Once in Hanoi we met up with out coach and headed out towards Ha Long. Hanoi was busy with the rush hour and we made slow progress at first. However we were eventually out of the city heading to the East. This was our first lengthy trip by road on a busy route. We have become used to the cities where the roads are invariably jammed, with numerous mopeds, and little regard for lights or crossings and the continual use of horns
. The road was not particularly good - mainly due to wear rather than construction - and the traffic included pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes, cars, lorries, tractors, buses, and not all going in the same direction. Virtually all driving required the regular use of the horn - mainly to warn other users - and there appears to be very little in the way of rules. You can pull on or off the road without any regard for fellow road users; you can turn right at a red light (it seems even with traffic coming from the left); crossings are something that are there, but mostly ignored; the slow lane of dual lane roads can be used for anything including parking, loading farm vehicles, stopping to pick up people or even buy snacks. As Vietnam continues to grow economically infrastructure improvements to road and rail are going to be needed or the whole country will grind to a halt.
Anyway we made progress East towards Ha Long, which is also the road to China. Enroute we passed Vietnam's coal mining area (one of the reasons that the French invaded) where the towns were covered in coal dust and the streets were regularly washed. We also passed small fields of green produce grown by the locals - and watered by hand using two watering cans at the same time.
By late morning we eventually arrived at Ha Long
. In the distance we could see some of the limestone islands in the bay that made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There were two anchorages for junks - one for day trips and one for overnight trips. We headed for the latter and were dropped by the coach at the terminal. Before long we were being ferried out to our junk, the Huong Hai 16 (it means Perfumed Sea). Slightly to our surprise the boat was painted white - all the brochures show brown teak boats. However we discovered that the Vietnamese government now requires all Halong Bay junks to be painted white - why, we have no idea. Onboard we all had small two berth ensuite cabins on either side of the junk and on the next deck a large dining room, with a sun deck forward and above that a further sun deck. Once settled in we were served a large (6 course) seafood lunch as we weighed anchor and headed off towards the islands of Halong Bay.
Before long we were in amongst the islands looking at their many shapes. During the afternoon we visited one island which had a deep cave - Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave). It was quite impressive, but many of the stalagmites and stalactites had been damaged and there was some graffiti. However there were signs that efforts were being made to prevent further damage. Later we visited a lagoon, by rowing through a low tunnel worn into one island. On this island there were also some rare macaque monkeys.
We then headed off to another area where all the overnight junks would anchor for the night (a Vietnamese Government regulation folllowing some capsizes in typhoons and not knowing where the junks were) from where we were able to watch the sunset. In the evening the crew gave a demonstration of making sculptures from fruit and vegetables and then napkin folding. This was followed by evening drinks and another big meal. Some of us tried fishing off the side with a bamboo rod but no-one caught anything. We then retired to our bijou, but comfortable cabins.
Well, as expected, we arrived in Hanoi late, by about 2 hours. This was partly due to the fact that we had left Hue late, but we had quite a delay outside Hanoi and ended up with half a dozen police onboard. One story that we heard was that we had hit a motorcyclist and his passenger, killing one (and the cyclist was probably drunk). With virtually no fences anywhere along the track, and most crossings outside towns unmanned and no barriers, this didn't seem to be much of a surprise to our guide.