Jeremy Clarkson, upon seeing Halong Bay, described it as 'Vietnam's biggest surprise.' After seeing Halong Bay I can say with certainty that that statement is the best description of Halong bay. You can look at millions of pictures and read thousands of books and nothing will prepare you for your first sight of the thousands of karst islands towering above the sea. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I first need to write a little about Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
|A back alley in Hanoi, before sunset|
On Wednesday morning, bright and early a bus came and whisked us off to Halong Bay for our 2 day cruise through the karsts. We jumped on the boat at midday and had lunch on our way to the first stop on the tour, 2 huge caves full of stalagmites and stalactites. The cave is one of the first limestone islands you come to, so a full view of the other karsts was not provided just yet.
|The first cave, lit in crazy colours|
The second cave was much less visited by tourists and was far better than the first. It was not lit by ridiculous lights and it felt a lot less tainted by people. We had only 40 minutes to explore both caves as we had more to do and see that day so we headed back to the boat to avoid being left behind. We left the cave and the island behind and cruised into the karsts. The karsts are truly amazing. There is no proper way to describe them without failing to do them justice. Limestone mountains with sheer cliffs jut out of the sea and tower over everything beneath them.
|The karst islands of Halong Bay|
The tour itinerary may not have been the best and the food may have been slim, but the only reason I went was to see the karsts and they certainly didn't disappoint me. Just being able to see this natural wonder was good enough for me. Spending a night on a boat amongst some of those limestone towers was a fantastic experience.
The next morning, after breakfast, we started our journey back to the harbour. The karsts were bathed in early-morning mist and were even more stunning than the day before. We stopped at the same village as the previous day to do some kayaking in exactly the same place as we'd taken the boat which was a bit annoying, but an experience nonetheless. After a measly allowance of 20 minutes on the kayaks we headed out of the karsts and back to the harbour for lunch. For once we were served a hearty meal and I polished off about six bowls of rice.
|The karsts wrapped in a mist blanket|
We arrived back at 17:00 and had to catch a night train to Sapa at 20:35, so we showered and caught up with the rest of the world while we waited for the train. At 19:30 we made our way to the train station, found the right platform and got on the train. I was passed out within minutes of the train leaving the station and at 4:45 this morning was awoken and told we had arrived at Lao Cai on the Chinese border. We jumped off the train and onto a bus heading to Sapa and waited for it to leave. An hour later the bus departed for Sapa and 45 minutes after that we arrived.
In the past few days I've seen some of the most amazing sights and some of the most beautiful vistas Vietnam has to offer. Sapa is high in the mountains and we climbed through mist and fog to get here. Upon arrival at our hotel we were treated to the most magnificent views I have ever seen. Terraced fields occupy the sides of the surrounding mountains and mist was rising up the valley. We stood on a balcony above it all, breathed in the fresh mountain air and took in the incredible view. What a place!
|Welcome to Sapa!|
P.S. I wrote this blog up yesterday, but wasn't able to add the pictures so everywhere you see the word 'today', substitute it with the word 'yesterday'. It may sound difficult, but I believe in you.
P.P.S Here are some more shots of the karsts for your enjoyment:
|Cruising through the karsts|
|A floating village complete with school and bank|
|At low tide you can kayak though that little opening|
|You may not be able to see it, but on the right hand side|
of the pic there is a cave that you can go through.