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Halong, and thanks for all the fish


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I'm going to interrupt the sequence of trekking blogs to bring you right up to date, because right now I'm floating on the South China Sea and I never thought I'd be able to write "I'm blogging from a boat." We are in Halong Bay off the north coast of Vietnam enjoying a few days of cruising. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can appreciate why - an other-worldly landscape with thousands of sheer-sided limestone towers jutting up out of the water. ̣̣̣̣If you saw the Top Gear Vietnam episode, this is where Clarkson and co. ended up in their ocean-going converted motorbikes.

A Halong Bay sunset

A Halong Bay sunset

We arrived in Vietnam three days ago, after a few days in unappealing Darjeeling and a de-clutter in Calcutta. In between Darjeeling and Calcutta we trekked in Sikkim for two weeks. Sikkim is the finger of India that pokes up between Nepal and Bhutan, scratching the arse of Tibet. The Sikkim trek was a different experience entirely to trekking in Nepal - we have some more blogs on that to come. From Calcutta it was a jump and a hop via a very sodden looking Bangkok to get to Hanoi.

So far we are enjoying Vietnam immensely. I must confess this is a place I hadn't done much research on prior to the trip. We have no guidebook because our accommodation and tours were all booked from the UK, so every experience feels fresh, and most are a pleasant surprise. The contrast with India is striking. Driving from the airport to our Hanoi hotel, we noticed that though the roads are just as busy, traffic flows on smooth tarmac, horns are used sparingly and politely and there are no cows/beggars/rickshaws in the middle of the carriageway. Everyone drives mopeds, which weave in and out of lanes, their riders squinting out from behind their helmets and face masks, never looking in their rear view mirrors. It was also a refreshing change to drive along streets that weren't lined with stinking heaps of litter and human detritus. This is a much more civilised and prosperous place all round.

Halong Bay is a four-hour drive from Hanoi. We are based on the Oriental Sails, which is styled on a traditional junk boat, though so far the sails have not been used. The boat holds around 20 people, and it's definitely not a backpacker crowd. This is marketed as a luxury cruise - which was part of the appeal after two months of trekking - and the clientele is typically middle class and middle-aged. We have met some very interesting people as a result - well-travelled, educated, good storytellers. And lots and lots of Germans, for some reason. There are only six sun loungers on this boat, and I fully expected the Germans to be up on the sun deck at the crack of dawn placing their towels down, but these Germans are actually well-behaved, funny and generally all-round nice people.

We have been treated to wonderful food too - fresh fish, seafood, salads, fruit, succulent meat - and all brought to our table presented like works of art. Last night our spring rolls arrived skewered to a hollowed-out pineapple lantern.

Fish farming amongst the limestone outcrops

Fish farming amongst the limestone outcrops

The cruise has included some activities too. On the first day we visited the Amazing Cave, along with a queue of a thousand other tourists. We then went kayaking, trying to dodge passing boats. Yesterday was much more enjoyable, because we transferred on to a smaller boat and travelled around an hour from the main touristy spot to a much quieter part of the bay where the only signs of life were the locals fishing from their floating houses. In the morning we explored the area by kayak, and after lunch we transferred to a beach for some rock-climbing. The rock is all limestone which means it's nice and grippy, with lots of cracks and jug-like holds. It's also very good at cutting your knees, as I found out to my cost - but not before our instructor had done the same thing. We climbed three routes of increasing difficulty. Jen sailed up with no problem but I was pleased - and a little bit relieved - to get to the top of the last one, as it was the hardest thing I'd ever climbed.

We're now on our third and final day on board, heading back to the harbour at Halong City. We have a few more days in the Hanoi area before we start our next big adventure, a three-week mountain bike trip starting on Sunday. Oh, and apologies to the late Douglas Adams for the blog title.

Chris with our kayak at a deserted beach in Halong Bay

Chris with our kayak at a deserted beach in Halong Bay

Jen rock-climbing at Moody's Beach

Jen rock-climbing at Moody's Beach

Posted by Chris Parsons 17:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged cruise vietnam halong Comments (2)

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