Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sleep ON Halong Bay

After dropped off some passengers in Cat Ba Island, the Bien Mo Junk continued to sail to a relatively quiet and enclosed place in Halong Bay. The junk was anchored here, with the accompany of only another 2 junks.

It's evening, but we were unable to view any sunset, for obvious reason. It's just too cloudy.

The view of other junks at night, blanketed by darkness. After we went back to the our cabin. The crew of the junk shut down the electricity power generator of the junk, to save some fuel I guess. The 5 Malaysian guys made some arguments with them, then they switched on the electricity again. But just for a while, after midnight, they off electricity again. So it's really a 'low cost' junk. Luckily it's quite cool at night.

Dinner ON Halong Bay

We were promised romantic candle light dinner, and again, it's not fulfilled, candle no where to be seen. Anyway, the environment was pretty romantic on dim light and dark surrounding, and the fact that we're in the heart of Halong Bay now, surrounding by 'dragon', according to legend.

Stayed on boat, there was pretty nothing much to do at night. There were only 8 of us on the junk, 7 Malaysian and 1 Israelite. 4 of us Adeline, Lee York Tien, Netidrori and me had a nice chat with some cocktails that I brought. Beside chatting, you may play Chinese chess with the crew (where they'll always lose), or watch the ultra-loud Vietnamese MTV.

Route to Cat Ba Island

After kayaking, the Bien Mo Junk sailed to Cat Ba Island to unload passengers who opted to stay in the hotel on Cat Ba Island. On the way, more beautiful scenery shown.

Different type of limestone rock islets.

Halong Bay is big. There is mountain after mountain after mountain.

On Bien Mo Junk we met with a lovely Australian-Vietnamese couple Vienie and Yen who came to Vietnam for honeymoon.

Kayaking in Halong Bay, but no life jacket!

After visit to Sung Sot Grotto, the junk sailed to nearby floating village. Here we were asked to transfer to another junk Bien Mo. To me Bien Mo was an inferior junk, although they showed a 3-star rating on the boat. But we met back the original guide that brought us from Hanoi, Ha.

They didn't mentioned anything about kayaking until we request for it, and was allocated 20 minutes only. Worse, when I was about about board the kayak, I just noticed that there was no life jacket on the boat. And, I don't know how to swim. I didn't want to risk my life, so finally I decided not to go for kayaking. What a waste.

Beside, I guessed we supposed to do the kayaking at Luon Cave, or some place like that, that has a cave opening at water level that we could kayak thru. Instead, we were only kayak at around floating village, where water was a little dirty. May be it's because both junks also didn't have attached kayak, contrary of other junks.

Anyway, Adeline was having fun kayaking, with a girl from Australia which we met on our first Junk.

Hang Sung Sot Grotto (Cave of Surprises)

Although our itinerary supposed to be Thien Cung (Celestial Place) and Dau Go Grotto (Cave of the Wooden Stakes), we were brought to Hang Sung Sot Grotto (Cave of the Surprises) instead. It's one of the 3 most popular caves in Halong Bay, and requires separate ticket from the first 2 caves. It's discovered by French on 1901, and is on the same Bo Hon island with Trinh Nu Grotto (Virgin Cave), but our guide never brought us there.

View of Halong Bay from Hang Sung Sot was spectacular. Sung Sot cave lives 25 m above sea level, but to get to it, we needed to climb a series of steep stairs which covered by shady trees and foliage.

The lighting system with elegant styles adds more charm to the beauty of the grotto. Here it was right after the entrace to the cave.

There are several water pools in the Sung Sot grotto. This pool is close to the entrance, so when light reflected from the moving water, the formations inside the first chamber seemingly came alive. The first chamber is square or similar to wide theatre hall and is oftern referred to as the waiting room. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes.

The narrow passage that leads to the second chamber of Hang Sung Sot grotto.

The second chamber also know as serene castle, is big and immense. The cave's ceiling is approximately 30m high.

Penis look-alike rock formation

The was a 500-meters paved passage inside the Sung Sot cave to guide the visitors on this immense cave, with a lot of stalagmites and unique ceiling along the way.

To the innermost deep end of the Sung Sot Grotto. Our guide did the only guidance and explanation of the entire Halong Bay trip in Hang Sung Sot, although we didn't hear much as too much took photography.

We were dropped at another wharf and exited via another cave opening. This bridge leaded us to return to our junk.

Shrine in Halong Bay Grotto

A shrine was built inside a grotto of Halong Bay islet

Halong Bay Floating Fishing Village

As we got closer to Hang Sung Sot cave, we saw floating village in Halong Bay. Locals live in floating house and mainly go fishing from the morning and then sell their catches to bigger boats which in turn sell them on the mainland, or go to nearly islands to cultivate land.

Floating houses, with TV aerial. Just wondering how to get the electricity.

There were a lot of floating houses around Hang Sung Sot cave.

Halong Bay Limestone Rock Islets

We're getting deep into Halong Bay. Bush topped limestone islands have so many kind of formation, jutting out from the sea.

More than 900 out of the 1969 islands in Halong Bay has name, but the guide didn't explain anything, to my very disappointment.

Too many of splendid islets

Dao Ti Top Island & Beach

Dao Ti Top island was the first island of Halong Bay we came closed. It got its name from Ghermann Titov, a former Soviet Union hero. It displays a beach shaped like a crescent moon, and sand that has been washed to a snowy white by the tide. It's possible to climb to the top, but our junk never stopped.

