Saturday 22 December 2012

Foggy Halong Bay

I was told that it's not worth visiting Halong Bay unless the weather is good, so when I saw the forecast of sunshine and clear skies for the two days I'd set aside for the trip, I was thrilled.

However, weather forecasts seem as unreliable here as elsewhere, and we drove through drizzle and fog for four hours until we arrived at the harbour, where even the ships in the dock were barely visible. And, for the first time on my trip, I was cold. Perhaps it was meant to be a reminder of what I'll be facing when I get home...

Halong Bay itself is fairly impressive - no doubt more so in clear conditions. Once out on the water aboard a junk, we were surrounded by limestone carsts - and other ships. The tourism industry here is big business.

So, like every other ship, we stopped off at a floating village (where the 'houses' even had Christmas trees and televisions inside!) and went kayaking, then visited 'Surprise Cave', though I'm not so sure what the surprise was meant to be. It was fairly atmospheric inside though.

We boarded our junk again and counted our blessings that there was hot water in the showers, then enjoyed a seafood dinner before having an early night - we needed to be up at 6 the next morning to go on a hike, and swimming if we so desired...

Having seen the brown muck being pumped out by many ships, we decided to forgo the swimming option and instead climbed to the top of Ti Top island where the views were once again restricted by the fog, though after the amount of spring rolls and noodles I have consumed on this trip I considered it a significant achievement just to make it to the top!

Back on board, we checked out of our rooms and then lounged on the sundeck before returning to the harbour and eating more rice and noodles for lunch, and then took the bus back to Hanoi. It wasn't the highlight of my trip, but I'm still glad I've seen the bay. I can't help but feel that - as is the case with a lot of this country - it would have been best to visit twenty or so years ago, before the tourism industry took over at the expense of the natural beauty and authentic experiences to be had here. Some things don't seem to have changed though - toilets lack paper, drivers still whizz down the wrong side of the road, and it's almost impossible to eat a meal that doesn't include rice or noodles. Perhaps the next twenty years will change that...

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