After spending just a few days in the bustling city of Hanoi, Andrew and I had quickly grown tired of the incessant beeping of motor bike horns and crush of human bodies everywhere we went. Halong Bay here we come! We got a pretty good deal and landed 3 day 2 night tour of the bay and islands for just 600,000 dong ($30). It would be the first and one of the last fully guided tours we would take on the trip.
While we had a great time and at a great price there was often a lot of downtime for no particular reason. The staff never seemed to be very organized and we were constantly be shuffled around. While the tour came with free food we were not allowed to choose what we would actually be eating. Over all it was a nice introduction to Vietnam as we did not have to plan or orchestrate a thing just sort of follow. However, once you get your feet wet its really pretty easy to organize yourself.
I took waaaaaay too many pictures in Halong Bay because everything was so surreal and amazing. The weather was a bit cold which Andrew was a bit upset about seeing as he flew all the way over here from San Diego. For me though it was quite nice since its still the dead of winter in Korea! No swimming for us though.
The trip included a lot of things. First we just went of a tour of the bay in our Chinese junk ship and landed on a small island to do some cave exploring. I really really need to invest in a little bit better camera for my next trip because my little pocket camera is just not capable of reproducing the images of the bay or the caves. Andrews camera faired much better and you can probably tell which pictures were his and which were mine.
After the caves we continued to cruise around and eventually came to a number of floating fishing villages. Whenever they caught sight of our boat four or five children would hope in a boat full of the craziest fruit you have ever seen and start paddling like mad. We tried to buy something from them as often as we could but we could never eat that much food! I never saw any of the parents so I assumed they were off working and fishing elsewhere.
We landed on the main island several hours later in time to eat dinner and have some free time at the hotel and around the “city.” We were a few weeks early for tourist season so the entire island was pretty much ours. Every club and disco was blazing music on every corner but…. no one was there. All the owners would stand outside of the doors and yell out their drink specials to the small handful of tourist that had arrived. This only added to the strangeness of the place, shrouded in fog.
The next morning we awoke early to go for some inland trekking. The trek took us about two hours and we got to climb one of the highest peaks on the island. On top of a sketchy looking tower that had to be climbed two at a time since that was apparently its weight limit. Again, I need a better camera. Everything in Vietnam is so green.
After trekking we returned to our Chinese junk for some more cruising around the bay and more floating villages. Andrew and I actually rented private trip into some of the smaller water-filled caves that the junk could not get through. It set us back about $0.50 but there is nothing like being taken on an oceanic voyage in far off lands with a nine year old boy as your tour guide and boat captain!
We slept on this junk that night got a good nights sleep. I was worried that I might not be able to sleep, as some of the others passengers were complaining about, because of the rocking of the ship. I had no problems and if anything it put me to sleep faster! We woke up early for some sea kayaking. I was still half asleep when I got up and was told to get a kayak so in my rush I forgot my camera. Just as well I suppose because the water was a bit rough and I ended up getting pretty wet anyways.
Thats the short story of Halong Bay but just as we were leaving we had one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. Whenever the ship would make dock on the main island a horde of young Vietnamese women would descend on us trying to sell beer, cigarettes, cookies, and pringles (shrimp flavor, yuk!) One of them in particular was very persistent and we had a good time. None of us spoke each others language but that didn’t seem to matter much. I tried to get her to pull down her pollution mask so we could see how old she was but she flatly refused. I settled for a free ride on her motorcycle though which was fun!