Sailing on a junk
Ha Long, Vietnam
Halong Bay – this is one of those places that just looks amazing in photos.
The towering limestone karsts, rising up out of the deep blue water, scattered with ‘junk’ style boats.
There are nearly 2,000 islands dotted around, with caves littered throughout the karsts and jungle covered islands. The name Halong means ‘bay of descending dragons’. The area is a UNESCO site and has recently been voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. I’m excited.
I was picked up from my hotel at 8.30am, ready for the 4 hour drive across to Halong. After an obligatory shopping stop, we finally reached the port at 12.30pm. I was glad when I was then moved into a different group (my bus group had been full of older people and couples) but my new group full of people the same age as me. Much better!
We were driven, by tender boat, to our bigger boat. A junk boat. These boats all used to be brown, but after a government regulation came into force last year, they were forced to paint all the boats white. They now all look a bit grubby and tatty, even the fancy ones!
Mine is nice though, 3 levels- a bottom level of cabins, middle level with more cabins and a dining room, then a top sun deck (not going to be using that today!). After being shown to our cabins, time for some lunch.
As we ate, we sailed away from the port and out into the bay. It’s a really cloudy day, the limestone karsts barely visible through the mist and clouds. But as we got closer, they started to emerge. Mysterious! Also very beautiful. The mist adding to the effect!
We landed at one of the larger limestone karsts and off to explore a cave – Sung Sot. The entrance was up quite a few steps, into the first chamber which was quite small. After that a second, then a third. The cave was huge, I definitely was not expecting that! It was all atmospherically lit up and had a path running through – totally designed for tourists! But was still impressive and really pretty. Stalagmites and stalactites lining the walls – the guide pointed out various rock formations that look like things – a monkey, a dragon, a person etc!
Right at the end of the cave was a look out point, right across the bay – so pretty!
Next up, a spot of kayaking! I’ve not been kayaking since I was about 12, but soon got the hang of it again. We were two to a boat and made our own way round the large bay area, past another cave, a small beach and a water village. Women from the village were out on small paddle boats, fully loaded up as a shop! Their boat covered in biscuits, crisps, drinks and pineapples! Even using small fishing nets to pass goodies up to people as they bought them. The women certainly looked very funny.
After a bit of a rest, it was time for dinner – course after course after course brought out! Sadly we had no sunset as it was far too cloudy, it just got dark very quickly instead.
Tonight, I’m sleeping on the boat. The cabin is nice – cute decorations, an ensuite bathroom and a view out into the bay! The water is totally flat and the boat is so big, that it doesn’t even feel like I am on a boat.
Friday 1 March 2013
We were woken early, not because we particularly had anything to do, but because they wanted us out of the rooms!
We sailed around in the bay for a while, stopping briefly at Cat Ba island. We spent out time looking at pretty rocks and formations. Although it was still very misty and a bit drizzly, it looked pretty.
But before long, we were off the peacefulness of the boat and loading back into a minivan for the return 4 hour journey. Back to the chaos of Hanoi.
Everywhere I have visited in Vietnam has begun with the letter H. Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Halong! Funny.
I’ve only been to half the country, but it’s been good – I’ve enjoyed the food and crafts in Hoi An and Halong is so pretty.