Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Halong Bay 2007’ Category

Halong Bay Cruise, Monday, September 24th, 2007

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 11, 2007

We were up early in readiness for our cruise on Halong Bay. It was quite a long drive along Highway One by bus – where we saw in daylight the massive Red River Bridge which we had traversed on Saturday night on our way to the hotel from the airport. The highway is lined with towns and villages almost all the way – all with amazingly narrow two-and-three storey houses often painted in beautiful bright colours like teal and sapphire blue. Houses seemed to be mostly brick, and rendered, but even when not squeezed together in terraces, there are no windows on the sides of the house, presumably because one day another long skinny house will be built alongside it. Many of them devote the ground floor to a small shop, and so you can see into the interior. They are very dark inside…

 There are dozens of resort hotels at Halong Bay, and some of them had unexpected guests the night we made our visit. At breakfast Tim and I had met up with Louise from ANZ LitLovers,
and she and her family were also taking a cruise. However, the typhoon off the coast put paid to their plans to stay onboard overnight, and they were put up at one of the hotels instead. Our guide, Long, was apologetic about the grey and gloomy skies, but it couldn’t spoil our pleasure in the day – the scenery was beautiful and the cruise was good fun, even if we did whack another junk when leaving the harbour! There must be hundreds of these cruising junks, and they were all so close together – barely an inch between them – that everyone had to cluster on one side of the junk to shift its weight as we threaded our way out to sea. We were actually under way when we had a small collision with another one, but no one seemed much perturbed and there was certainly no exchange of contact details as in a car accident back home!

The junks – made of dark solid wood like old sailing ships – are kitted out inside like a cruiser, with a bar, WC, glass-topped tables and comfy padded seats – and the inevitable saleslady offering Vietnamese pearls, silk dressing-gowns and postcards to her captive travellers. Though the pearls were tempting, we managed to resist but enjoyed a set menu seafood lunch of intemperate proportions instead. We then sat back to relax and enjoy the glorious scenery, sailing amongst islands large and small – 1969 of them, apparently, a number that is easy to remember, Long told us, because it’s the same as the date of Ho Chi Minh’s death.

 After about 45 minutes, we clambered out and took the steps to a spectacular cave. It was spacious and airy with high ceilings and lots of interesting rock formations, the stalagmites and stalagtites highlighted with lurid lighting. (One of them looked just like Jeff Kennett). Deep down inside it were the caves where the North Vietnamese Army had set up a field hospital during the war, but there was no banister and the stairs were steep, so I stayed up above (and cursed my ricketty ankle.) It must have been quite a challenge getting wounded men down those steps…

The afternoon drizzle gave way to a downpour on the way back to Hanoi, but the rain was refreshing and we were much too tired to care. The constant humidity is quite enervating, and so we sloped off to the Gallery Restaurant in the hotel for dinner. It was ok, but quite expensive (by Vietnamese standards) for rather ordinary fare. We tried out the local wine, (and decided there and then not to do that again!) but the cold spring rolls were scrumptious.
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