Thursday, March 5, 2009

Halong Bay and Hue

Apparently no trip to Vietnam is complete without a trip the the World Heritage listed Halong Bay. The bay has over 3000 limestone islands, some of them are tiny and the biggest, Cat Ba Island is over 14 km long. We decided to make the most of it and take a 3 day trip. We left Hanoi on Tuesday, hoping the weather in Halong was better than the grey cloudy skies we were coming from. Unfortunately is wasn't, but the visibility was still was good enough have a good view of at least the islands that we were passing.

We just sailed for the first hour or two, to get to the Amazing Cave. It's an underground cave on one of the larger islands, where some Vietnamese lived for 10 years while their country was being bombed.

After that we kayaked around one or two smaller islands.

We spent the evening on the boat, sleeping there that night. The boat was very nice, and the bedrooms were lovely. Probably the one of the comfiest beds we've been in over the last 6 weeks. There was only 8 of us on the trip too (the capacity on the boat was 16) so it meant we all had plenty of room and everyone was lovely and friendly so we all got on great. The next day we sailed around the bay for a bit and saw a floating fishing village. We also saw some little boats that people live on 24/7 365days a year. These were not big boats, they were like tiny little rafts with a plastic covering over one section and whole families lived on them. I don't know how they do it. I'd crack up.

Anyway we got off the boat at one of the little docks at Cat Ba Island and cycled to a little village. It was misting fairly heavily by then so we were all soaked but the scenery was worth it.

We were meant to do a bit of trek into the jungle but it was wet and muddy so we skipped it and just had a few drinks in a local shop instead.

We cycled back to the boat then and had lunch before we set off in the kayaks again. We rowed to a secluded beach on one of the small islands and the guys all went swimming. I didn't bother because it wasn't warm at all and I knew it would be late in the evening before we'd get to shower. We headed to Monkey Island then and saw a few monkeys.

There was a pathway up through the trees that gave a fantastic view out of that section of the bay as well.

We sailed towards the main harbour of Cat Ba Island then and got a minibus to our hotel. The hotel and our room were gorgeous. And it was great to be able to have a really hot shower after being cold and wet on and off all day. We had an early start the next morning and we were glad it was the last day of the trip and not our first because the weather had gotten worse. You couldn't really see anything at all and we were stuck inside for the 3 hour journey back to the mainland because it was so wet. We were thankful that we had had better weather and we got to enjoy the scenery, doing the kayaking and cycle around the island. We had 3 really great days, and I would recommend APT Travel for the tour they operated.

After Hanoi and Halong Bay we got the night train to Hue, which was fairly comfortable it has to be said. Went to see the Citadel and got completely ripped off by our cyclo driver, who is recommended by name in the Lonely Planet apparently.

Anyway we hired bikes the second day and went to see the Thu Mien Pagoda and the Tu Duc tombs. They were nice sights and it was good to do some bit of exercise too. While we had the bikes we cycled to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Hue City. I reckon we must have done about 25kms in the day!

On our last day in Hue we took a day trip to see the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It's a 5 km stretch of land along either side of the river that divided North and South Vietnam during the war. It saw the most heavy fighting and bombing during the war. We booked through the Sinh Cafe since they have a really good reputation but we were really disappointed with the day. It was probably mainly because the guide was fairly bad. He didn't give much specific information to the sights we visited (Khe Sanh Base, Doc Mieu Base, Vinh Moc Tunnels...), just some general info about the war. It was a fairly boring day really which was a pity because with a good guide it could have been very enjoyable. Luckily the Vinh Moc tunnels redeemed the day. They were definitely worth seeing, even if the guide couldn't tell us as much as our guide book! We were glad to see them but it was a pity that the rest of the day seemed a waste. The DMZ is over 100km from Hue so it was a long bus journey!

We headed to Hoi An then and have spent a lovely 4 days here. Most of the time was spent browsing hrough shops and having clothes fittings though - Hoi An is known as tailor town.It's crazy. At least every second shop here is a tailors, well they offer tailor made clothing anyway, but most of the shops outsource the actual making of the clothes. I've had 2 dresses made, one casual and one dressy, and a winter jacket too. Fossie got a suit made up, and he got a winter jacket too. They all turned out well and we're just back from the post office to send them home, along with a few other bits we acquired here. We were lucky that our time in Hoi An coincided with the full moon because they celebrate that here every month. It wasn't a full moon party or anything like that but all the street lights in the town were off and it was just lit up with lanterns. It was so pretty and picturesque.

Jan and Paul

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