Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 – Halong Bay and back to Hanoi

The next morning in Halong Bay, the weather soon made up for what it owed us from the day before. There was a bit of a haze in the morning but, as we left the hotel to gather more companions from various other hotels, the sun came out and shone brightly.

There was an intricately linked network of boat routes and I cannot remember quite how many times we changed vessel, it was at least four. The changes were made in various ways on land and out on the sea. At one point, we stopped in a bay and were told to change boats but, as David cleverly noted, an essential part of the change was missing – the second boat. It was during this transfer that David and the other fellow passengers got the impression that the boat we had been on first had run out of diesel.

At times we lazed on the upper deck, at times below decks. As expected, at one point we were offered lunch. It was edible, but not as good or varied as it had been the previous day. But the weather and especially the views were beautiful.

The scenery was stunning. In total the whole bay has almost two thousand islets. These are very high outcrops formed of a type of sedimentary limestone called Karst. Over millions of years, they have been slowly eroded, by the action of the sea, into fantastic shapes. Some of them have spectacular caves, we sailed right into one and various, twisting, canals between high canyons.

Some islets stand on impossibly thin, rocky, stems that one would imagine they could separate from and fall in a moment. But that moment will probably be in thousands of years time.

When the sky was overcast, the bay looked like the spooky landscape from the realm of shadows, in clearer weather, it was like the backdrop of a spectacular holiday movie.

I was going to stop there, but David reproached me for not writing anything about our great dinner, in Hanoi, that evening, after our return. For some reason, he seemed to be more interested in that than in tales of Halong Bay.

So. We found what seemed to be an ideal restaurant in the Lonely Planet. Unusually, we had a really hard time when we started looking for it. It was much further away from our hotel than we had originally thought. When we finally located it, it was not a restaurant at all, but a fast food outlet. Usually Lonely Planet gives us what we want, unusually, on this occasion, it did not. We did find what David considered to be an amusingly named street and also, rather surprisingly, a Goethe Institute similar to that which we have in Prague.

On the way back to the hotel, we got lost. If I had been to blame for this, I would probably would not have mentioned it, so it is probably clear WHO was to blame. Suffice it to say that, at one point, we went in completely the opposite direction to the one we needed to go in. However, if it had not been the fact that we got so seriously lost, we would not have found the seafood restaurant where I had the best Tiger prawns that I have ever eaten. Full stop. Oddly, having initially rejected fast food, we ate more or less on the street in a really dismal looking place. The very sight of the prawns attracted me to the point where I was willing to risk not only the generally unhygienic looking environment, but also, forgive me please, the most awful toilets I saw in the whole of Vietnam.

The food was so delicious, I could almost ignore the rest. The meal was quite surprisingly expensive. I strongly suspect that we had wandered into a zone where foreigners were a rarity and that they completely invented the price. We could probably have eaten at our friend’s hotel for less money, what we ate was not priced for “locals“, that was for sure. There was nothing we could do, it was still only the equivalent of five hundred Czech Crowns for a superb three-course dinner and drinks.

Back at our hotel, as usual, David fell asleep as if he had been shot. In the night he woke up complaining that the air-conditioning had given him a runny nose. I promised him a Zyrtec pill, but he was asleep again before I found it and, by the morning, it was not required.