Messing about in boats...
29.09.2013 - 01.10.2013 29 °C
An early morning start at 7:30 (well for us) we checked out of our hotel and headed to Ethic Travel to start our trip to Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. We arrived a little early and had to wait for a mini bus, which was fine as we started chatting to two girls also going on the tour. After a few minutes we were joined by a few more people and were ready to start our adventure. Once on the full mini bus we were told that only four of us would be doing the 2 night tour and luckily it was with the two girls we had started chatting to. This was great we would end up having the boat all to ourselves. We first had to travel the 3 hours to Ha Long Bay to drop off the other people. The trip was a little bumpy, with Nick and I sat in the front we saw the crazy but normal Vietnamese driving. Basically anything goes, overtaking, undertaking and playing chicken with on coming large trucks while avoiding stray dogs (and cows) running into the road, giant pot holes and all with hundreds of mopeds weaving between everyone! You don't even have to drive the right way on the motorway, if you see your exit or road just cut across to the wrong side and take it! Gladly once we dropped off the others the four of us could spread out in the back and carry on for over a hour to Cai Rong.
Our guide; Ker led us from the minubus to the dock through all of the fishing boats to our traditional junk. Sadly the sails were down as it was the wrong time of year for them to sail. We hopped on board and after a quick introduction settled down on the deck to enjoy the glorious sunshine and breathtaking scenery for the next couple hours. About a hour in and it was time for lunch all traditional food and sooo much of it, we got talking to the other two people a lady from Mexico, Teresa and a lady from Switzerland, Corina who were really funny and we hit it off straight away. Once our bellies were over full we all had a little sleep in the sun before mooring up at an oysters farm with no one around and beautiful scenery.
It was now time for some kayaking! Some of you may know of our Kayak of Doom in Lake Garda, Italy a number of years ago so we were both more than a little apprehensive about getting back on one, especially in open water! We sucked it up, and followed the girls who annoyingly were naturals and sped off. We on the other-hand spent most of the time going in circles! Even so, this was fantastic with blue skies and surrounded by limestone rock formations with no one else around for miles. Amazing! After exploring for a while and getting close to the rocks (and seeing a couple of jellyfish - argh!) we made our way (slowly and zig-zagging) towards the boat where they were laughing at us attempting to try and pull up alongside them, finally having to jump in and drag us into the right position! Nick and the girls then went swimming with them all taking it in turns to jump off the boat, but the jellyfish had put me off so I stayed on deck!
From here it was a relaxing couple of hours sailing to our home stay/guest house on a remote, tiny island in a village called Quan Lan. We were met by a tuk-tuk come pick-up truck which took us from the boat to the house (around 5 minutes) with lots of bugs flying in your face! The family welcomed us and were shown to our rooms. Ours was nice, very basic with a mosquito net and fan but was very clean and we were lucky enough to get the ensuite room. Nick got very paranoid about bugs again, covering himself in insect repellant and long clothes before heading downstairs to help make dinner. Nick and I were shown how to make spring rolls with rice paper and shredded vegetables (mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots and garlic) they were then deep fried and tasted great! The family made the rest of our huge meal of fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, morning glory (not what your thinking), rice and sweet potato chips, and then bananas and mandarins for dessert. There was so much food we couldn't eat it all! It was shame that the family did not eat with us and it felt more like they were waiting on us, which none of us had expected. They were lovely though and kept trying to get us to eat more! Our guide Ker joined us for food and filed us in on life on the island and her village near Sapa.
After a couple of beers and chatting, we called it an early night (about 21:00) as we had to be up for 06:00 the next day for breakfast. We both slept ok, although the electricity on the island cuts out at 23:00 so it meant we had no fan and it was so hot! After a huge breakfast of freshly made pancakes fruit and coffee - again more than we could finish - we picked up our bikes for a 10km (6 mile) bike ride to a remote beach on the other side of the island. Sadly during the night the weather had clouded over, but it was still beautiful to ride through the rice fields with their mountain backdrops, seeing water buffalo grazing. The beach was also beautiful, very remote with only a couple of local fishermen weaving nets and with lovely white sand looking like snow. Another 10 minutes on the bikes and we were back at the boat for our 3 hour trip back to Cai Rong for our mini bus connection to Ha Long Bay.
The trip back was so relaxing with us all finding a spot to read, sunbath or sleep, again it was so remote often with our boat the only one around. Near the end however we had to go inside as the water got a little choppy and waves came through the window getting us wet! Back on the mini bus we had an hour ride to Ha Long Bay to meet up with 8 other people; 5 Brits and 3 Germans. Once onboard our next boat, we checked in to our room which was really nice with a separate bathroom and air con if we wanted it. Again it was time for more food and again it was huge and really nice. Then we cruised leaving all the other tourist boats behind to a floating village Lan Ha where there was a small school and little shops. The four of us in a small rowing boat and a very strong lady rowing us around the village. We were amazed that so many people could survive living out in the sea like this. Back on board Ker gave us some information about the village and answered all our questions. It was now time to sail out to our next stop while dinner was being prepared. While waiting Ker taught us a card game called Xam which she kept winning every time, probably because we were struggling too understand the rules. Corina, Teresa, Nick and I tried to cheat when she wasn't looking but messed it up completely and she still won!
Once at our anchor point Hang Trong we had dinner - I think they were trying to fatten us up with more giant portions! That evening we chatted on the deck in the dark for ages and then joined the group of boys on the top of the boat, to play a game which was really fun (and I think called Mafia in the UK?) where you had to find the liars so it was hard with people you had only just met. But it was a really good laugh and a great ice breaker. It was so nice to be outside in the pitch black with only a few lights on our boat and just two other tourist boats in the area. Realising it was late and we had to be up at 06:00 we all went to bed and slept really well.
The next morning breakfast was followed by more kayaking, being rubbish last time we stayed on the boat and took pictures for the others and watched the crew play cards - Ker winning yet again! This time they were playing a game called Phom which is a little like Rummy, I was asked to join in but kept picking up the wrong cards and one of the crew had to keep telling which card to pick up.
It was then time for a gentle cruise back to the harbour. Upon arrival we went to a restaurant for dinner, again a huge selection of really good food. Happy and full it was time to get the mini bus back but we couldn't all fit on the first bus so Nick, Ker and I waited for another one for about 20 minutes. We said goodbye to our new friends and arranged to meet them in Hoi An in a few days. Along the journey back Ker pointed out more sites and translated the news about the typhoon which had hit Hue the day before which unfortunately was where we were heading on the night train that evening...