26.02.2013 - 27.02.2013
We went out to Halong Bay for two days and a night, after booking with a small travel agency in old town, Hanoi. I would guess they all sell the same tours on various boats with slightly different prices. Unfortunately, we didn't really get as far as Bai Tu Long Bay, as they said we would. This bay is much less crowded than Halong, which is full of tourist boats out to see the karst mountains jutting straight out of the water. As a result of all the traffic, it is far from pristine. We saw a considerable amount of floating garbage, and I'm sure that many boats just dump their waste in the water. Despite that, and the less then ideal weather, it was still quite beautiful. The fog added atmosphere to the limestone crags looming in the azure and tranquil sea.
We made the typical stops to a few of the islands, including one with a sizable cave, another with a small beach, and one with a tower on top of a mountain with a commanding view of the bay.
I couldn't resist
While walking around, and even on board, various passing boats were eager to sell us food and souvenirs. People actually live out on the bay, and there is even a floating school.
On our small junk, we had a fun, international group of people ranging from a Mexican psychology professor to a young couple from Corsica, a Finnish couple, and a Quebecois from the city of the same name. William, in his mid 30's, was enough to change my mind about professional soldiers. They are not all mindless killers. He had been to Afghanistan a number of times, and was going back there for another six weeks to finish his tour of duty. He clearly cares a great deal about the Afghani's, and is there because he thinks that he can do some good for the country. He is hopeful that when he and the Americans leave, the people will be better off, and there will be peace. We shall see. In any event, he was a delight to talk to, and had a great sense of humor to boot. We drank snake wine together, which is as awful as it sounds, and we went garbage fishing in the bay at night. What is that, you might ask? Well, the crew gave us fishing rods to catch fish, but all we managed to do was to snag pieces of floating debris. Others, including William also sang Karaoke. I abstained, given my inability to carry a tune.
Our group, inside the cave. William in shorts/white shirt, center left
It was a great experience spending the night on the boat, with occasional views of the moon behind the clouds and mountains. The food was also exceptional, and though this was far from a luxurious boat, they treated us well.
Not ours, but it was similar
The bus ride back to Hanoi was long, and then our cab driver in Hanoi got lost in the insane rush hour traffic. Luckily we were able to call Thuy, our hostess, and she was able to speak to and direct him. At a certain point, we had to get out of the taxi because we couldn't move. We had to walk several blocks on a main street, which was jammed with motorbikes, cars, regular bikes and people, so much so, that it was difficult to maneuver around without getting hit by someone. It was a relief to find our way through the maze of side alleys to Chez Linhlinh.