Sunday, January 30, 2011

Halong Bay

We arrived back in Hanoi at 4:30am and took a taxi back to the Vega travel offices where we were storing our big backpacks. A bus would be picking us up at 8am to take us to Halong Bay, so we used the time in between to make use of the showers Vega had available to their customers. We then grabbed some breakfast and went to meet the bus that would be taking us to Halong Bay. To Sapa we took only our small back backs and it turned out we didn’t bring enough clothes to wear; this time we wanted to be cautious so we brought our big back packs with us on the boat. We booked a 2 night trip for Halong Bay where we would be spending 1 night on a junk boat (a large boat in an old Asian style with large sails) and the 2nd night we would be spending on an island called Cat Ba. Halong Bay is approximately 3 hours east of Hanoi and is famous for all the limestone karsts which appear as if out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean. There are lots of different tour companies selling tours to Halong Bay so once we arrived we were definitely not the only ones. Various tours are available from 1 day, to 1 night, to more nights, and most offer food aboard the ship.

When we first arrived we were told that we might not be able to sleep on the ship due to weather conditions. We weren’t really sure what weather conditions they were talking about because it was actually quite warm but since I don’t like any boats I was hoping they would err on the side of caution. But the group agreed that we would get on board, then see how the weather was progressing and decide from there. It wasn’t really our decision to make as the “officials” would make the final decision. We boarded the boat and were assigned to our rooms. There were a total of 10 people on the boat. Some were staying for 1 night and others for 2 nights. We were served lunch and then the boat departed from shore. As we were sailing the first of the karsts appeared. After lunch we all went out on deck to look at the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately it was quite cool on the water but none of us wanted to stay inside. The water was a beautiful blue and it was such an incredible feeling to be sailing amidst these small mountains. After lunch we stopped at a cave which was just massive. I thought I had seen all the caves I cared to see but this one was very large and it felt like it would go on forever. The only downer was the amount of people there. We literally had to wait in line to go from one side of the cave to the other. I was so tired from Sapa that I wasn’t really interested in doing any walking or hiking, but unfortunately there were a lot of stairs in the cave. The worst part for me was that my muscles were so strained from the Sapa hike that I couldn’t walk down the stairs without my legs shaking. Thus it took me much longer than everyone else to complete the tour.

I was very happy once the tour of the cave was finished but then I learned we would be stopping at one of the islands to climb to the top to see some views. We would need to climb 425 steps. It felt like my worst nightmare. Going up was challenging but I guess because most of the hike in Sapa was downhill in mud while trying not to slip and fall, it used up all the muscles I hadn’t really used before and it was going down that was the challenge. We made it to the top and the view was magnificent, but then it was time to go down. I swear people thought I was handicap. I literally had to take 1 step at a time with my legs shaking the whole time. But finally I made it down and I was very happy to be back on the boat. I felt kind of bad because I’m sure this would be a wonderful trip but all I could think about was how tired I was from our hike in Sapa and how I just wanted to rest. At least the rest of the evening was spent on the boat just hanging out with the rest of the tourists and then eating dinner. We went to bed fairly early and the gentle rocking of the boat put me to sleep right away.

We woke up early the next morning for breakfast and right after breakfast the people who were staying for one more night on Cat Ba island were transferred to a smaller boat while everyone else stayed on. At this point I was wishing we could just go back to Hanoi with everyone else, but we had paid for 2 nights so we were going to enjoy it. Perhaps if I would have known what we would be doing that day I would have refused and stayed on the boat. The small boat took us to Cat Ba island where we would be biking around to look at the scenery. After the bike ride we would be getting back on the boat for them to take us to our hotel on another side of Cat Ba, so we left our large back packs on the boat. We got off the boat and got on our rental bikes. It turned out we would be biking at least 10km that day around the island. I wasn’t sure if my legs could handle it. As we were pulling away Andrew said he saw the crew on our boat closing all the blinds. Weird. We biked around 5km to a small town on the island where we parked our bikes, and were then led to a small cave by our guide. I was hoping that was the end but he kept on going and started taking us through some dense forest and down some steep cliffs. Normally it wouldn’t have been that hard but because my legs were not cooperating I took much longer than everyone else. It wasn’t only frustrating to have my legs shaking but also painful. Our guide was happy to point out to us that tourists aren’t normally taken that way and that this was only a local trail. I could see why. We finally made it down, me in a worse mood than before, and sat down to have a quick drink. There was a nice large house being built right across from where we were sitting and our guide informed us it was his house that he was building. At first we thought it was funny but I had seen him earlier going into the house and giving instructions to all the workers and checking the work. His tip got a lot smaller after we saw that. We got on our bikes again and made our way back to the boat. I couldn’t wait to get back. Our tour guide said the plan was to go kayaking but I absolutely refused. I was so tired and it was so cold that I didn’t even want to think about getting wet. Luckily everyone else agreed.

As soon as we got back on the boat the first thing Andrew and I noticed was that our bag packs were in a different spot then where we had left them. This was weird because there was only 4 of us on the boat so not like they would need to have been moved because they were taking up to much room. As soon as I opened my bag I saw someone had gone through it. Andrew saw the same thing. It was so obvious because I pack in a very specific way, where I surround any electronics with clothes and I do the same thing with all my toiletries, but now everything was all over the place. Andrew’s straps weren’t even done up so they weren’t even trying to hide it. Of course right away I told our guide to ask the crew why they went through our bags. Andrew followed him and of course they all denied it saying the bags were on board the whole time and no one could have possibly gone through them. That just meant that they went through them and no one else! We unpacked our back packs to see if anything was missing but we couldn’t see anything. Andrew told our guide he would complain but realistically we knew nothing would be done. The small boat is chartered by Vega travel and is not actually their boat so not much could be done. The guide told us to see if anything was stolen and if it was that he would call the police but we couldn’t see that anything had been stolen, even though we checked multiple times. Of course the obvious item would have been our laptop but they weren’t so stupid as to take that. Luckily we had read about this happening so we were prepared by taking all our important things with us on the bike ride. It looks like they were just looking for money, which we didn’t leave behind. Really the only things we had left in our back backs were our clothes, dirty laundry and the laptop. Unfortunately they went through our dirty laundry as well. We felt really violated and it put a damper on the trip. We were served lunch and then taken to our hotel. I was just praying our room would have heat. We were not disappointed. We ended up staying at the nicest hotel we had stayed at to date, and it was all included in the price of the trip! And it even had heating! We got to our room and stayed there until dinner time watching tv and booking our tickets to Australia. I didn’t care about exploring the island, I just wanted to sit in our room and watch tv. But since we had heat in our room I decided to take advantage of it by washing my jeans and cargo pants from all the mud of Sapa and hanging them to dry. Unfortunately around 6pm the power went out (this happened to us all the time!) but it came back on an hour later. I wasn’t disappointed when my jeans were dry at the end of the night.

We went out to dinner with the other couple who were staying for the second night and then went out for drinks. But again we were still tired from Sapa and had to get up early the next day so we went back to our room to sleep. We woke up early the next day, ate breakfast and were met by our guide who would be taking us back to Hanoi. We boarded another small boat, after an hour we were transferred to another large boat, after 2 hours we were transferred to a minivans which we had all to ourselves. That was a luxury as usually we were crammed into a van full of people. We arrived back in Hanoi around 5pm. We would be flying back to Bangkok a couple of days after that.

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