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Halong Bay.

Halong Bay.

So after waiting four
hours in the hotel reception, drinking copious amounts of tea (with condensed
milk), which sounds gross but is so delicious we were bundled onto another mini
bus heading east for Halong city, the gateway for Halong bay. From the harbour
we would catch a boat to sail around Halong bay for two days. Before we went to
Vietnam we watched Charlie Boreman ‘By any means’ A travel documentary where he
travels from Dublin to Sydney on different modes of transport… his stint
through Vietnam got us both ridiculously excited and me especially for Halong
bay as not only have I never been to Asia but I have always dreamed of seeing
the huge rock formations that are in the waters and what better place to see it
than Halong bay where the whole place is made up of them. He also visited a
pearl farm and after finding out one of the boats stops there I was super
excited for this tour. Halong Bays 3000 or more beautiful islands rise up from
the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and make the landscape so amazing. Even though the weather was slightly dull it
was mysteriously beautiful. The mini bus ride to the bay was again horrific and
I spent most of the time with my eyes shut trying to sleep or holding on for
dear life witnessing every near fatal collision with the hundreds of moped
riders. When we reached the bay our very young, inexperienced yet hilarious
guide told us to follow him but he ran off through the crowd so fast we were
all stood in a bit of a huddle staring at each other and wondering what the
hell was going on. He obviously realised that five minuets into his tour he had
lost everyone and came running back through the crowds ushering us onto a long
wooden boat insisting we all wear the life jackets provided. I wasn’t taking
any chances after the way these people drive cars, god knows what they are like
driving boats and manoeuvring them through the rest of the boat traffic. The
harbour was full of big wooden ‘junks’ most of them painted white with big red
sails on the top.. There was a few dodgy looking ones and I was happy when our
water taxi went round these and finally stopped at our boat. We were given some
time to get our stuff into the room, a lovely little wooden cabin with a window
by the bed so we could look out over the bay. In true Vietnamese style we were
treated to a huge buffet style lunch, which was very much appreciated after
only eating toast at about 7 hours ago. Our guide was really young and super
nervous, repeating himself constantly and smiling awkwardly which seemed only
in my direction but I think its because I looked like the only person paying
him much attention. The boat set sail into the harbour and we were given an itinerary
for the next few days, today we were going to see some caves and the islands
with the best viewpoints, a cooking class and then a night of fun filled karaoke
(my absolute worse nightmare and thankfully this didn’t happen) then the pearl
farms and a kayak around the bay tomorrow. We set off for the caves as did
every other boat in the world it seemed, I’m not one for super busy places, let
alone stuck underground surrounded by people so we hung around at the back and
entertained ourselves while the rest of the tour group listened intently to the
stories of how rocks miraculously look like dragons and frogs (Vietnamese handiwork
if you ask us) after this we went to one of the islands that had a beach and
200 steps to a pagoda which had wonderful views of the bay. We climbed to the
top and then chilled out on the beach while our guy frantically ran around
checking everyone was still on the island, I mean honestly there was no where
else to go. As we were admiring the view from the beach and wondering what was
going to happen tonight on the boat with the organised fun karaoke we were
accosted by a Japanese family, they physically pulled us up from where we were
standing laughing and stroking our arms, apparently its okay to just grab
random white people to be in your family photo, we posed with them, I smiled
and Robbie with the most un-amused look and physical stance just stood there
while they laughed and jostled us around, then they were off back walking down
the beach waving as if we were new best friends. It was all very strange. The
group we were put with were a strange group and we couldn’t of been happier to
see a friendly face, Johan from Sapa emerged from behind a group of boys and I
think he was equally happy to see us and was gutted he couldn’t be on our boat,
as we were pretty much doing the same route down the country we told him
hopefully we would see him again some place else. Back to strapping myself in
my life jacket and having a wonderful time on the little wooden boats that were
whizzing us around the bay, we were off kayaking for the afternoon. I’m not
