Thursday, February 23, 2012

Halong Bay

After Angkor Wat, Halong Bay is the next can’t miss wonder of South East Asia.   We booked a 2-night cruise on the Bahya Classic to go and see it.  From Hanoi it is a 4-hour drive to the bay where we boarded our boat, known as a “junk.”  Of course it wasn’t junky at all, but a very classy and luxurious affair with elegant meals and large (for a ship) comfortable cabins.  At $265 per person, while it didn’t strictly fit into our daily budget, it was reasonable enough that we should be able to make it up over the next week or so.

We loved this cruise and thought Halong Bay and the whole experience was spectacular.  While I knew that the bay was famous for the dramatic limestone rock formations that rise up out of the water, I had no idea there were so many of them!  In fact there are 1000 plus rock islands in Halong Bay alone, and more than 3000 in the surrounding area.

 I was also surprised to see how busy the bay was, not just with tourist boats, but also with every manner of commercial boat. And then there are also all the people who live there, as in live there in the bay in floating villages.   We visited one and got to see how they grow pearls by implanting small round starters in the oyster shells.

Other than the jaw dropping cruising scenery, one of the highlights of our time in Halong Bay was the full day excursion we took on a day cruiser to Cat Ba Island.  This outing was reserved for the few passengers that were on the 2 versus 1 night cruise (if you go definitely do the 2 nights.)  This happened to include just us plus a lovely grandma from Australia, named Mary.  We really bonded with Mary and had a great time with her.  The five of us had the big day cruiser junk all to ourselves.

On the island we rode bicycles (except for Mary who had a blast on the back of a motor scooter) from the tiny port 6 kilometers through lovely small lanes to an even tinier village.  These bikes were in much better condition that the ones we borrowed in Cambodia and the ride was great fun, through rice paddies and tunnels and by ducks and goats and working water buffalos.

 Mary rocks!

That afternoon we kayaked under and around the natural openings in the rock formations.  The view of the towering islands from this vantage was beautiful and Wilder had fun yelling to hear the echoes (so much for a peaceful paddle) that rang back at us from the surrounding cliffs.

 On the last morning of our cruise we visited Hang Sung Sot, or Surprise Cave.  The entrance was high up on the cliff and required quite a lot of stair climbing and was huge and very impressive once you got inside.

View from the cave entrance

Now our cruise is over and we say good-bye to Vietnam, which by the way we really enjoyed and recommend highly, and take a flight to the capitol of Laos, Vientiene.  There we will spend approximately 8 days working our way, by bus and boat, up through the country and across the border back into Thailand.  As we were unable to change any of the rest of our flights, we are stuck with the ones we originally selected and therefore must be back in Bangkok to catch the next one to Sydney, Australia on February 28th.

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