Thursday, November 1, 2012

In another world - Halong Bay

We left the city of Hanoi at 8 under heavy clouds, but they improved as we got further along. The journey was 4 hours. Again not a huge distance (about 170km) but slow going at times because of the continual traffic and long towns. Arrived at the Harbour of Halong Bay to see a huge number of boats floating out in the Harbour. There were plenty of buses to help fill them. As the bay had been closed for the previous three days, quite a few people had been able reschedule their trips. Just as well things worked out for us, as we would not have been able to reschedule.
We were ferried out on a smaller craft to our luxury home for 3 days. The drum was beating and one staff member had a mask on (not sure why, it may be a traditional greeting).
First up was the safety instructions followed by the formalities of the boat and our program for the next 3 days.
Lunch was the first activity for the day after checking into our rooms. Set menu for lunch, but WOW. 6 courses of food that was superbly presented, but tasted even better if that was possible.
Next was either a sea kayak or bamboo boat ride through the cave to a magical environment where numerous monkeys entertained us. Kayaking around this bay was just superb. Mind you, the serenity was disturbed by the row boats trying to sell you drinks or food or trinkets. (After 6 courses, there was certainly no room for any food!) Back to out boat to be then ferried to an Island to climb the steps to see one of the most spectacular views we will ever see. It must have been good because everyone else from every other boat was there too. A dip in the water was very welcome after the climb. The crew were there on the beach with towels awaiting. Back to the boat (5.15pm) and starting to get dim.
Food carving demo by the Chef at 6. What he could do with a tomato was just amazing. A sharp knife was helpful.
Buffet dinner at 7.15 (delightful food available once again. Evening entertainment ranged from the movie (Top Gear in Vietnam), squid fishing (not biting because of the full moon), socializing, taking in the moonlight on the top deck, or 2 for 1 Happy Hour from 9 till 11!
The next day started with tea/coffee and pastries from 6.45 prior to the Tai Chi session on the deck at 7.30. A bit early for many, but it was incredibly relaxing and a view to go with it. We have suggested to Helen that she needs to improve the view from her living room for Stretch classes!
A delightful breakfast to follow. Oh the food!
First stop this morning was the Floating Village of Cua Van. Most chose to Kayak again. It is so peaceful once you get the technique right. The floating village is just that. It is their permanent home. This village includes a school and a library. Very basic conditions, but their life evolves around the water. Fishing is their main source of income, but visiting tourists also supplement their income.
A further paddle to the Bat Cave, (about an hour on the water), just incredible, such a quiet, untouched environment. There is a little bit of rubbish about, unfortunately a side effect of tourism and modern life styles. A swim off the boat followed for a few of us, with Richie being the hero to jump in from the top deck, closely followed by Londoner, Partick. Rest of us had more sense. (Patrick cut his foot on something as he landed in the water).
Lunch at some point after the swim. Another stunning 6 courses. Just as well lunch was after the swim The water was quite salty, so very buoyant, but probably not that buoyant!
The late afternoon trip was a walk through some more caves, a bit tight to get through in some places, (there are some advantages in being short), but the Fairy Lake at the end was worth it.
Shoes got a bit dirty, but that was no problem. Leave them on the tender and they were cleaned for us. Really, it was to keep the main boat clean. Whilst on the boat, we roamed around in bare feet most of the time (even while having dinner in the fine dining room).
Our last visit for the day was to the Pearl farm. It was quite interesting and we watched them opening the oysters to find the pearl as well as the early stages of impregnating them with the foreign body for the pearl to develop over about 18 months.
Evening entertainment included making fresh spring rolls with the Chef at 6. (mine didn't look too flash, but tasted the same as the others).
Another sumptuous buffet meal followed. Tonight's movie was the Quiet American. I read the book in Form 5. Didn't bother with the movie. It was much more interesting chatting to the others on board (26 in total). 4 from the UK, 2 from Canada, 2 from Holland, 2 from America, 1 Kiwi and the rest Australians. Lots of well travelled people like the American young couple who are working in the Middle East in Embassies, different countries though, and have their next posting in the Honduras for 3 years. 4 Aussie guys (gay couples) seemed to have travelled the world. The 2 Canadian older ladies had been everywhere too. Fascinating comparing holidays, where people were going or had been. Also great comparing life styles in each others countries.
Our last day once again began with Tai Chi followed by another visit to Surprise Cave. It was quite spectacular, 3 different chambers. The surprise was the quite obvious formation that resembled male anatomy!
Back on board for a late brunch before heading back to port. An incredible place to visit, made even more special by fantastic weather, a great group of people on board, and a fabulous staff/boat. Indochina Sails is the one.
The only down side to visiting Halong Bay is the 4 hour drive back to Hanoi on ordinary roads and traffic.
Back to the noise, traffic, people and craziness that is Hanoi.
Our journey is nearly over, off to the airport tomorrow for arrival home on Saturday morning.
There will be one more post of the blog. It will be funny or little tidbits from our trip, rather than a description of where we have been.
Stay tuned for the last post!

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