From the Sea to the Mountains
12.08.2011 - 15.08.2011 32 °C
Hanoi to Ha Long Bay & Return
Having enjoyed all the boat trips thus far, I was looking forward to another one, especially one that included an overnight stay. The bus trip to the coast took almost 3 hours and Kenny who was to be our guide on the boat, was on the bus. He got us stowed away on our boat by using a little red flag attached to a stick.
Our boat could sleep sixteen, 8 twin-single rooms. I was paired up with youngish Arat, a teacher of young children in Basque. So was he a Basque or was he a Spaniard, he was a Basque and I think he was using the trip as a bit of a rest up, before he resumed, cycling around different parts of Vietnam.
There are over 700 tourist boats in Ha Long Bay, so the chances of finding a secluded bay are slim but not impossible. We left the jetty and quietly motored for an hour before we reached the islands and our first mooring. We stepped off the boat and onto some moored pontoons to get in tandem canoes, so we could all do, a bit of individual exploration. I teamed up with Zlatina, a vivacious Bulgarian, studying for her degree in Japanese language at a university in Tokyo. She definitely had the idea “that life was for living” Everyone got in their boats and disappeared in different directions, learning how to paddle as they went.
After the canoeing, all but one canoe was accounted for, it contained Liu a pretty, petite chinese lady who is studying alongside Zlatina and a rather quiet, tall Chinese guy named Libo, who had silent resolve about him. So with the confidence that the lost crew would eventually turn up we boarded our boat, and motored over to the jetty and up the steps the “Amazing Cave” some 100 metres above. The cave was quite impressive, large and cavernous but it was lit up like Disneyland, so it was hard to get a handle on, what it really looked like. Kenny, our guide, spent the first part of the tour, waving his lazer pointer around while describing in halting English, the caves features, and at the same time, talking on his cellphone in rapid Vietnamese, obviously checking on the progress of the missing canoe. Eventually they returned. Kenny was then able to put away his cellphone and concentrate on his lazer beam and his very subtle jokes, many of which went right over my head.
Some of the best fun I had on the boat came next, it involved 2 ½ hours of swimming, diving and jumping off the boat.The water was warm and everyone joined in. The diving and sommersaulting got more extreme, with varying results. Arat scored a 10, with a one & half & then landing squarely on his back. Sensational! Liu, who initially had trouble jumping off the back of the boat ended up jumping from the top as well. The Irish lads, Paddy, almost a Doctor and his mate Neil, who looked like a rugby prop but was in fact a centre, made me laugh when he said one of things he enjoyed the most about the game of rugby was the tackling. When I played I used to leave a lot of that to the forwards, defending was something you did but scoring a try was what really what stoked me up. Rugby is a great contact sport and it often is good tackling that wins games.
Two young Dutch guys Sonder and Arthur perfected their forward and backward sommersaulting techniques, with a few mishaps along the way, the odd face plant or back smack, but none of it putting them off. George the German theoretical physicist also put his theory into action. Zlatina was also in her element.
After dinner was served we all went up to the top deck to have a few drinks and swap stories.
Peter a college teacher, the third Irish guy mentioned that Neil was a magnet for the “ local girls” and so it turned out the next day when our bus conductor dressed in bright yellow sweatshirt, white trousers and soft sneakers couldn't keep his hands off him.
In the tide the various moored boats approached and then would slowly retreat from each other. One was lit up like a Christmas tree, which looked garish given our surroundings, while another pumped out high volume dance music,complete with strobe lights. Luckily, the dance boat peaked early and was soon silent and when the Christmas Tree turned off it's lights, it left just us and another one or two boats still awake. Someone got an Ipod out and picked a playlist of mellow songs, to which we all lay round drinking and chatting till well after midnight.
The next day most stayed on while myself and the Irish boys headed back to Hanoi
Hanoi to Sapa & Return
After arriving back in Hanoi, I had just enough time to shower and change beforeI boarded the overnight sleeper train to Sapa. It's about a 10 hr trip and I slept all the way.The train drops you off in Lao Cai, just before the Chinese border and then it is about a 35 km trip up the mountain to Sapa.
I ended up at the Mimosa Hotel, with a great view of one of the valleys. It was run by Viet Hoai, who seemed to wear only dark blue, including the traditional brimmed cap. It was a fine day and so hired a motorbike off him, it was a new 125 cc Yamaha. The mountain roads are just made for bikes, and rather than sight seeing, I just got into the Zen of riding the bike. Intially I was coming into the corners too high but got that sorted, breaking hard at times and in the large expansive corners, laying it over a bit. You just have to be a bit careful, as around the next corner maybe a herd of water buffalo.
I did manage to do some off-roading when I went to see the villages of the local Hmung and Zay hillside tribes who also are always dressed in blue, grow rice on neatly terraced slopes and supplement this with selling their handicrafts in the town.
Next day I climbed around the various vantage points overlooking the town, hanging out in the square, talking to a few of the locals before hopping on the night train back to Hanoi