We have survived another overnight bus ride, and this one was particularly fun as it involved people sleeping in the aisle thereby blocking one's ability to stretch one's legs out from behind the knee crunching aspects of the inconsiderate passenger ahead of me who kept reclining his seat fully. Survival nonetheless. And the destination was spectacular enough, as we only stayed one night in Hanoi for now before heading off to the world famous Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island on Vietnam's North East coast.
We got a decent tour for a decent price which included all our transportation, accommodation, and meals, including one night out on the boat anchored somewhere out in the bay. It is really just spectacular scenery as the giant limestone karst pillars rise out of the glassy smooth sea, leaving their mirror images everywhere. The place is like a maze and it would be so easy to get lost without knowing your way around. There are floating fishing villages and fish farms dotted around every little bay, and even though there are many tourist boats like the one we were on, the area is so vast that one feels that you are on your own private tour.
The first day was spent touring around the islands by boat, and visiting a gigantic cave on one of the islands, followed by beach swimming and then just jumping off the boat in the middle of the calm ocean. Great fun! After sleeping on the boat, we were off to Cat Ba island where we trekked in the national park in the morning for a spectacular view of the islets below. In the afternoon, we were taken to a fish farm where we gingerly walked across the narrow floating planks to reach our kayaks. We then spent three hours kayaking around the serene bays and stopping at deserted beaches for the odd swim. It was just perfect. It is easy to see why UNESCO has also viewed the area as one worthy of cultural and natural protection. About the only negative is that there is a fair bit of human junk floating around because of the fish farm activities, as the people (and their dogs) live right along side the fish nets, floating along with them.
On our boat was an English family of four, a Dutch guy and his father, an Israeli couple, and a couple of Irish friends. Kristine and I opted for the vegetarian fare as a way to avoid the seafood which we both don't like, so we were sat with the English mother and daughter for most meals. One morning, Kristine was making her tea, and she had put her tea bag on the side of her plate after using it. One of the crew members tried to take it away, and she asked to keep it saying she would use it again with more hot water. I couldn't believe the look on the English woman's face, and her daughter's too! Kristine was obviously committing the most hideous crime by re-using a tea bag, and it seems that this would just not do! We quickly found out that that this would never happen in England and that perhaps one would suffer some sort of unique punishment if one was ever to re-use a tea bag in their country. But hey, we are backpacking - gotta stretch things out whenever you can! You should see me get the last bits of toothpaste or hair conditioner out of the tube with my Swiss army knife - I should get a medal for that...
Any way, we were really lucky to get out to Halong when we did because a typhoon started moving into the area on the day we were coming back into Hanoi, and we found out when we got to the harbour that no new boats were going out, so if we were any later getting here, we might not have been able to go! Amazing to see were the convoys of makeshift floating homes heading further into the bays away from the open sea in preparation for the storm. Quite incredible that the people can live this way, and as I sit here tonight in Hanoi, it has started to pour waterfalls, complete with thunder and lightning. Auntie Em!! There's a twister coming!!!
Seriously though, we should be fine as we are simply touring around the city tomorrow and then taking the train to China tomorrow night