After a night lacking in sleep, I got up at 4am to get read for the red-eye flight to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne we headed to the International terminal to check into our next flight. Standing in the queue were Vietnamese families with boxes and boxes of stuff. We learned that it is a tradition amongst Vietnamese that you have to give presents to EVERYONE in your family when returning from a trip, so each person has met their luggage limit of 30kg. Its amazing that the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky with all that weight!
Sitting at the departure gate mum and I were wondering what kind of food we would get on the plane. I said “What do I do if I have to choose between fish & pork?” (I don’t like either). So we get on the plane, settle in, then check out the menu, and what do you think was on it?!?! The choice of fish or pork!! I chose the pork…it ended up being ok, but still not on my my list of ‘likes’.
After a 1.5 hour transit in Ho Chi Minh, we were finally on the last leg. We arrived in Hanoi around 9:30 local time, and got to the hotel and to bed around 10:30 (1:30am tassie time). So we had an epic 21 hour first day!
The morning got off to a start with us being picked up for out first our module: Ha Long Bay. The bus took off, expertly navigating Hanoi traffic, the driver did a great job dodging trucks and scooters, as well as the occasional cow or chicken. After driving for about 1.5 hours we stopped for a short break. We took the opportunity to get some water, and cool off with an ice cream. The choice of flavours was interesting and I ended up trying the coconut and green bean…it wasn’t terrible, but I don’t plan on having it again in a hurry!
We hopped back on the bus to continue onto Ha Long Bay. I managed to doze off for the rest of the bus trip which was great! When we finally got to Ha Long City we met the rest of our group (there were 14 of us in total), then all got on to a beautiful 3 storey traditional junk & headed off towards the islands of Ha Long Bay. It was so relaxing to sit on the top deck, soaking up the sun and the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately it was very hazy, so all the pics are rather grey, but it was still stunning.
Ha Long Bay is made up of over 2000 islands, some big, some small. In the middle of a cluster of islands we pulled up o the jetty and got off to go and explore some caves in the mountainside. To get to the caves we had to walk about heaps of stairs, then descend some steps into a cavern. There were lots of stalagmites and stalagtites. The textures on the cave ceiling were amazing! After following through each of the caverns we ended up on a viewing platform on the side of a cliff…great view!!
We then headed back to the boat, where we motored up to a floating market stall hat rented out kayaks. Here I buddied up with nice Englishman called Clive, and we paddled around the floating villages, little islands and in/out of caves for an hour. Though the water looked a bit dirty to me, it was great fun!!
Shortly after our kayaking we were taken to the beach for some swimming – I’m pretty sure it was man-made and the sand imported. Mum and I both went in for a dip…but I felt pretty disgusting afterwards and couldn’t wait to have a shower (pity there was no hot water on he boat) To finish up the day I sat out on the deck chatting to Clive, and enjoying a local Hanoi beer.
I woke up bright and early at 6am, opened the door to my room and looked out over a most serene landscape. There was a light mist in the bay, the water was perfectly calm, and there were a dozen or so, beautiful old junks moored in the area. I sat up on the top deck and enjoyed the peace and quiet, listening to the insects buzzing on the islands. After breakfast the anchor was lifted and we started motoring towards Cat Ba Island.
It was a very pleasant 1.5 hour journey, navigating between all the small islands. Once we arrived at Cat Ba we hopped on the bus and headed to the national park, where a select few of us attempted the hill hike to the top. In 30 degree humid weather, climbing up a mountain like a goat, every part of my body was dripping with sweat! It was a gorgeous rainforest on a limestone mountain, I could hear all sorts of birds and also monkeys. Unfortunately we didn’t see any monkeys though. The last 50 metres of he hike was virtually straight up, and climbing rusted out ladders. At the very top was a steel lookout tower, I think it was held together by rust!! I climbed up it nonetheless and took a moment to appreciate the stunning view of the mountains.
When we got back to the bottom we were again bundled onto the bus and we headed to the other side of the island to check in to our hotel. Here we checked in, had a shower to cool down, ate some lunch and were then let loose for a free afternoon. Mum and I twaddled off in the direction of the markets. We got to a massage parlour and decided to spoil ourselves, so for $6.50 mum had a half hour shoulder massage and I had a half hour foot massage. I tell you what..I was in heaven. Hiking 1.5 hours on rocky terrain in flip flops really doesn’t do any good for your feet!!
Once we were done with the massages we continued on for a bit, checking out all the brightly coloured wares for sale. We stopped at a river stall and bought a coconut. They chop the top off for you and you drink the coconut juice out with a straw. Once all the juice is finished, they slice the coconut in half, so that you are able to eat the rest of the fruit. Once again we continued on, and by this stage we had found the markets. Here we could buy just about anything, preserved snakes, dried fish, live chickens or fish that they kill on site for you. We stuck with the safer option and bought some fresh fruit: Rambutan and Mangosteen.
We continued wandering the markets till we had seen everything and then headed towards the river where we wandered, checked out the boats, then sat down to eat our fruit. By this stage we had very sticky fingers, so we walked back to the hotel to wash our hands and stop for a quick breather. When we tried to take the elevator we soon realised there was no power. At this point we realised that power being switched off is a trend.. through the middle of the day people everywhere turnoff the electricity. Very weird!