Friday, April 2, 2010

Halong Bay

Even though Jaya did not go to Halong Bay, I (Marti) wanted to finish my part of the blog by telling you about my trip to this amazing area, a UNESCO protected site. The bay is made up of a group of islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. At the end of the last ice age when the glaciers melted, the seas rose leaving the hilltops as islands, floating between the sky and the water, like a mystical kingdom. It is truly a beautiful place -- in the misty, hazy weather the rugged, karst rocks appeared mysterious and etherial as we slowly passed by on our flat-bottomed, wooden boat. We visited a huge cave, climbing up the path to enter a spectacular cavern of stalagtites and stalagmites, rock pillars and a running stream. Despite the hordes of tourists there, it was well worth the visit. It was also amazing to watch our captain manoeuver our boat away from the dozens of other boats tied up to the rocks! Later we stopped at a fish farm, which is really a floating fishing village. We paddled around in kayaks, getting under the overhanging rocks for close-up views of the islands and sea life. Anchoring for the night among many other boats, we were like a village on the water, with the lights twinkling in the darkness, but it was so quiet and calm.
Our group was an interesting one, made up of an Israeli woman, some young Germans, a Spanish-Thai couple, a Korean family and three 19-year-old British guys. What do you do on boats? Yes, we played cards and magic tricks, told stories and drank beer. My cabin was very cute, all panelled in wood, and I slept soundly.
The next morning we sailed to Cat Ba island and went trekking in the national park. It was quite a climb, but the view from the top was spectacular. Unfortunately, we didn't see the endangered languars (monkeys). We spent the night in the town. Nearby was a lovely, white-sand beach on a perfect, little bay. Not a soul was there (it was too cold for swimming) but it must be crowded in the summer (there was a resort, complete with water slide).
We boarded another boat in the morning for a liesurely trip through the islands back to the mainland. Again, the weather was cloudy, but the scenery was stunning. At every turn there was a fantastic view and everyone was busy snapping photos.
It was a great place to end my holiday (Jaya would have loved it, as it is a hotspot for artists) but I still had 2 days to spend in crazy Hanoi!