Monday, March 25th, 2013 – Halong Bay

Immediately after breakfast, our minibus appeared in the throng outside the hotel and we boarded it for our trip to Ha Long Bay. Along the way, we gradually added and deposited the other passengers who traveled with us for various lengths of time and were being moved around according to their own travel plans. Progress through Hanoi was very slow, the traffic was beyond belief and, in the narrow side streets, it was very much a free for all. Luckily, once we left the city, the speed could increase a bit.

For some reason, we made a stop at a place where large statues were being carved. The object was, no doubt, to persuade us to buy something. The craftsmanship was superb, but these were big heavy things, more suited to being carried in a van than in a rucksack. No sale, I am afraid.

In quite dull and overcast weather, we came to Ha Long Bay where we boarded our boat.

The first part of our tour was a trip from Ha Long City to the Dong Thien Cung cave system. Discovered accidentally in 1993, these caverns are spectacularly beautiful and the rocks are a variety of colours and illuminated to wonderful effect. The cave known as “Heaven’s Palace” is unbelievably lovely.

Next, we went to a “floating fishing village“. This was more of a piece of theatre than a real working enterprise. During the endless rush of tourists, who were unloaded and then gradually reloaded into their boats, nobody there seemed to have any time to spend catching fish.

The ride then continued to a cave where part of a James Bond film was, apparently made. Nobody on board could confirm or refute this, because no-one from our ship had seen that particular Bond film which was, we were told “Tomorrow Never Dies”.

As part of our “tour experience” we were treated to a trip by rowing boat through a tunnel in the cliffs. Whether we were imitating James Bond, I do not know. He would probably have used a speedboat.

The last part of the ride was to a floating “school“. Two children were running around and beating each other with bags, but running around through what appeared to be an empty, floating, shack, somehow gave the impression that there were many more of them. This mayhem was supervised by two Vietnamese women, who were probably supposed to represent the teachers. We were encouraged to buy trinkets to fund the education program, so, of course, we did.

Then we motored slowly around the islets, dropping people off at various locations. It really was incredibly beautiful and tranquil. We took a lot of pictures, but no camera could possibly capture what your eyes see. Finally, David and I were finally left alone with the Vietnamese driver and we set off for Ca Ba town.

We chugged along, through the late afternoon haze, for quite a long way until we came to Cat Ba Island and the settlement of Cat Ba Town. There we were given some real luxury accommodation with spectacular sea views and a delicious dinner.

Then we went for a walk through the town to the Kiwi Bar. David had a couple of beers and there was such good coffee that I also had two. It rained or drizzled all the way, but we did not mind much because it was warm.

That night, we both slept like dead people.