Today we had shelled out some money for a three day / two night trip to the iconic Halong Bay. The hotel had arranged it for us and said that they would keep our room for the time we were away as well as look after our backpacks so we could travel a bit lighter. We were picked up nice and early but because of the roads round the hotel being so very busy and it being illegal for the bus to park up it had to keep moving and you ‘simply’ had to hop on – easy eh!
The trip was quite a long one but our guide gave a bit of a commentary to explain the various points of interest along the way. On the way there we had a stop at what we thought to be a motorway service station – there was actually some food on sale but the other goods which were mainly souvenirs were absolutely huge – granite statues, tapestries, silks, lacquered pots and snakes in alcohol! Not your everyday motorway service times I must admit or even ones that you could easily slip into your pocket and the larger items definitely had price tags to match. Needless to say that we declined all on offer even the food items but had ourselves a good look round instead.
By the time we reached the Halong Bay area the sky was looking quite grim. We disembarked our coach and boarded the wee transfer boat which waited at the dock. The boat took us past a variety of junks and some more modern looking cruisers until we reached our own homely little craft. Ours was an older looking boat but on board it was reasonable enough and our room was really nice looking all orientally furnished with dark wood. Once boarded and settled in we set sail into the miserable looking weather and it responded by worsening considerably as the rain then started to teem it down. This did not stop our’s or the crew’s good humour and they improved or moods even further by serving up an excellent spot of lunch.
The inclement weather we were experiencing however was not bad enough to stop the day’s proceedings. In fact the rain actually stopped as we reached our first entertainment – the cave of Surprise / Shock / Amazement / Astonishment (delete as applicable), you name it. It was an awfully good cave though full of stalactites and stalagmites, complete with more than its fair share of hilarious names to describe the said rock formats – some of them, as usual, being quite phallic!
After this, something a bit more strenuous a spot of kayaking around some of the limestone karst outcrops. The kayaks had definitely seen better days, possibly being ex-war stock but me and Liz soon drew on our great experience in Scotland regarding our rowing technique and were soon cutting through the water producing quite a wave from our bow – that’s sailor talk so I believe! The Vietnamese, or so I thought, seemed quite impressed at the way we handled our vessel and we exchanged knowing glances with some of them! Next the boat took us a little bit further on to a beach where we could engage in a bit of swimming here the key word is ‘bit’ as neither the weather, the beach nor the sea itself were doing anything to entice us into the water. The water actually seemed quite polluted with plastic bags and the like so we did not venture into the water too far or for too long – but at least our toes were happy for the dip.
After our afternoon of sea craft and exploration of the bay we went back to our boat and showered ready for the evening’s entertainment – of fun and frivolity. Vietnamese fun and frivolity, like much of Asia, involves a fair old amount of Karaoke. It was in some parts, bog standard English songs – old classics – but then the compere put on a few Vietnamese songs for some of the Asian tourists who had turned up. It was karaoke and no-one there knew me so I had a go at singing, mainly with the compere himself and the two of us had a great laugh even if everyone else was not so keen! Not sure what I had achieved for Anglo-Vietnamese relations but possibly put them back by a good few years was the impression I seemed to take from the audience!
After the excitement of the karaoke we spent a bit of time outside watching the weather in the distance which was quite a spectacle. The lightning lit the sky up and like fools we tried to take photos but at last we got something – I think!