Saturday, 26 April 2008

Halong Bay

The whole of Hanoi brings up memories of doing not very much, meeting people who soon became familiar as I travelled down through Vietnam by bus, and eating lots of food; so much so that I was going through periods of eating two meals per meal because I could, and partially because it meant I didn't have to think of something else to do for a little longer. Small bits of language will help you along the way, 'sin jao' means 'hello', and 'dee boh' means 'I'll walk', essential for all the motorbiker taxis, who will shout 'Hey! Motorbike?!' all through the day - here you either get earplugs, put up with it or say 'dee boh' and more often than not receive a chuckle in return.

I took a three day tour of Halong Bay with a few other people, it's trying to become one of the wonders of the world; it consists of a few plinth-like rocks naturally formed out of the water with greenery on top, and a lot of boggy water around it, no thanks to locals who sail through and live on the water in polluting little houses floating on the water. The boats have diesel pumping out, sometimes into the water - that means taking a dip ensures you'll be covered in black sludge when you get out! The weather wasn't fantastic but the company more than made up for it, much as it does in many places with little to do. We took a boat to Cat Ba Island off of the east coast, stayed one night there with nothing of interest to entertain us, then went to the so-called National Park. Here we did a short trek (a couple of hours), which thanks to the rain the night before had made the rocks we were clambering up really slippy for my trainers. All of the people in sandals who I thought would have had a tough time found it easier than me, as the grip on my soles was non-existent. That meant slow progress, and a nice slip-up ten minutes in, covering me in sloppy mud! It at least put me at ease that I couldn't get any more muddy for the rest of the hike so didn't worry as much. There were a couple of scary parts, one where the railing (the only one we came across, and with good reason) near the top of the peak had half-rusted away and barely helped as I navigated around a large cutaway in the rock below, which had a good 10 metre drop beneath it. The view from the peak was fantastic though, so very worth the muddy and scary trip up, and the returning trek down.

I was grateful for the journey back, where we took residence on a boat for the night and meant I could clean myself up, albeit with a tap of cold water and a small bucket. Hot showers simply don't feature on boats you sleep on which are aptly named 'junks'. Shortly after we jumped into kayaks and took a gentle paddle around the rocks of Halong Bay.

Halong Bay

The naturally formed tunnels we visited on the way to Cat Ba Island

The hike! Slippy, scary and fun. I'm the third in from the left, struggling up another rock.

The view after getting to the top of the hiking trail

And a picture Rassmus the Dane took when he went up the watchtower that I was too scared to climb

These huge glass bottles with dead things in are common in Vietnam. I didn't buy one.

When on our boat, we had other little boats come up with fruit, food, alcohol and many other bits for sale.

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