Monday, November 5, 2007

Halong Bay, Vietnam

It's just after dinner. The sea is calm for a windy night. The smokers are having their puffs outside the captain's cabin below. I'm standing on the open air upper deck of the Halong Phoenix, one of the many boats that ply tourists around the famed Halong Bay. Its a glorious night. Its slightly chilly and windy. The stars are weakly trying to compete with the generator powered lights of the 37 boats which are anchored in the middle of the ocean among giant limestone outcrops and tiny islands. The 3 day old full moon is shining like a lamp in the night sky. The reflections of lights and the moon shimmer off the surface of the sea all around me. Inexplicably, 'Nightshift' by the Commodores comes on at the back of my head. There is not much other sound except for the quiet chatter of my fellow cruise mates below. Everyone seems contented after the sea food dinner. I have a cold beer in my hand and its going down well to the sounds of the quiet droning of the generators from all the boats in the area. Suddenly some moron downstairs sees it fit to start a party by playing some Dr. Bombay techno/nasal rap shit at max volume for the whole ocean to spaz out to!

That was by best and worst moments of my trip to the World Heritage site in Vietnam, Halong Bay. Below are the in-betweens:

Halong Bay is about 3 hours drive from Hanoi with a compulsory stop at an obvious tourist trap selling some really ugly trinkets. Only useful for the toilet and the cafeteria.

The main jetty. We took a one night package where we stayed over on a boat/junk in the middle of the ocean amid lime stone outcrops and little islets. Since I was stressed from work and was feeling my normal anti-social self I paid for the slightly higher package price of about USD79 per night as I was hoping it would rule out holidaying groups of families. Also because I had some extra cash from getting my room and board free in Hanoi.

This was quite frustrating in terms of taking pictures. I already have the picture capture ability of a cock-eyed drunk but the weather although clear, threw up a slight mist above the sea. Also the sun always seemed to behind all my key subject matter. Note - Pictures from the hilltop of Titop should be taken after midday so you get the sun behind you for the shot of the limestone outcrops in the bay before you. The islets with the caves should be shot in the afternoon also. And be prepared for night photography. Its truly beautiful and peaceful at night and the caves are quite impressive especially with the tasteful lighting system. I'm kicking myself for not being better prepared.

As this was an unplanned trip, I had no idea what I was getting into. The actual itinerary included lunch on board upon arrival on the boat about just after mid day. Explore some caves, kayaking, head back to boat for dinner and then karaoke (optional). Day 2 was, breakfast, Titop island, head back to town for lunch and back to Hanoi after that. If I had it my way, I would stay 2 nights as you can also stay on an island and the kayaking bit was rushed as everyone was rushing back for dinner. No pics on the kayaking trip as I didn't have water proofing for my camera but it was relaxing and fun (well at least until the part where we were rushed)

The Halong Phoenix series - there are 5 of these bad boys plowing the seas around the bay. They have about 15 rooms for guests. Fully air conditioned with working toilets. We got lucky unlike poor Nex who got stuck with over 30 passengers on a tub on his trip. My vessel had a grand total of 8 of us on this trip! Lotsa leg room here!

Surprisingly comfy and clean quarters for my first stay on a boat

The dining area. Impressive, most impressive...

Settings for meals. Food wasn't bad. They do serve pork but special requests can be made for vegetarian dishes as we had a vegan on board and she was satisfyingly looked after.

Jang, our guide. The chirpiest dude I've ever met. At this point he was singing us a traditional Vietnamese song. He dreams of hooking up with a Western bird because he finds Vietnamese women nowadays very materialistic. Holy Asian-wide epidemic Batman!

