Friday, January 29, 2010

Japin' round the world: I'M ON A BOAT!! (or at least I was)

I decided, after spending numerous days in Hanoi, to get out the city and to go to Halong Bay. I ended up booking up a 2 day 1 night sleepover tour with the hostel I'm staying with. This seemed like the best idea as I'd met a few people here who were going too, and also at least I wasn't likely to get scammed by a dodgy tour operator.

The trip set off moderately early in the morning, and it took about 3 hours to get to the harbour in Halong. Despite the fact that Halong is only about 100 miles away from Hanoi it takes longer than it should because of the insane traffic. When we arrived we were met, amusingly, by the captain who had turned up in a crip white uniform, which looked very official, and boarded the vessel.

The boat itself was really cool, it had three levels, with a bar on the second and a veranda at the top, and we were each allocated two to a cabin. Now these, after days of staying in hostel rooms comprising of at least myself and 3 others, seemed palatial. We had our own en-suite and two adequately sized beds. Also everything was pretty clean. The food onboard the boat, also was a highlight. Everything was very fresh and tasted delicious. Portions were plentiful too.

By the time the boat had moored up, we had made our way amongst the many thousands of little limestone islands that dot the bay. These were just as beautiful as I'd hoped and they were given a mystical tinge by the mist in the bay (which according to local legend is because of dragons in vicinity - Halong itself means descending dragons). What was fortunate as well, was that the sun came out for the first time since I arrived in Vietnam. The weather here hasn't been bad to be fair, but it has been consistently overcast.

Before we got on with the afternoon's scheduled activity, kayaking, everyone took a swim in the bay. For many of us, myself included, this involved jumping off the top deck of the boat. The water was a little chilly, in the end and jumping off the veranda was quite an experience as a result. Not least as I'm not very good with heights. It felt like I was falling for 5-10 seconds, rather than for the 2-3 seconds in reality.

After the short dip in the bay we made our way to the kayaks. First of all our guide (a friendly and informative local called Yang) took us to the fishing villages around the bay. These are villages literally built on the water, and I've heard that many inhabitants seldom tread on solid ground, which in some cases can lead to them becoming land-sick. What was a little strange was that many of them kept dogs, which seemed quite cruel considering they had very little room to exercise. Then again, considering my experience with the crispy shredded dog in the markets of Hanoi, perhaps they weren't being kept for the companionship.

Afterwards, Yang took us - still in the kayaks - through a small cave which took us through to an enclosed bay. Here we saw some monkeys playing about in the trees. One also stole a banana off some tourists who had come ashore, and proved an entertaining bonus to the trip.

When the kayaking was done, there was dinner, and after this a number of drinking games began. Thankfully they were games that everyone seemed to suck at equally at.

The next day I came back to Hanoi, and was quite sad to leave Halong Bay. For one thing the stillness and fresh air in the bay, had been a real relief compared to the noise and pollution in Hanoi.

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