Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Halong Bay Halong Bay, Vietnam, Tuesday, 27 March 2007 8:00pm

It should have been easy to fall asleep last night. We never really napped after arriving in Hanoi, and I was really tired by 4pm. Somehow, staying awake until 8pm dispelled the tiredness and it was hard to fall asleep. When we woke up this morning, I was still sleepy.

There was a little extra packing to do. Jessica found a suitably-sized box on the Street of Large Stuffed Animal Sellers, so I packed her basketpack in that, filling the gaps with various souvenirs. We're going to have to do something better about it before I take it on the plane, but it's a start. I think I won't be taking BART home from the airport.

Today was the first day of our last outing: Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a large bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, filled with thousands of limestone islands. There are some pretty spectacular formations. Many of them are reminiscent of stone icebergs. They have the same kind of wear at the waterline.

We began seeing the formations before we even got to the coast. The day started with a three hour minibus ride to Bay Chai. The first few hours were boring — suburbs of Hanoi and Haiphong — but the urban sprawl eventually faded and we got views of lush forests and plains. The plains were covered with rice fields, as usual, but they also had huge karsts, limestone rocks the size of hills, but much steeper. As we made our way to the coast, we could see these same formations as islands in the hazy distance.

The minibus ride was interrupted by a suspicious break at a tourist corral. All of the minibuses from all of the tour companies appear to stop at one snack bar/souvenir shop/set of restrooms. It seemed like a transparent ploy to try to capture a little more of the tour-buyers' money. Jessica discovered a snack that made the stop totally worth it: jackfruit chips.

Thế had enthused about jackfruit during our tours, and Jessica saw some chips while waiting around the snack shop. The first bag disappeared almost immediately, so we bought some more. Jessica thought it was like really good freeze-dried strawberry ice cream, but the kind of strawberry you might find in Neapolitan, not an upscale gourmet ice cream.

We arrived at the docks, and... nothing. There were various tour groups going out to various boats (there were dozens of boats), but no sign of anyone associated with the company we'd booked with. We got out, but the driver didn't seem to know where our contact was. After about 20 minutes of wondering where to go, someone in an Ocean Tours shirt walked over. He collected our passports and we were finally on our way.

The boat stopped for lunch, and then we proceeded to cruise leisurely towards the Amazing Cave. It was funny to see the line of tour boats strung along the route to the cave. Clearly, everyone was going there, and just proceeding at different rates.

The cave was more impressive than I'd anticipated, but I felt a little cheated. The various outcroppings were lit with colored lights, so the headlamp that I've carried with me this whole time was completely unnecessary.

After caving, we tied up with a bunch of other boats and some people went for a kayaking excursion. We were right next to a junk blasting really awful techno. Like a ten year old with a keyboard with an arpeggiator function. We were afraid that we'd moored for the night, and were going to have to put up with the Rave Junk until they ran out of diesel or we launched a raid. Happily, after the kayakers returned, we went to another area.

There were maybe a dozen boats that spent the night in our... clearing? What do you call the space between a bunch of islands? One had an annoying generator, but the rest were pretty quiet, so we got a good night's sleep.