Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ships passing in the night

After a quick and restless overnight train ride back to Hanoi from Sapa, I jumped on to the most uncomfortable mini bus I have ever experienced for the 3 hour trip out to Halong Bay.

Halong Bay, vying to be considered one of the new seven wonders of the world, is located off the northern coast of Vietnam. Consisting of gorgeous ragged rocks jutting out of the water, it is home to some of the most awe-inspiring caves in Asia. It is also home, as I soon found out, to hordes and hordes of tourists being ferried around in their boats from cave to cave.

This was the first and only official organized tour that I have taken so far, and let's just say that it was as good as I should have expected. At least the views were above average.

The first day of our two-day cruise consisted of being shuttled in and out of two large caves, helpfully decorated in colored lights for our viewing pleasure. Don't get me wrong, the caves were magnificently impressive...they just would've been more so if they hadn't had red and turquoise lights highlighting their nooks and crannies. Oh, that, and rubbish bins shaped like penguins. I'm still puzzling that one out.

Post-caves, our boat threw down anchor for awhile in a smaller cove that was happily next to a fishing village and only one other boat! We had time to jump off the sides into the gorgeously warm and clear water, as well as do a bit of kayaking and swimming.

The real gem of the whole trip was undoubtedly at sunset. As we cruised over to our overnight anchor area, next to 20 different boats, the dwindling sunlight highlighted that beauty that makes Halong Bay such a tourist destination. I know my imagination was getting ahead of me, but it looked to me like all of the towering rocks and islands were guarding something. It honestly seemed like, if there was an "end of the world", it would lie beyond the rocks and caves forming their seemingly impenetrable maze.

After the sunset, the boats around us became infinitely more bearable, as they were all lit up with people getting ready for dinner onboard, and looked a bit like pirate ships in the night.

Now, what about the food, you ask? Well, it honestly wasn't really worth writing home about. Better than I imagined, but you guys deserve better than your standard stirfries and really disgusting Vietnamese wine. So I shall leave you salivating in anticipation of the eight-course traditional meal I had in Hue, considered by some to be the gastronomical capital of Vietnam.

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