Monday, 10 September 2012

Vietnam - Heading to Hy Long Bay, direct but rough


We packed up and left our short stay in Hanoi, I felt I could have done with a few more hours. I actually was quite keen to see the dead body of Ho Chi Minh, but we really didn't have time. It was time though for our onward journey Easy,  heading to the coast for the sea of 1,969 islands - Hy Long Bay.

The journey was just a few hours by coach, so we made ourselves comfortable for the onward drive. Not long after leaving Hanoi on the grey, bleak highroads the heavens opened and the driver forged through torrential rains but this wasn't as bad as the way Vietnamese drive. The roads are full of potholes, and while they are meant to drive on the rightm if the driver wants to get somewhere fast he will take centre location between the two lanes and at full speed (of around 50km) swerve around Tuk Tuks, mo-peds, cars and lorries and should an even bigger vehicle be coming in the opposite direction will swerve right at the last minute to avoid a collison. I couldn't figure out if they are excellent drivers or totally insane.

We were being thrown left and right and it wasn't worth looking forward outside the drivers window - so I buried my head in a book.

We arrived in Hy Long Bay around 7pm as the sun was setting, it was very much dusk. The skies were a purple grey and the islands smoothly jutted out from the water, as was described, like "a dragon's back spikes as it descends into the sea." On the beach it was quiet, and romantic, not somewhere for a lone single man to be gazing into the placid evening sky. The water rippled gently and tourists were making their way to dinner. I had to wait to the morning to discover the true adventure in those 1000's islands.

The evening we dined on local fish, another 12-dish experience, giving me chance to explore as many different varieties of fish as I could for the first time in my life. Following food, there is little to do in Hy Long Bay. Walk along the bay, it's quiet yet warm. Stop and gaze at horrendous Vietnamese karaoke, burn your ears and move on. Shop in the tourist markets and barter to get a good deal. Head back to the hotel for an early night.

Next day, we hopped on a boat and headed out to the bay. Another overcast day made it somewhere cool, a mild 21/22 degrees. We made our way to some caves between the maze of jutting islands. Admittedly if the weather was clearer I would have been in my element, the water was an exciting green and the rock formations did put me somewhat in awe - but the weather lost the sparkle it would otherwise have. Keen to take photos, the images that were coming out weren't so impressive either - so I resided to chill out and follow the tour.

We cave walked, deciphered stalactites and stalagmites and the limestone interiors that at one point had also been submerged in water and battered by the sea. Stopping at a manmade beach we got the chance to swim - my first time in Asian sea. I had really wanted to jump from the boat, but that wasn't to happen. Instead I had to tiptoe in from the sand, surrounded by washed up debris and rubbish, to wade into waist height, quickly bathe, just to say I had been in. But it was hardly clean, very unfortunately.

Dinner was served on the boat, the boat that had been painted white under orders of the Government. Apparently a government minister had visited Europe and liked the look of all the white boats, and ordered for them to be painted in Vietnam - as you can imagine the owners were unhappy with it - and as you can further imagine, these wonderful wooden boats looked nothing as glamorous as the super-tanked 007 Sunseeker variety in Europe.....