Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island (Vietnam)

Halong Bay, with thousands of beautiful limestone karsts, is the most visited destination in Northern Vietnam. We splashed out on a three day, two night tour. The first day we spent mostly cruising around the bay in a Chinese-style junk. Amazingly, the entire tour group consisted of us and only one other couple... who also happened to be of the same age... backpacking in Asia for 3 months... after quitting their jobs... and before they had to move across the country. Rich was a little disappointed we were not the only ones with this brilliant idea, but it was nice to share stories, e.g. your weird selling-everything-you-own craigslist experiences.

We went to a floating village of people who live entirely on the bay and store their freshwater on concrete boats. Who knew you could make boats out of concrete? They also supplement their income culturing pearls. Even in the middle of the bay, with nothing but saltwater and limestone outcroppings surrounding you for miles, people try to sell you things - Rich bought some tasty seaweed-flavored Pringles from a old lady in a sampan (traditional rowboat). We also spent some time swimming (or for Rich, jumping) off the boat. The water was shockingly not-at-all-cold and, more disturbingly, warmer than many baths I have taken.

The memories of our Belize kayaking nightmare trip must have faded significantly, and been replaced by humorous nostalgia, since a big part of why we booked this trip was that it included kayaking in Halong Bay. We were pleased to find our skills had not been entirely lost, and we did not tip the kayak getting in from the support boat (which happened to the other couple). Kayaking was pretty leisurely, and the karsts are even more impressive when viewed from water level. I even saw a huge jellyfish while we were paddling around a small lagoon. More swimming and then a short boat ride later we arrived at Cat Ba Island.

Smelly and with the fine lacquer of multiple applications of sunscreen, we arrived at the Sunrise Resort, the fanciest digs we have stayed in or will ever stay in during our trip. A welcome cocktail, fantastic view of the bay, terry robes in the closet, a shower with excellent water pressure, and a plate of fresh lychees waited for us. I booked another massage before we even finished checking in... Rich was worried I could get used to this. Another morning was spent relaxing in this luxury, and then a series of buses and boats brought us back to Hanoi.

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