Weekend On The Bays

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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One Night On A Boat
One Night In A Home Stay

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, March 4, 2012

Near the end of a rough four-hour ride from Hanoi to Halong City the landscape slowly emerged from the morning mist. Strangely enough the inland rugged hills this area is famous for are being dug up and trucked out.  The thousands that jut out from the water at every turn comprise yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Red River Delta is a paradox of tiny stilt houses dangling over the mud on the right and modern-looking hospitals undergoing expansion on the left.  Skinny five-storey hotels pop up like mini-skyscrapers and a huge investment conference banner proudly welcomes the future.  The final winding cliff-side stretch of road took us to the pier as the mist lingered over the distant karsts.

We were ferried on a small boat to a bigger one and on arrival there were protests from our German companions.  The ship was a little dilapidated and certainly not the one from the marketing materials.  We were all pleased when the tour guide arranged for a better boat to sail over and pick us up.   We had a delicious lunch that included fresh seafood while sharing stories with an elderly and well-travelled couple.  They're also the parents of an Olympic snowboarder and the husband helped pioneer tourist trekking in Nepal.  Needless to say we were mostly on the receiving end of the travel tips.

Our ship wound its way through the maze of islands and dropped anchor in a protected bay with several other vessels in our midst.  The scarce daylight desperately hung on but eventually disappeared; leaving only the lights of surrounding boats reflecting off the still water.
After a warm cozy sleep sharing a twin bed by choice we awoke to similar surroundings.  While the mist added a tranquil effect to the area, we hoped for a little sun to break through.  It never did, despite the positive forecast on Jason's watch.  We kayaked around a fishing village, the sheer cliffs and a couple of caves while taking care to avoid the big tourist boats sharing the same waters.  Our Halong Bay excursion concluded with the other five travellers opting out of the second leg to Bai Tu Long Bay.

We were driven to a pier further east to join another group.  The very light but incessant rain mixed with the roadway grime (from the local coal industry that exports to China) to turn the neatly trimmed hedges a smokey grey.  Just beyond a motorbike crash a bride got into a SUV with six inches of mud trim on her dress.

At the pier we squeezed onto a little rowboat to get to the Ethnic Travel boat.  Our new younger group was made up of two Brits, two Aussies and a Swiss nurse fresh off an Intrepid tour.  We were served a generous lunch of fresh seafood and accoutrements on the boat.  Our second hour in a kayak was a welcome change from the previous one due to the peaceful environment, green forested islands and clear turquoise waters of Bai Tu Long Bay.

We were shuttled to our guesthouse via tuk-tuk and welcomed by a Vietnamese family with the elder hosts in their seventies.  After settling in our group prepared spring rolls for deep frying.  The rest of dinner was prepared by the family and went down nicely with a bottle of Ha Long beer.  Good travel conversation and a few laughs sent us off to bed.  The bedding was damp so we crawled under the mosquito net in full rain gear, hoods included.  At 10:00, the electricity was turned off.  We were awakened twice by a thunderstorm and a rooster from another time zone.

After a traditional breakfast of pho ga (chicken noodle soup) we cycled through the countryside to the pier to meet our bags and reboard the boat.  Lunch was spectacular again, stuffing us all to the gills.  Cruising toward the pier we stopped on the beach of a limestone karst with directions to ascend hundreds of steps to the top.  The stairs got progressively steeper and narrower with jagged rock on both sides.  We were thankful for the cement posts and rope to cling to as the wind freshened.  At one point Sylvia noticed a snake on a platform Jason had already passed.  We paused for a photo and were later informed that the snake was poisonous.  Reaching the summit was an achievement, but the way back down was also treacherous.  Despite the ever-present mist, the views justified the climb.  Jason made a lame effort to row the boat back to shore and we waited for the bus back to Hanoi.
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Jinnie on

The prawns look yummy! Nice white slippers Jason.... they suit you...:)

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