Hang Gai

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  • Day19

    Halong Bay, Vietnam

    April 7, 2016 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌧 4 °C

    Halong literally means the dragon's landing. A city and a bay with the same name sit on the northwest of Vietnam. Halong bay is fed by the China sea, and it's composed of thousands of islands of different sizes. Vietnamese people like to think that the bay homes 1969 islands, because this is the year when Ho Chi Min died. But in actuallity, the real number is a mistery, but estimates using satellite images proposed that there are more than 2000 islands. The story goes that Halong bay was formed by two dragons sent by the gods to help Vietnamese people defeat the invading enemy. These dragons fragmented the land by spitting fire and breaking it into many islands, to prevent the enemy from passing through. Halong bay is currently considered one of nature's wonders of the world. And it is indeed beautiful.
    Currently, many travel agencies offer tours on cruise ships which take you around the bay. I took a two day one night cruise, sleeping on the boat. There is also the option of sleeping in Cat Ba, one of the biggest islands with permanent inhabitants in it. Cat Ba also offers trekking, and hiking through its national park.
    A group of about 10 of us was picked up from Hanoi and driven up to the pier (about 5 hours). After we recovered one of our passengers which had been left behind by our very rude driver in one of his pit stops, we got on the boat and started our jouney, accompanied by our guide "Key" an overly friendly anticommunist vietnamese. We sailed into the bay for about 30 minutes while we had lunch. We then stopped, checked into our shared rooms, and were allowed to kayak around for 30 minutes. The kayaking was definitely the highlight of my Halong bay visit. The water is amazingly peaceful, and swaying around the green islands while taking in the majestic views in solitude was utterly relaxing. People jumped into the water from multiple ships after kayaking. I definitely didn't.
    At night we were surrounded by ten other ships, you can hear the music and laughter coming from some of them but all in all, halong bay is misty and quiet at night.
    We went to Cat Ba island's Trung Trang caves. This cave system is unique because it's still being shaped by the sea. The caves are 11 to 700 thousand years old, and they served as refuge and hospital to the locals during the Vietnam war. The trail is paved and the cave is illuminated, making it a very breezy visit. The only challenging part is that some of the passageways are very low and you have to make your way literally squating down.
    Overall, Halong bay is beautiful, and definitely worth paying the overpriced tours (you share rooms, get ramen noodles for breakfast, and have to overpay for even your water, and morning coffees separately for about 50 USD).
    My only major criticism goes to the Vietnamese people here (and maybe also to a few irresponsible tourists). Kayaking through the bay the pools of oil from the ships are immediately visible. And there is not a clean place in the water. There are so many bottles, shoes, boxes, pieces of styrofoam, left over fishing gear, and just general crap floating around. I saw how the boats, we were told there are around 400 of them in the bay- 300 of which are allowed overnight stays-, emptied their waters and disposed of the left overs from cooking right into the bay where people were swimming. I'm positive that if Vietnamese don't take a stand to protect their distinctive national scenic landscape, it will soon loose its appeal, hindering their significant income from tourism. Most importantly, this disregard for conservation is a threat to the unique wildlife found here, some of which is already endangered (like the Cat Ba Langur monkeys). It is heartbreaking.
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  • Day14

    Halong Bay Day 1

    July 4, 2017 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Monday 3rd July
    Breakfast at the hotel (7th Floor, overlooking Hanoi) before checking out, taking only an overnight bag and getting collected by the minibus from Galaxy Cruises, our selected company for our Halong Bay Cruise. There were 17 on the bus, 6 in our bunch, 1 Aussie couple from Harvey Bay, 1 family of 4 from Adelaide, a family of 3 from Hobart and a couple from NZ / Malaysia. After collecting everyone we headed off on the 4 hour trip to Halong Bay.
    Our tour guide was Hieu (Hugh, as in Hugh Grant, handsome man!!) who we later discover is also our entertainer (magic tricks), educator (information), cooking instructor, Tia Chi master, food waiter and chief organiser. Hieu started off by giving us a history lesson about Vietnam, it wars (and therefore its successes), Ho Chi Minh, Halong Bay and general information. He was very particular about historical dates and could recite any major event in Vietnam history. Plus he gave us the usual speech about the wonderful socialist country but he was also open about the corruption.
    The trip took us through some countryside where traditional farming takes place, mostly rice but also lots of fruit & vegetables. Saw a few tractors but most work is done with a small walk-behind tractor, like a rotary hoe, and hand labour. Didn't see any but apparently the water buffalo are still commonly used. There is major construction happening along the way, roads, houses & factories being built but looks like the standard of constructon is still average and haphazard at best. As we have seen elsewhere, the roads in the towns are lined with small shops of every description and a brisk trade was being had. The roads are still rough with Therrie & Ross being bounced around in the back seat.
    We had a half way stop at a factory / shop where products are made by disabled people and some beautiful artifacts were available for sale.
    Finally we made it to Halong Bay and after a brief wait we got on a small tender and motored our way out to our cruise boat. The whole marina area is quite modern and some huge resorts are being / newly built. There were hundreds of cruise boats scattered along the marina. After instructions we checked in, our cabins were comfortable but as we were to discover, hard beds. Assembled for lunch while the boat made its way out into the bay, along with about 100 others. We also met our other cruise members - a young South African couple and a family of 4 also from South Africa. 23 passengers in total plus about 7 or 8 crew who all were involved in multiple tasks from sailing the boat to serving food & drink, cleaning, etc.
    The day was still very hazy and overcast so it was very warm and humid and viewing of the islands was spectacular but a bit limited. The bay is made up of thousands of limestone islands that rise above the water and provide a very sheltered bay.
    After a while of winding its way around numerous islands we drop anchor and we are ferried over to 1 large island which houses the Sung Sot Cave (Amazing Cave) where we joined thousands of other visitors in walking through a series of immense caves, naturally formed by sea water & erosion. Quite spectacular and Hieu gave us information about the different structures & shapes that are found throughout.
    Back on the boat and travelled a short distance to Ti Top Island, a small but very tall island that has its own natural beach. We were offloaded there and had the choice of walking up to the lookout or swimming.
    Sue, Louisa & Peter took the hard slog option of the 425 steps to the top, reaching the summit just in time for the rain to start, which was quite warm but refreshing. Made the steps down slippery & and a bit more hazardous but we all got back down safely. None of us chose the swimming - the water was luke warm and with the vast number of boats & people, plenty of rubbish in the water.
    Wet, sweaty & thirsty we were ferried back to our boat where it moved back out into the bay and made anchor for the night. I counted 28 boats all within our bay, so there was no clear view but it was very quiet across the water (except for the occassional sounds of Karaoke from another boat). Pretty soon we were assembled for dinner and more instructions and some time for drinks and getting aquainted with our fellow passengers. Most people participated and some good conversations got going and a few laughs were had.
    After dinner Hieu entertained us with some nifty magic tricks and then people dispersed to their cabins or up onto the top deck for a relax & chat.
    Was calm on the water but very humid until a couple of thunderstorms went across during the night which cooled things off and cleared the air.

    Weather was very warm about 32C & very humid.

    * Halong Bay tour (Galaxy Premium Tour) and Hieu our guide;
    * Halong Bay - remarkable scenery;
    * Sung Sot cave;
    * Ti Top Island;
    * Great time on the boat
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