Halong Bay day 1
From seeing this place on TV, pictures on postcards, I had a fair idea what I was going to see. And like the pyramids of Giza, Petra, Angkor Wat, etc. I was really looking forward to experiencing it for myself. Not created by human hands this time though, Halong is completely the work of nature.
So off I set on my 2 day, 1 night trip.
The van as is usual for this type of trip picked all the people from their different hotels/hostels and as it was pretty early in the morning there wasn’t much chat on the 5 hour drive to Halong.
The van broke down near the start of the journey making us arrive later than expected.
But when we disembarked at the bay we started chatting. Mainly because we were made to hang around for a bit by our guide, who seemed to be unorganised from the start.
While chatting amongst ourselves it became apparent that everybody had paid different prices for the same trip. While I’d paid $37, others had paid $30, $50, $60, $80, even over $100. A bit of confusion kicked up. Some expecting a standard boat trip, others superior, others deluxe… But we were all bundled onto the same boat. Was it standard? Deluxe? No-one knew, and the guide’s English was crap. This was to begin a series of events that did nearly spoiled the trip for everyone!
Once on the boat I found the rooms to be fine for me. Maybe I’d been upgraded to a superior boat. So I was happy enough. I was to share with a big Aussie lad Joey who seemed good craic. We ate dinner as the boat pulled out into the bay. 2 Israeli girls in the group weren’t able to eat the seafood dishes and weren’t provided with an alternative so a bit of a row kicked off again with the guide.
I went up to the top deck to enjoy the scenery as we got closer to the main groupings of islands. But I made the mistake of asking the guide about our itinerary for the day. He sat down beside me and without answering my question spoke to me for about half an hour about how i could help him improve his crap English. I tried to look as if I was reading my book but he wouldn’t let up and got pretty annoying considering I wanted to relax and take in my surroundings. Eventually he moved on and annoyed a couple of English girls in the group who were trying to relax too.
The Halong islands always tend to look mysteriously shrouded in mist on postcard photos and this was the case for today. As we approached it was pretty difficult to even make out the islands in the distance. But when we got amongst them the effect of the mist was very atmospheric and suddenly all around the boat were countless tall, nearly vertically sided, round topped hilly islands. They look at first glance to be pretty inaccessible unless you had some serious rock-climbing equipment. But at the water level dotted around many of the islands seemed to be the odd little entrance to a cave here and there. Some a few meters in length and others cutting deep into the bases of the islands.
I think everyone in the group was expecting to be given an informative description and history of this islands, how they formed, what type of rock etc. But we’d all come to the conclusion that this wasn’t going to happen because the guide was truly completely rubbish.
The boat stopped outside a massive cave and we climbed off onto a long set of steps that took us into a cavernous and many chambered cave complex which was genuinely amazing. The different forms and shapes formed by the stalactites and stalagmites were all lit up in different colours to try to make them more impressive which isn’t necessary and a bit tacky. The only information that the guide was able to give with his stupid little laser beam thing was ‘this rock looks like a cock! Look, there’s the head of the cock, and the body..’ etc. Then he went ‘cluck cluck.’ he was talking about a chicken. But then in the next chamber he pointed again at another rock and went ‘look, big penis.’ he was starting to piss everyone off now, no pun intended. If you wanted to go around comparing rocks here to penises you’d have a field day, but I didn’t really think that was the point, again no pun intended…
So we came out of the cave high up from where you could look down over the water at the islands and the many junk boats weaving in amongst them, some with their curved sails up. Great view.
Next we were to go kayaking in the bay. As we had arrived at the bay late, because the van had broken down, it was already dusk. And before we knew it me and Joey were out in a kayak in the dark having been given zero instruction by the guide where to go, how long to spend paddling about etc. So we headed off and explored some islands and investigated a few caves. I brought a beer out in the kayak. This was a great experience getting close to and in under some of the islands but we had to get back to our boat in the pitch dark. Luckily we’d paid attention about from where we had set out. So we were able to get back ok, but it would be very easy to forget your bearings and get lost out in the bay. And a few people nearly did.
When we had bought our tickets we’d all been told there would be entertainment in the evening with drinks and karaoke. No-one was bothered about not having karaoke but there was no entertainment at all and the drinks were really expensive so everyone just sat around and chatted for a bit before turning in for the night.
Note: a few weeks ago a boat identical to this one sank in the night in Halong bay killing a number of tourists. The ones on the upper floors survived but apparently the boat sank so quickly that those asleep in the lower decks had no chance. Joey and I discussed this for a bit as we lay in our beds in the lowest deck of the boat before deciding that it really wasn’t a good idea to even think about it.