On the 18th. We boarded our bus in the morning for a 4 hour ride to Halong Bay. Roads were great, and lots beautiful countryside to see along the way. We made a short stop for a tour of a Pearl Farm. So many long drawn out hours go into preparing the oysters to produce such beautiful pieces, so teadeus. Halong Bay means “Descending Dragon”. Legends say that when Vietnam was being invaded a dragon came down from the sky and spit pearls from her mouth, creating all the islands. The ships would crash into the limestone islands and break apart. It is now a UNESCO World heritage site. On our arrival at the pier we boarded a tender, and headed out to our traditional junk boat for the rest of the day and night. We were pleasantly surprised with our accommodations this time. Nice room, with basically a wall of windows which made up for no windows in the first hotel.
Halong bay consists of approximately 1600 islands, all rock, with lush vegetation topping each one. Over 989 Islands have been given names, so still a few more to go. Once we got out into the bay, orientated and settled we went kayaking. Surprisingly we were able to get into the same kayak without tipping it…although the weather was very warm, and the water seemed nice, I was happy we managed to load ourselves somewhat gracefully. There was an opening in a rock wall that we all kayaked through and were greeted on the other side by hoards of monkeys scattering about on the shore and in trees catching fruit that tourists were throwing to them. As far as our guide knows, it’s the only island that is inhabited by monkeys. With as many kayaks that were in the bay, I was surprised with how quiet and peaceful it was paddling, with the exception of the birds chipping and the occasional squeal from a monkey! I was happy to lay back and let Gus do the paddling as I took photos in the sun. Back through the hole in the wall, and out into open waters to cross over to another island, which also had a path through to the other side. It was a very interesting trip across the waters, but alas, it was time to head back to our boat, and head over to Titop Island.
Titop Island was named by Ho Chi Minh for a Russian Astronaut who first visited the island in 1962. Once at the dock we had a climb of 472 (I think it was 492) steps to the top of the island. Once there, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the bay, and the setting sun, while we got our breath back from the climb. The trail was well made, with steps of stone, hand rails etc. so it was not a difficult climb, but it was a climb, and of course coming back down can be even harder.
There is a beautiful beach on the island as well, and some of the group had decided to have a quick swim before returning to the boat. The beach was beautiful, all white sand dropping off into the deep blue of the bay. Those that swam said it was beautiful, and very refreshing. We elected to not take a dip in the salty waters of Halong Bay. On our return to the boat, we sat down to a spectacular dinner. Not only was the fresh seafood dinner prepared to perfection, but it was presented to us perfectly as well.
It was a beautiful evening, and we all went on deck to watch the beautiful sunset, and enjoy a cocktail and conversations before turning in for the night.
The next morning we woke and went on deck to view the beautiful sunrise. Its at that moment that I thought, life doesn’t get much better, and was so thankful for the opportunity to share in another countries culture and beauty. Back downstairs for breakfast to give us the strength to go caving, the chefs did not disappoint. We traveled a short distant before embarking on another island that housed the Thien Cung Caves. Again it was a hike up to the mouth of the cave, but once again the beauty took over as soon as one entered into the cave. The lights made the stalactites and stalagmites stand out and glow like magic. For the most part these caves are not living. They do see many tourists, and there were ash trays strewn about in the cave. I didn’t see anyone smoking, but thought it strange that they would allow such a thing, especially after being in the Kartchner Caverns near Tucson Az where they spritzed water on you before entering so lint would not fall off your cloths once in the cave. In any case, was so happy to have seen these beautiful caves. M There are a large number of lakes that have formed on these limestone islands as well, although we didn’t see any of them. It is said that sink holes were the cause, meaning, there were likely many more caves on these islands, that have collapsed, created freshwater lakes
Back on the boat, we headed back into port, to jump on our bus and start our 4 hour journey back to Hanoi. We didn’t have any stops along the way, and arrived back in time to enjoy a street dinner tour in which our local guide took us through the dimly lit alleyways of the old quarter in Hanoi. What wonderful food it was. We did not eat very much at any one place, but stopped at so many, and had so much to try we were all very full in the end. Although, we did have room to appreciate a cold beer during our last stop of the evening. We would never have gone down those streets/alleys on our own, far less attempted to order, or eat the food they cook on the street side. But it was so delicious, and so interesting to watch them prepare the food for us, food that we have grown to enjoy, and will seek out in other communities in the future.
We only had a short wait back at the hotel before leaving to catch an overnight train to Hue (pronounced Whey). This was part of the trip I was not looking forward to. In fact I was trying to think of any way to avoid the train! But alas, I couldn’t think of a way to escape the evening that I was convinced would be a long night of fending off flying bugs, and cockroaches. So I put my big girl panties on, made sure the left over beer were in the suitcases, and headed for the train station with the rest of them.