So cold...

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
Trip End Jul 2005

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Saturday, March 5, 2005

Halong Bay is the place to go! This is what we had been hearing since before we set out, and it sounded perfect: sun, sand, sea, limestone islands rising vertically from a lime-green sea...
Our plan, with Linda and Renska, was to explore the bay in a 2 night, three day adventure. It began perfectly- the bus turned up (have i mentioned that we have come to appreciate the small things?).
Hanoi had been cold, but the pictures on the wall of the travel agents had promised sun, and the accompanying warmth of sunlight was inferred, so i packed only a spare t-shirt and a thin jumper which I had bought at the last minute in Hanoi. Sure we were going to Nepal, but did I have any warm clothes? noooo...
The temperature when we got off the minibus in Halong Bay was not promising- it was freezing. Oh dear. And we had two nights here. Sigh.
We set out with brave hearts though, assured in the thought that our provisions for the trip would be enough. Between four of us, we had enough booze and snacks to keep an army going. Surprise, surprise by the first night it was gone, although we had help from our new Portuguese-Swedish pal Claudio.
We spent our first day sailing around very spectacular islands and visiting one of the caves, which the locals thought was all the better for the coloured neon lighting. We get the feeling that nature always seems to need a helping hand to look its best out here. Our guide showed us all the fantastic images formed by the stalagmites and stalactites- "This one is a turtle! That looks like a dragon! and this is George Clooney in profile!"
That night we stayed on the boat and decided to warm ourselves with some card games whilst we drank. That slowly became card drinking games, then drinking games and then finally just drinking. Between the five of us, we finished a bottle of vodka, a bottle of wine, a bottle of whiskey and countless beers... by 9:30pm. Surprisingly, no one fell in the water.
On our second day we were dropped off very early at Cat Ba island, the largest island in Halong Bay. Our mission- a 6km trek through the interior. It started out a bit rough, and then got like a Vietnam war movie. Mud, dense jungle, random holes in the ground, I felt like an US Army Ranger. Luckily, we were dropped off at 7:30am at the local alcoholic's place before we headed out and had a hit of rice wine (I'm really starting to hate that stuff). I still haven't figured out if the Vietnamese are alcoholics or if they just think that all backpackers are and try to accomodate us.
The trek was great! All the frustration of being wrapped in cotton wool and sheperded from one tourist trap to another was released in one stupidly energetic morning. We were back by 10:30am, full of enthusiasm and excitement... only to find that Cat Ba island is possibly one of the most boring places on the planet when there is no sunlight. Joe and I hired motos and did "born to be wild" impressions until the cold drove us back indoors, but that was as exciting as it got.
We have been informed by our Canadian crew from Saigon that, only a few days after we were there, there was sunlight and even beachable warmth. We have decided to pretend that we didn't hear that. Bastards.
An uneventful night of wandering the streets looking for a decent bar or even, in desparation, karaoke (gasp) proved too much for us and so we ventured to bed. Our third day involved catching the boat back to the mainland. We were assured that we were sailing by a different route to the one by which we had come, but all those islands look exactly the same, so we wouldn't have known if we weren't. We headed back to Hanoi, our kidneys sore and our extremities frozen: the way you should return from a trip involving boats.
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