With our time in Vietnam fairly limited we decided escape the craziness of Hanoi by splashing out on a luxury 3-day junk trip in Halong Bay. The bay itself is an extension of the same sort of scenery found to the northwest in Yangshuo - loads of limestone karsts, just sticking out of water this time - it made for a spectacular backdrop to all the wooden junks sailing past.
The weather in Halong at this time of year is supposed to be mainly cloudy, with frequest storms. It was absolutely scorching with blue skies the whole time during our trip - which meant we could make the most of the activities laid on, sea-kyaking through tunnels into remote lagoons, visiting caves and trekking through jungle on Cat-Ba island.
Given the heat, by far the best activity was jumping off the side of the boat into the sea to cool off - an opportunity we took whenever it presented itself. It's probably some measure of just how relentlessly hot it was that even Mel was perfectly willing to jump into the harbour at Cat-Ba, despite it being visibly full of fish - her pet phobia.
Evenings were spent together with all the other junks in something approximating a circle of covered wagons - we discovered this was due to what was described as a small piracy problem. Well, shiver me timbers and splice the mainbrace - we made sure our cabin door was firmly locked at night.
One of the places we visited was "Suprise Cave" - a huge cavern inside one of the karsts. As well as being a stop-off for most tours of the bay, it's where the 1800 people who live in floating fishing villages here take refuge during the worst storms. Our guide delighted in showing us the multiple rock formations such as "the turtle" which was quite impressive - unfortunately others required rather more imagination on the part of the viewer, such as "two bears loving each other" which was really just lumps of rock. Getting into the spirit of things, I started making up my own and to my suprise found a really great one of Sir Trevor McDonald ...
Back in Hanoi for one last night and we got one final taste of what Hanoi does best - lunatic driving ... the cab driver who took us to the airport the next morning was undoubtedly the most insane I've ever experienced in my life. At one point I'm sure I heard him muttering "die" under his breath as he intentionally swered in front of a scooter, whose only crime had been a momentary delay in pulling into the slow lane to let us past.
I can only begin to imagine how he would have reacted to the genuine insult he surely deserved ... all I knew is that we we're very releived to arrive in one piece at the curiously deserted Hanoi International Airport. Perhaps they'd heard he was coming ...
You can see all the photos from Halong here.