15.11.2009 - 19.11.2009
After our trekking in Sapa, we head out on a 2 night tour of Halong Bay. Halong Bay is famed for its limestone island, there are thousands. Unfortunately the weather leaves a little to be desired and it's a little misty, but you still can get an idea of this naturally stunning place. We stay on a 'junk' boat for the first night that guides us round the bay. First stop are some caves. These are huge caverns within the limestone. The Vietnamese have picked up on tourism and ran with the opportunity it brings. This is particularly noticeable in these caves. There is a paved path that leads you one way around the massive caves, with coloured lights displaying the limestone formations. Dotted about are bins in the shape of penguins, in case you'd consider littering. There is even a hosepipe fountain in place of where there used to be a natural water source. It's disappointing, if a little amusing, to see something naturally awe inspiring be brought down to the level of a theme park attraction.
Following on from the caves, we dock at a floating village. Here, on small rafts people live in the bay, dogs and all. We go kayaking around the little islands, getting pretty soggy bottoms along the way. That night we sleep on the boat very comfortably - our room is better than some of the guest houses we've been in and the duvet is a particularly welcome comfort in the cold weather.
On the second day, we head to Cat Ba Island. This is the only inhabited island in the bay. It has a national park and there we do a very challenging walk up to a summit. Having just brought flip flops for Halong Bay we're a little ill equipped for the journey up, which involves clambering up rocks and along slippery paths. It's worth it though, with amazing views across the jungle covered hilltops all around. There's a very rickety tower right at the top, definitely not for those with vertigo. We stay on the island that night, heading back to Hanoi the following day.
From Hanoi we get a sleeper bus down the coast to Hue (with an accent). It used to be the capital of Vietnam, back when there was royalty, so has quite a few old sites to visit. There's a large Citadel and many pagodas and tombs of former kings. The architecture is heavily influenced by the former Chinese rule of the country. It has a certain crumbling charm to it, although there are some frustrating 'restoration' attempts that the Vietnamese have done to their landmarks over the years. Some things are better left alone, rather than filled in with concrete!
We take a boat tour on the second day along the Perfume River, stopping off at some sights and keeping ourselves busy in the cold and rain. The rain constantly falls while in Hue, we shouldn't be surprised though, apparently it is South East Asia's raniest city.
One of the great things we've found about Vietnam is the people. They're very friendly and always keen to chat with you and find out about your life, usually not wanting anything in return, except perhaps to practice their English. That and the food, they have great food. We've become quite taken with eggs in a mini baguette (can probably thank the French colonials for that) for breakfast every day. Little stalls on the street sell it for a price well within our budget, cooking the egg in front of you.
We're now in a charming place called Hoi An that I'll mention next and it's still raining. But to quote one of my favourite films, Forrest Gump, Vietnam is all about rain:
"we've been through every kind of rain there is, a little bit of sting-ging rain, and big old fat rain, rain that flew in sideways and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath...shoot, it even rained at night"