December 25th, 2007 – by: pauric_doherty
Caroline settling into the main deck of our boat
Well... it was Christmas day â€¦ and not a sign of turkey anywhere... well not that we could find anyway. We had another sleep in â€¦ again nothing peculiar about that from Christmas morning at home! We got up, grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel â€¦ again eggs and bread â€¦ oh and we got some tea this time as well... Lypton Tea ... no milk and with a slice of lemon in it .... different to home but quite nice!
From this point on, Christmas day became different! We were to be picked up from the hotel at 11:30 to go down to the tourist wharf to catch the boat for our 6 hour trip around Halong Bay.
When we arrived at the port we had to wait about 30 minutes until our guide got everyone together and on to the boat.
A local collecting shellfish along the base of one of the islands
The boat turned out to be quite nice actually; it had a lovely viewing deck up on top, and had adequate seating and table space on the lower deck. As part of the trip we were to get lunch on the boat as well. There wern't that many people on the boat so everyone had room to move about and relax. Halong Bay was quite misty and as we left the port it looked as though we might not get to see that much of the islands at all but as we got further out in the bay, the haziness and mist cleared a little more.
The islands themselves looked spectacular, they were literally cliff faces of mountains sticking out of the sea, the scenery looked amazing when you could see several peaks hidden behind each other.
As we steamed out to the islands we stopped off at a fishing village. Yes â€¦ a fishing village, a floating set of houses/boats nestled together beide some of the islands! The fishing village came complete with a floating school, and several little shops and restaurants ... all catering for tourists of course, but i'm sure they supplied the locals too. The boat actually stopped at one of them to allow people to buy some fresh fish and have it cooked as part of their dinner. The fish were kept in netted enclosures in the middle of each floating â€˜yardâ€™ so the fish were still in their natural environment all be it caged in.
a vertical crack in one of the islands ... you can see the vertical rock patterns here!
Some people bought fish and when we got back on the boat we were served lunch while we steamed to the caves that were next on the days itinerary.
Lunch consisted of fresh fruit and vegetables, some chilly cabbage (I think), sweet and sour squid and sticky rice. It turned out to be lovely ... not a full turkey Christmas dinner ... but still lovely!! The guide had to re-arrange the tables and people slightly just before lunch, in order to dish up the communal food portions and we ended up seated beside an Australian couple, Ben and Katie. They were on a 3 week vacation from Australia and were hoping to find some sun, sea and sand in Halong Bay just like ourselves. We chatted and communally 'gave out' about the fact that the quietness of Halong Bay was not mentioned in any books or on any websites that we had read presious to going there ... and all of us were more or less dissappointed by Halong Bay so far.
A floating fishing village in Halong Bay beside
It made for interesting conversation over lunch!
The building on the right of this is the school for the fishing village
After lunch we steamed further into the bay for about 30 minutes and arrived at the entrance to the caves. The cave entrance fee was already included in the ticket so off we headed up the many steps into the caves. They were ENORMOUS there seemed to be so many chambers and they were all interlinked. I presume there were even more chambers in the cave complex but only these ones were tourist suitable. There was no water anywhere in the caves as it was the dry season but you could see marks of where the water flowed during the wet season. The caves took us through one side of the mountian and out to a different section on another cliff face where the boat was waiting for us .... thankfully, as i didn't fancy swimming!!
After everyone got on the boat, we skipped across the bay a little to another small fishing village where we were to go kayaking â€¦ now this was a mode of transport that I hadnâ€™t thought of before! Getting into the kayak was probably the worst moment but once you got in and settled and starting padling it seemed very natural.
We were given 20 minutes to go explore around the islands and of course we managed to choose the island that was across the â€˜shipping laneâ€™. After waiting for our chance, we eventually made it across the shipping lane unscathed and paddled gently around the island/rock. It really did look beautiful up close. The rock patterns were almost all lined/marked vertically suggesting to me that there were formed by plate collisions or volcanic activity millions of years ago. It was clearly visible where the sea was eroding them too â€¦ but it was gonna take a while before they were completely eroded!
a solitary rock being eroded at its base .. and the tree's still grow on it!
We explored a little further round the rock and eventually went all the way round .. and faced crossing the shipping lane again! This time we had to be a little faster as there seemed to be a continuous stream of boats coming towards us .
. so after 1 relatively small boat passed .. we made our move and started paddling ... the only problem being was that we forgot to account for the wash from the boat just passed .. that did give us a little shock as it rocked our kayak for a few seconds but it soon passed. We made it back into the kayak jetty safe and sound and we were quite happy to be back on slightly stabler land! We all got back on the boat and started steaming back to the tourist wharf.
Some of the shellfish in the 'yard' of one of the floating houses in the floating village
I took some time out on the upper deck on the way back, it was getting quite cold and the mist/fog was descending a little more but i did enjoy the time just admiring all the islands as they passed by. I headed back down to the main deck when we were making our way into port and Caroline had been chatting with Ben and Katie about our trip so far.
We all were generally disappointed with Halong Bay, and we both said it probably would be a much nicer place if there was some sunshine and a LOT more people! Seeing that we were both there on Christmas day, with nothing exciting to do, we both arranged to meet up for dinner and drinks later on to try and celebrate Christmas day in some way!
A sample of the fresh fish available in the floating fishing village
We arrived back on the wharf and made our way back to the hotel to have a rest and get sorted out before meeting up at the Bamboo bar at 8. When we arrived at the bar, Ben and Katie were already there, so we ordered something to eat ... form a relatively limited but quite nice menu and we relaxed with a few drinks. It was a good thing that we actually got re-shuffled for lunch on the boat because if we didn't, all of us would of ended up having a very quiet Christmas! After several drinks .... we headed back to our hotels, content that we got to celebrate a little of Christmas!