Thursday, 15 September 2011
Calm, quiet and relaxing: the beauty of Halong Bay
We finally arrived in Hanoi, having travelled up the length of Vietnam, and barely had time to drop off our bags before catching a bus to Halong Bay. The typical picture-postcard scene of the country, I was really looking forward to a night on the water.
The bay didn’t disappoint – the soaring limestone islands appeared before we’d even settled onto our junk, and as we sailed off it opened out, revealing the many hundreds of islands. They ranged from tiny stumps of rock to huge mounds, bright green with trees and circled by hawks. It looked exactly like all the pictures – except for the endless rain. It was raining when we arrived, and apart from a brief reprieve around dinner time, it was raining when we got off the following day. However, it really says something about the bay that it didn’t affect the experience at all. Although there were many boats leaving the port at the same time, the islands soon swallowed them all up and it felt as though we were the only boat out there. The gentle swaying was relaxing, and the peace and quiet very welcome after the frantic cities of the past fortnight.
We stopped off at a cave complex, the major tourist attraction, which was spectacular but diminished somewhat by the hordes of boats visiting at the same time and the over-the-top fluorescent lighting of the interior. We wound up steep steps and emerged at a cave entrance high above the water, which afforded us a great view and made the cave visit well worth it (to be fair, the caves themselves were also great, just very very busy).
Escaping the boats, our captain stopped in a quiet area and invited us to go for a swim. The water was cool and refreshing, and very salty, which made lying back and staring up at the surrounding islands easy. After a while the current picked up, and we had fun allowing it to sweep us quickly away from the boat, then frantically swimming back in, and repeating this until we got tired and someone spotted a rather larger jellyfish than we were happy sharing the water with. After drying off, we had the most incredible dinner on board. All the food was spectacular – fresh seafood for each meal, soft squid and whole fish, massive prawns (which I don’t like but F couldn’t stop stuffing in so they must have been good…), mixed seafood fried balls and lots of fresh vegetables. Every time we thought there couldn’t possibly be any more, the crew emerged with plates piled high. Having seen the tiny kitchen below, I was in complete awe.
Although it continued to rain, the clouds helped produce a gorgeous sunset and a lovely end to the day. Unfortunately, rising at 5am in the hope of a nice sunrise the following morning wasn’t as successful – the thick grey cloud stopped us seeing any sun at all… We continued to cruise during the morning before reluctantly leaving the boat and heading back to Hanoi.
Halong Bay was definitely the big highlight of Vietnam. Relaxing and beautiful, I could happily have spent a week sailing around, but we only had a couple of days left in Vietnam and the capital city still to experience...