Three Day Trip to Halong Bay
The second day of a three day/two night trip to Halong Bay was the day of most interest. A large proportion of the first and third days were spent travelling to and from Hanoi, checking in and out with minimal activity. On the first day some of the group went kayaking. The boat with a few of us non-kayakers travelled farther out into the bay. Mist shrouded scenery coupled with still water generated a sense of total serenity. The third day's activity was learning how to make spring rolls.
Up at 7am for the 7:30am breakfast. First activity for the day will be caving. I was under the mistaken impression that we would be kayaking into the cave. That is why I didnt go kayaking on the previous day. No kayaking, just a short boat ride to Cat Ba Island, a bus trip followed by a walk to the cave. Why this particular cave was chosen I do not know. It has little in the way of cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the sections were so low we almost had to crawl through them. I do not mind crawling if is there is reward at the end. It this cave, there wasn't. It was like walking a mine tunnel rather than a cave. The chief attraction is a rectangular concrete water tank. During the American bombing raids North Vietnames soilders took refugee in these caves. The most beautiful sight was the scene at the exit.
Lookout: Cat Ba Island National Park
Of more interest was the view from a look-out in the Cat Ba Island National Park. Our tour guide introduces us to the person who would guide to the look-out. He is a small slender man who is carrying a fan. As we make our way up the somewhat loosely defined path he runs back and forth from the beginning to the end of the line fanning us. If any of us looked stressed he would ask us to stop and take a break. It is very easy to become heat stressed in a hot humid environment especially if you havent been exercising and are not drinking enough water. How many of us are guilty? I wonder. We all arrive at various times to the lookout. The view from the top was definitely worth the effort. Being above the karst, instead of being in amongst it, allows a greater appreciatation of its ruggeed beauty. Karst is a landscape formed when water dissolves soluable rock, generally limestone. At Halong bay the sea has invaded slicing the karst into thousands of islands.
I am amazed at the vegetation that can grow out of limestone. I had the same sense of wonder when looking at the rainforest on Fraser Island growing out of sand. It would be lovely to stay and soak the view forever, but alas, it cant be and we must head down.
It is here where things start to get a little weird. Our guide, from yesterday and the morning, is gone. We never see him again. Instead, another guide, a women takes us to a hotel resturant for lunch.
After lunch we are given two activity choices. Go to the beach of Cat Ba Island or take a boat trip to Monkey Island.
I choose Monkey Island which proves to be the right choice. Arriving, we jump off the boat onto the hard beach like marines. Apart from the beach, the island is heavily forested and has a number of long-tailed Macaque monkeys. They can be large, have sharp teeth, and can be aggressive. People having their food stolen or being bitten is a not uncommon occurence. If bitten you should get treatement for rabies. I wasn't impressed. I was even less impressed when I learned, later, than the Macaque monkey is not native but was imported for tourism. I think Monkey Island would be better if it was De-Monkeyed Island.
But, didn't I say going to Monkey Island was the right choice. Yes, and it was. The journey rather than the destination being the highlight. On the journey to and from Monkey Island we pass the floating fishing villages.
Floating Fishing Villages
There since the early 1900s, about 1400 people have been living on rafts which are their homes. They get fresh water from the mainland and electicity is supplied by generators.
Their economy is built around fishing, aqua-culture and more recently, tourism.
Returning to Cat Be Island we await the bus which will take us back to our boat. Half and hour later, it comes, a full size bus for our group of now three people. About ten minutes into the journey the bus driver stops for petrol. We are driven across the other side of Cat Ba to be met by, nobody! Eventually , yet another set of guides find us and take us to our respective boats. I am the only one, of the group who left in the morning to return. On board are a completely different group!
The beauty and tranquility of Halong Bay is marred to some extent by the amount of domestic garbage floating in the water. Plastic bags, cigarette packs, hamburger containers, Yuck!! Alas much of it is local coming off the tourist boats and the floating villages. Cleaning garbage from the +1500 sq kms of Halong Bay is a difficult task. Not putting garbage is a good start.