive outdoor gym. Along one section of sidewalk a 6-a-side badminton match was taking place. A few metres away a stereo played calm music to a group of geriatrics practicing thai chi. On the other side of the road upbeat disco music set the pace of the young and trendies and their booty shakin' and booby thrusting power workout. Further around the lake and a temporary free weight gym had been set up and hanois buffest were lifting just metres from the craziness of the morning traffic. Finally a bizarre militia-cum-housewives group danced in a dangerous looking manner with swords held in their hands. With such comedy on display I was reluctant to leave Hanoi, but Halong Bay was
I took the bus again, no more comfortable but at least this time with a friend to talk to rather than a pigeon english speaking tour guide like last time. We arrived at the marina, got on the boat, and then the predictable trouble started. ON the advice of the travel agent, Khay had left her passport in Hanoi. However the crew on the boat insisted that she needed it to stay on the boat, and were were just about to be sent packing back to the capital when the truth came to light - they had overbooked the rooms on the boat and were looking to send someone away. Eventually the problem was resolved after some fairly loud conversations in Vietnamese.
We had actually finished the lunch before the boat had pulled away from the now empty, but still fumy harbour and headed out to sail amongst the huge limestone islands of halong bay. My fears of tour group hell were not allyed by our first stop off - a massively overcrowded island with a network of gaudily lit caves. There was a constant flow of people with their tourguides attempting to describe elaborate rock formations....
"you see here there is dragon, and here is castle....". However twisted minds lead the way all round - "I cant see a dragon, or a castle, but if you look over there between the breasts theres a huge cock 'n balls....".
After leaving the caves things started to look up. We were soon sailing through islands with no other boats around us, and just the sound of the boats engine to disturb the peace. The isalnds were absolutely stunning - it would be great to take a small sailing boat through the area (although I didnt see anything at all with sails while I was there, in spite of the strong winds). Photos can never capture Halong, but hopefully they will remind me of what I saw today.
Just before dusk we had a chance to swim off of one of the islands before showering, and eating dinner. The evening was our own, and most chose to sit outside and enjoy the stars with a can of cold beer. Perfect!
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