After the culture shock of Hanoi and hours of playing chicken with scooters, Amy and I decided to hit the road once more and visit a few of the places that Vietnam is known for. First on the list – Halong Bay.
Now anyone who’s a fan of Top Gear will probably have a vague idea of Halong Bay. Trust me though, this is the kind of place you need to visit in person to really grasp how awe-inspiring it is. A word of warning though – be wary of some of the tour operators in Hanoi as they’ll sometimes offer you a selection of boats to stay on at different prices – and then put you on the same boat regardless of what you’ve paid! Amy and I booked through the kangaroo Café run by the infamous Max, an Aussie who cooks the best burger in Hanoi!
Our 3 day 2 night tour included a night on a boat cruising around Halong Bay, a tour around a cave, a trip to Monkey Island and then a night on Cat Ba Island. The fifteen person tour started off with a four hour bus journey to the port. This journey was made infinitely more enjoyable by our Vietnamese tour guide ‘Frank’ who found great pleasure in regaling us with the square metre measurements of all the places we were due to visit, particularly Monkey ‘Iceland.’ When I could tear myself away from Frank’s enlightening lecture I enjoyed watching the endless rice paddies, the suicidal traffic and the odd man on a motorbike stacked with cages of dead cats that would shortly be eaten. It was magical, I’m sure you’ll agree.
After a bus journey and short hop on a small boat we arrived at our cruise ship – and let me just say – wow! I wanted to don an eye patch and grab a bottle of rum as soon as I clambered aboard. Instead I had to settle for a lovely seafood lunch as the boat got under-way. Five minutes into lunch, the table, food and drinks lay abandoned as the islands of Halong Bay made an appearance.
Let me set the scene: Picture a boat that was a cross between a pirate ship and a Chinese junk slicing through waters as clear blue as any you’d find in the Bahamas. The sky was lit with sun and a few fluffly clouds. About forty feet around the boat was the slight mist you get in hot climates before the sun burns off the dew. And out of this mist in every direction emerged these hulking, goliath islands, like the protruding teeth of some ancient sea monster rising from the deep…The boat was silent for a grand total of five minutes before an incessant clicking began. Photos would never in a million years do this place justice…yet I still have over two hundred on my camera. What can I say, I’m a true tourist in the worst way.
Cruising round hundreds of these rocky, green-covered islands we made our way to the Surprising Cave – sometimes called the Amazing Cave. As you can probably imagine we were all curious as to the name. Like all caves it was beautiful, you went in and marvelled at the wonders nature can create, you tripped over rocks and banged your head on Stalagmites or Stalactites – I can never remember which is which. But what was so surprising, so amazing about this cave? Turns out that one of the protruding rocks in the main cavern was very very similar to a certain part of a man’s anatomy. Funny? Yes. Surprising? Yes. Amazing? Well, I’ve definitely seen better.
After the cave the group split into two factions – the kayakers and the sun bathers. Having never kayaked before, I decided that no place in the world would ever offer a better opportunity. So I strapped myself into a rather fetching life jacket and descended gracefully (fell) into a two-seater kayak with a girl named Ruth. Along with two others we set off around the islands of Halong Bay. Ruth rather kindly excused the few times I clipped her around the head with my oar as I got into the rhythm that would soon give me muscles to rival Pop Eye and soon we were skimming along the waves like – well, like a kayak skimming over the waves really.
After an hour of hard rowing and some beautiful scenery we met up with the two guys who’d come kayaking with us and lazily sat in the kayaks with our feet dangling in the crystalline waters as the sun set over the jagged islands of Halong Bay. I could go on to tell you about the antics of the monkeys on Monkey Island, the drinking games aboard the boat, the scary cave near Cat Ba, but no. I think this is the perfect place to end. Sat in a kayak feeling like the only people in the world as the sun goes down over paradise.