September 21st, 2007 – by: mabby
The 16 seaterA/c Ford bus that brought us to Halong.
We woke up early that day, had French bread, butter and jam for breakfast (complimentary at our hostel) all too excited to get picked up by the travel tours company we have booked the previous night. Got a bit dismayed though when we got picked up at 8:40 am, (as we were informed it would be at 8am) but then as I saw the bus service to bring as to Halong, I felt quite relieved. It was an air conditioned 16-seater Ford Transit with only 13 of us on board. On board were 4 couples all in all, 1 from Australia, another from Germany, France, and Malaysia, then there’s us, another Taiwanese guy who was traveling alone, and another 2 women who strangely enough also turned out to be Filipinos and are actually both from the same island as where my friend Sylvia was from. Odd coincidence I’d say, well, It’s a small world after all.
Halong City is only about 170km away from Hanoi, but takes 3 hours to travel.
Accdg to our guide Hien, the government of Vietnam strictly imposes the speed limit of a maximum of 40mph even on a freeway! Although excitement was killing me, there was so much to see on the road to Halong City. She told us about the Red River, which is the counterpart of the Mekong Delta in the South, and why the water on the river is literally is colored red. We also passed this huge bridge who was also designed by Eiffel. Two hours after the bus ride, we stopped over this embroidery shop near Halong City for a pee break, and soon after another hour ride we started seeing a few karsks on the horizon.
The Red River in Hanoi
The Halong Bay port was not as I imagined it. It was modern, and junk boats were all lined up side by side not even an inch apart from each other.
After our guide collected our tickets, we finally boarded our boat, Huong Huy 108. It is a routine SOP for passports to be collected and inspected by the captain and Vietnamese police if you are to be staying on the boat overnight. We were then assigned our cabins which had 2 beds in it, air condition which was only to be turned on after dinner, and a very clean bathroom with hot and cold shower.
Halong Bay Port
Just after our first meal on board, everyone headed to the open deck on top of the boat to get our first upclose view of the gigantic karsks. With over 1900 of them all in all, the view was just endless. Everywhere i looked was a shot for a postcard. Amidst the monolithic limestones were floating Vietnamese houses and fishing boats, and on one house was even a dog. (Just wondering a bit though, where all the people here, and the dog, took a dump.)
We spent all afternoon on the deck despite the glaring afternoon sun. For photography enthusiasts, Halong Bay could be paradise.
The weather was perfect that day, no mist, no rain, no gloomy clouds, just glistening emerald green waters and lushly green covered karsks.
Halong Bay or "Vinh Ha Long"-- means Bay of thethe Descending Dragon, covers a total of 1553 sq km area and reaches up to china in the north.
UNESCO in 1994 however, only recognized 400+ square km (700+ islets) of the bay natural heritage of worldwide importance. In 2000, UNESCO again recognized it as the World Heritage for the second time for its geographical and geomorphologic values. Only a few of the almost 2000 islets are inhabited, one of which is Cat Ba Island, also a favorite stop for Halong Bay tourists.
Hung Song Sot Cave
At around 5 pm, we went to stop ar "Hung Sung Sot" -- which means "Cave of Surprises". History tels us (so did our guide), that the cave was founded by French explorers in the early 19th century and were surprised to find 3 huge chambers in total, each bigger than the previous, thus the cave's name. From the wharf, we climed about 50 steep steps to the mouth of the cave, which lies 25 meters above the sea level, then another 10 or so steps going down to get to the cave. Our guide informed us that the cave covers some 10,000m2, and yes it was indeed huge. Thousands of stalactites and stalagnmites along the 500 meter paved passage were lighted with different colors. This also enhanced beauty of Hung Sung Sot Cave.
After our junk boat cruised away from the cave, we made a quick stop at this floating house which had a few kayaks all around.
Sylvia and i went in one kayak and we were instructed to kayak til Tiptop Island where our boat was to stop for a while so the rest can have a swim on the beach. We were also asked that we had to turn back and paddle back to where we've originally started all in one hour. Tiptop Island was about a kilometer away (one way) and honestly, I have never kayaked before so I thought it was an easy task considering the very calm waters . So off we paddled, losing our direction every few meters or so. Haha. It sure was too tiring, but being on the bay with all the junk boats and gigantic isles all around still made everything worthwhile. Months ago I was just dreaming of this, and still am overwhelmed with the sight of all these.
The average depth of the waters in Halong Bay only ranges from 20-30 meters.
It's not too deep as i expected actually, but then currents can get too strong in some areas at times. I heard a lot of tourists have had accidents while kayaking in Halong, some get stranded in caves and or crevices in the limestone pillars because they get sucked into it, and some too, have died.
View from the top!
Finally, we reached Tiptop Island shores. What a relief! But then, we now had to get all the way back. Wet with sweat and with aching arms, we hurried to the boat to ask the crew what we could possibly do to bring the kayaks back to the starting point. Thank God she agreed that the kayaks be towed back provided we brought them to the back part of the boat.
After a while everyone got back on the boat, dropped the kayaks, and cruised again to find a spot to dock for the night. Dinner was served at 7 and we all spent the next hour after that relaxing on the top deck, under the calm night and with all the other lighted boats hundreds of meters away.
Sleeping in the cabin was quite an experience too. The cabins were equipped with air condition, and a private bath per cabin. A small window shows a good view of the karsks on the bay, and the calm water never makes you think you’re even on a boat.