very steady on my feet and something about stepping into a boat that someone is
only keeping still with their foot nerves me.. I had a vision of be doing some
kind of splits movement between the kayak and the deck, but Robbie assured me
id be okay and had the GoPro ready you know just in case. Off we went splashing
around the bay, our guide warned us not to go to far, come on man loosen up, so
we did a huge loop right out of sight around the islands, I know were crazy.
The sun was starting to set as we were paddling around and it was so beautiful,
as we were determined to be the last ones back we soaked up the amazing views
around us and I had a moment of immense clarity, I was sat here with my
wonderful boyfriend, with the most amazing views and having the best time. We
joined the rest of the returning kayaks and back to our home for the night.
We finished off watching the sunset with a beer on the top deck and then we
were called for our cooking class. Now a cooking class is one thing I was
excited about doing in Vietnam so I was super happy we were doing one on the
boat… even though it only turned out we were making spring rolls, I got stuck
straight in producing the worst, fattest uneven spring rolls to a point where I
hoped they ended up on the other peoples table but I still had fun and made
Robbie join in too, obviously he produced some perfect looking rolls! The food
again was incredible and to my delight my spring rolls had made it nowhere near
our table. We were sat with an ex traffic cop from London who was filling us I
on all his stories from the UK and his daughters which was lovely. There was
also a Brazilian guy who by the sound of it smoked 175 cigs a day and a bottle
of whiskey but it turned out he was hilariously funny and an extremely well
travelled gent who again graced us with his travel adventures and humour. It was
pretty obvious that the kill joys on our boats didn’t want to drink or do the karaoke
(to my delight) so they lowered the price of the beer in the hope to sell more
we obviously took full advantage of this and bought bottles to sit up on the
deck and listen to the other boats killing the spice girls and Justin beiber.
All the boats were lit up and the moon was reflecting off the water it was all
very romantic and lovely until the crew took it in turns to sleep on the sun
lounger opposite us, so after finding out the poor barman who had kept the bar
open just for us and the beer prices low all night was just waiting for us to
order we got a few and let him go to bed. We were told specifically to be up at
6.30am for the sunrise and breakfast at 7am I got up at 6am so I could get
ready and on the deck for the sunrise however the sun had already risen, our
guide had got confused and just laughed at us when I told him the sun was
already up. Anyway we were off to the pearl farm and I was so excited. The boat
pulled around loads of nets that were all set out in grids in the bay and we
got off and onto the farm, there was so much information about the pearls and
different pearls and how they are made I was raking it all in. I know that a
natural pearl is formed by a grain of sand getting into an oyster and then the
oyster than naturally manufactures this into a pearl by coating it over years
and years. On a pearl farm however, because the world is in high demand for jewellery
they place a small white calcium ball inside the oyster, then string these to
the nets and place them back in the water, allowing them to complete the
process. Now the longer a pearl is left the bigger it is and we were looking at all
the different grids, some where only a year, 18 months and some were left for
up to four years. Round on the deck there was a huge pile of smashed open
oysters and four Vietnamese farmers smashing open the shells and flicking out
the pearls which had successfully grown into a huge pile, the colours were so
beautiful and it was such a surreal process. We went into the shop and I had
heard that you could buy a small imperfect pearl for around $10 so I was
excited to turn that into something, by imperfect it means they aren’t
perfectly round or the colours are a little different. However Robbie had
already decided that for an early birthday present he would buy me a necklace
so I left with the most beautiful single perfect pearl on a silver chain, i am
a lucky gal. Unfortunately our time at Halong bay was coming to an end and our
after another seat gripping bus journey back to Hanoi we booked into the same
hostel for one night while we decided where next on the map. Halong bay was so
beautiful and I loved sailing around on the little boats and sleeping in a
wooden cabin, it was a perfect relaxing little trip after our trek in Sapa and
I would defiantly recommend going and witnessing the natural beauty of this
place.

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