Friday, April 01, 2011

Halong Bay

Howdy folks. Back in Hanoi for a day after visiting the beautiful Halong Bay. Well, the trip was okay, not everything I had hoped for but nothing ever is, right? RIGHT?
This here is the Imperial Cruise, the boat that would take me and others around the large area known as Halong Bay, in the north of Vietnam. Giant rocks protude from the water. It's eerie and beautiful at the same time. Perfect place to hide a boat if you planned to attack, and over the years many people have, French and Americans included. Unfortunately the weather was still cold, and with a wind chill factor over the ocean... well, I was one of a few to wake up on day two with a nasty cold.

The islands, rocks, waters are full of some interesting sites. Above are some caves we visited. Breathtaking really, beautifully lit for the tourists, giant caverns. A special place where the French and Americans hid at different times. The downside in the area are the tourists. So many of them everywhere, all pretty much following the same itinerary - which on reflection is an issue all through Vietnam. You arrive on a boat - all rather similar. The Imperial Cruise was a great boat, great staff, very comfortable cabins, the best bathroom I have had in Vietnam. Food was good and way too much to finish too!
So anyways, you have lunch, you see the caves, you go kayaking, have dinner... Day Two! The point is it's all standardised and leaves you wandering if there's a tour company out there doing anything different.

As you can see this cove and many similar boats. Day two was an issue. Bike riding on a special part of Cat Ba Island, the biggest island in the region, took us to a village called Viet Hai where Oreos and Coke were for sale. Naturally! :) But in fairness the villagers have such a limited choice in how to make money.

This is a view from behind the village. Actually, most of Vietnam is a lot cleaner than this. It was when we arrived at the hotel in Cat Ba Town  that things sort of fell apart. 1st of April is the opening of the tourist season. So all week long there is a festival in Cat Ba town. Tents adorning Ho Ch Minh  - was he also the founder of tourism in Vietnam? And LOUD LOUD music all night. Well, in fairness, it stopped at 1.30am and didn't resume until 5.45 am, just over four hours later! So no sleep for me. I was on Open Tours Vietnam, a fairly reputable company, but anyone coming to Halong Bay should definitely ask as many questions of their tour operator as possible because a bad night's sleep, compunded with a bad cold, does not make Andrew a happy boy. Especially as there were bungalows available in a secluded part of the island which would have been mega blissful. I thought in choosing the hotel I had made the better choice, but you need to be armed with all the facts!
A beautiful place though, Halong Bay. Cloud cover for the whole time was very disapointing though. In a few hours though, I say good bye to Vietnam, and hello to... Laos!

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