That little girl is An. That's her mum. She's scares me. Her Vietnamese parents migrated to Australia and are Oz citizens. They spent time in Malaysia under refugee status for about 2 years. They were on holiday to visit family. She's 6 and she was discussing Australian politics, debating the meaning of Jack as a nickname for John Kennedy and that John Howard is too old for another term with her equally scarily intelligent 12 year old brother! I felt like retiring back to Seremban to rear chickens when the debate on light saber battles came up and I sorta gained some respect back from the kids (Anakin's cross saber beheading of Count Dooku would be very unrealistic in real life. It was just Lucas looking for some John Woo dramatics. Pow!)

The Captain. Couldn't get his name as he didn't speak a word of English. Plus this is the only time he smiled during the whole trip.

Son of The Captain.

A view of a somewhat posher looking boat. This is almost near where all the boats parked for the night.

Sea Tag.

The jetty at island with the Cave of Wooden Slates ( I think that's what its called)

Interior of the cave. Lighting systems worthy of Zouk. Only thing missing was Paul Oakenfold, some E-fueled ravers and fag smoke. Sorry...cigarette smoke.

The guides HAVE to refer to this as the finger pointing to the sky. Ladies, does it do it for you?

There's the usual blah-blah how it was discovered but you can Google that.

This shot is probably taken a million times. Its the main view of the pick up jetty when you come out of the caves.

A plant, a woman and a life saver. There's a message in there somewhere folks...

Just some random shot from the boat while waiting for dinner while the rest were swimming in the sea. I swim like Big Bird. With a camel tied to my back.

Kaorake hell begins but all in fun of course. Cheap booze and a long day got Luke and Jang bonding from the get go. We bought a few rounds for the crew who were tense all day. Then realize that the sailor boys were cheap dates when...

...all hell breaks loose in the form of a full on Techno party that lasted 3 hours! The fishes in the ocean must have wished they slept with their dead kin in the ship's freezer! I hate frikkin' Techno so decided to camp out by the beer chiller and drown out the pain.

Our boat from another angle.

Day 2 - Titop Island.

Only good for the view from the lookout tower although after the buildup by the guides, the view wasn't as orgasmic as i expected.

One of the little docks nearby.

Half way point up the climb. It takes 400 steps to get up the hill to the lookout tower on the hill.

The view of the islets is supposed to be great from the lookout point on the top of the hill but as the sun was against us it was just a little to blinding to appreciate

More kayaking around Titop. But my choice is the kayak from the floating village near the Caves, under the mouth of a rock cave and into an open bay surrounded by trees. About 2km total back and forth.

So there you have it. A pleasant surprise made special just because I went into this not expecting anything much. I wish I had shots from the kayak. I wish I had brought some Motown with me, I wish I could kayak out longer and just vegetate on the island and spend more time with the locals. I wish I had time to actual swim in the sea a little. But all those petty wishes are really unnecessary. They were cancelled when my very first wish was granted. The very first thing that I thought to myself when I got into the van for the 3 hour drive to Halong Bay which was, "I hope the fuking toilet on that crap boat works." Well, it looked and worked like a dream.


Han Solo said...

The first pic is a great shot, absolutely amazing. And yes.... we've all seen that finger rock, hahaha!!

Chindiana said...

Thanks Solo! But its actually slightly blur if you blow it up. But yeah, that's the memory of Halong Bay for me.

Actually I took at at 5.30am, Vietnamese dawn time.

Nex said...

Breathe taking pic dude. But why on earth were u up at 5:30 in the morning in the middle of Halong Bay? Going for a swim? Or did you stay up all night?

The boat you were on was parked right next to the one we were in when we spent the night on the boat at Halong Bay. And they were raising hell over there!

Chindiana said...

Dunno man. I slept at about 2am but kept thinking sun rise, sun rise so couldn't really sleep. So the sun wasn't really up yet but yeah that was the scene I woke up to.

Bloody hell, first the pic of the shop in Hanoi is where Han Solo booked her trip and then my boat was parked next to yours on your trip! What are the chances eh?

Sorry man, the crew on that ship are party animals! And the best part they were up by 6am after dancing till 2am plus!That's professionalism for you.