18.01.2013 - 19.01.2013 23 °C
After an early rise we were collected by our shuttle / transfer mini bus for Ha Long Bay, which is 170km east of Hanoi towards the Chinese border. It takes around 4hrs to get there, in part because of the absolutely ridiculous traffic and the stuff on the roads. Honestly the Vietnamese traffic is incredible, thousands, no rather millions of scooters and mopeds and what have you with everything on them, from donkeys, to cages of chickens, piles of concrete, basically anything. The driving etiquette is beyond me, there is none, is just a free for all, driving on the right hand side of the road is about the only vague guideline (one that is very often not adhered to)! That, along with sitting on a hooter the entire time.Makes for a very interesting at first, but long, bumpy and noisy ride.
Very interesting taking in the scenery and daily life on route to Ha Long Bay. People are very industrious and its easy to see how there has been an economic revival in Vietnam. GDP growth rate is 3 times that of SA at just over 6% pa. Loads of industry. They look hard working, focused and enterprising in so many ways. No one sits around, they are all busy selling things, manufacturing, building and gearing up for the commodities and textiles export market.
The port / dockside is quite developed, with loads of tour companies and boats. Ha Long Bay is a flooded marine karst landscape made up of in excess of 1,600 islands and is a UNESCO world heritage site, an absolute must for any visit to Vietnam. It's a bit of a tourist trap but its worth it. The scenery is incredible. Massive cliffs and islands popping out the sea everywhere. We were very lucky with the weather as its winter time in the north and can be foggy for weeks. The temperature can get a little cold at night but the water is warm and the days are mild at the moment.
We were hosted on a fantastic Vietnamese junk boat along with 2 other French couples. We were wined and dined, with a very seafood orientated cuisine, so Cath's eye's lit up and mine not so. Fortunately they managed to cater for everyone - they even gave us a spring-role wrapping class 'master class' which was quite fun.
The quarters / rooms were very nice, and it was a fantastic experience to wake up and look out at the windows at the massive mountains and cliffs right next to us.
We anchored in a quiet remote lagoon sheltered by huge mountain islands jutting out the sea and went kayaking for a few hours. Absolutely brilliant! Unfortunately the bung / plug on our kayak fell out somewhere along the way and we started sinking and eventually capsized and were stranded cliff side on one of the mountain islands. Fortunately our guide came looking for us and managed to take Cath and drag the kayak to another beach, where I swam to, a bit cut up as all the rocks and cliffs are home to thousands of oyster clams that are razor sharp. Needless to say we were happy campers once we were back on the boat, showered with beer in hand.
The next day we stopped off to visit one of the few small floating fishing villages which was really interesting. It's fascinating to see how these people live in the middle of nowhere in what looks very similar to a floating Wendy House. The village consists of about 25 houses, each with a little porch as well as a school. All floating with Elephant clam farms underneath and a boat attached for fishing. Full families including kids and grandparents live in these little huts all year long and every day they row their catch 14km to the main land to sell in the market. We thought we had a tough commute to work!
At one point we passed this little family who lived in this boat. As we rode past the family (grandpa included) popped their heads out to greet us. They even had a watch dog in there who gave us a bark as we drifted past. They must have been cooking dinner too as there was a vent with smoke coming out - how they all fitted in there I don't know!
It's was a brilliant experience, good value for money. The packages included everything except drinks where they take "rip the tourist" to another level, at least when you look at what you normally pay in bars and restaurants, but I guess from an international perspective, it's competitive, and you get to have a brewski looking at awesome setting, so well worth it!
On route back we stopped off to take in a few caves then it was a farewell to our guide and a long insane trip back to Hanoi.