Vinh Ha Long (Halong Bay)

Vinh Ha Long, in Vietnamese, means Bay of Descending Dragon. It's a area of approximately 1,500 square kilometers with a 120 km coastline, in the Gulf of Tonkin, comprising 1,969 islands of different sizes. It's located at Quang Ninh province of Vietnam.

There are many legends that depict how Halong Bay derived its name. One legend says that the giant limestone rock islands are dragons, protecting Vietnam from invaders. Another legend said the majestic Halong Bay was created when a dragon was fabled to have simply fallen into sea, her body and tail carved out holes and huge bays during her descent.

Too bad, none of the junk opened up the sail during our 2 days there. We heading towards Sung Sot cave along east side of Cat Ba island.

Most junks in Halong Bay have some kind of dragon at the front of the junk.

The panorama view of faded mountaintops at the distant horizon formed a beautiful landscape. The calmness of Halong Bay water is all depends on these islands that shelter Halong Bay from turbulence.

Pretty Down Mood

2 things spoilt my mood today. Adeline still had some problem with me. This time she didn't like to take photos. That's fine. Next, Jacqueline sms me and asked for more money for our business venture. I am not a millionaire, so I believe SGD $36,000 is enough, and I really don't want to invest more and lose. I think more likely will ask her to sell the business. Hopefully I can get back all my money. Beside, the dark rainy day didn't help much too. Anyway, I needed to force myself to enjoy the trip, after all, it supposed to be an enjoyable trip.

Lunch on Boat

As promised, we were served lunch shortly after the junk started to sail towards Halong Bay. It's basic Vietnamese culinary which very similar to Chinese culinary. On this junk (we later moved to another junk), the service was better. We were offered the towel napkin, and the table was properly covered. Yet, I didn't see any seafood lunch as promised by tour itinerary.

Vietnamese Women as Workforce

I believed women in Vietnam are pretty tough. Everywhere I can saw women do pretty hard and blue collar job, as labor. Here a Vietnamese woman sailed a ship.

Boat Hawker

Whenever a cruise boat or a junk stops wherever in Halong Bay, it will most likely be approached by Vietnamese hawker on this type of small boat, hoping to sell something to the tourists, such as drinks, fruits, fishes, snacks and most things you can imagined.

Refill Water.... For the Junk

This was the water for our Junk, uncovered during the rainy day and the worker moved the pipe by leg. I doubted they ever cleaned the containers too. We did drink a tea, and got no diarrhea. But it's a good idea to bring lots of water, wine and soft drinks on board too, as drinks are not included in the tour package, as a way for them to earn more.

Halong City Bai Chay Tourist Junk Pier

We walked to the tourist wharf which located along Ha Long Road beside that Thang Long Restaurant. Everybody was in raincoat. This is the main entry where your ticket will be checked to go into the tourist boat pier.

There were simply a lot of boats and junks at the tourist wharf at Bai Chay, especially around 12 pm as most junks bring tourists back to the pier and load newly arrived tourists.

There is an extending pier without much junks or boats, likely mainly used for unloading tourists, as when we returned we alighted there the next day. Halong Bay in the far background.

Thang Long Restaurant

At Halong City, we were droped and asked to wait at Quang Ninh Tourist Company operated Thang Long Restaurant, along Bai Chay street. The restaurant is just beside the tourist wharf / boat pier. It was raining all day since we departed from Hanoi. Here, we were assigned to another guide which will lead another group of people in another junk.

Exterior of the Thang Long Restaurant, taken on the next day when waiting for bus to go back to Hanoi. It became very hot on this day onwards.

It's Raining All Days

Weather in Vietnam was really unpredictable. Before we came, the weather was so hot till 37 ÂșC. Just before departure, the weather forecast said it's going to be scattered thunderstorm. I was expecting the worst, that the weather in Hanoi is going to be hot, and with occasionally raining. But I never expected it to be able rained whole days from the morning till now.

So the weather was cooler than I thought since we arrived in Hanoi. But now the problem was the rain. I really hope that it will stopped in time for us to enjoy the majesty of Halong Bay.

Dai Nghia Humanitarian Center

On the way to Halong City, the bus made a refreshment stop at Dai Nghia Humanitarian Center, which claims handicapped children affected by agent orange and war invalids and martyrs were taught to do some handicraft so that they could self supported.

Concentrated to finish the beautiful handicraft.

A handicapped lady without a side of leg. The problem was I found the price of their handicrafts was not cheap, to me.

Bus to Halong City with the Guide

We're picked up from our hotel at about 7.30 am. We then were brought to Vietnam Opentour office at 56 TranNhatDuat, HoanKiem Hanoi. I was not sure if it's the tour operator real name or not, but anyway I got some contact details:

Tel: 84-4-9284504

Here, we changed to another bus that brought us to Halong City. As we're late, whole bus load of passengers waited for us. The bus got about 16 people, as it could fit such an amount of passengers only.

Our guide of the Halong Bay trip, Ha (or River in English). He was very responsible, only during the initial part of the trip. Here he introduced scenery of Hanoi and explained to us what to expect in Halong Bay.

The minibus that took us from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

In stark contrast with my trip to Egypt and Jordan, we met a lot of Singaporeans and Malaysians along the trip. Here we met with Lee York Tien from Malaysia who studies medicine in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and having internship in Hoi An Vietnam.