Wednesday 30 August, rain, fine, 30°
So today was to be a big day; a visit to Ha Long Bay was one of the principle reasons the we had come to northern Vietnam. Today was the day to see if it was all that we had read about. We had also read a few horror stories of how bad some of the overnight boats were, but we had also heard that you got what you paid for, so by buying a more expensive package we hoped to have a better experience. If you haven't heard of Ha Long Bay you have probably seen photos of it and not realised what it was called.
We got up at 6:30am and went upstairs for breakfast, then back to the room to pack ( we are returning to this hotel again tomorrow night, but we needed to take all our gear with us to the boat ). As we were still packing our bags at 7:45am ( on target for the pickup at 8am ) we got a knock on the door and Ben ( our guide for the 2 day trip ) arrived to pick us up. So we finished packing in a rush and headed down to the lobby to await the bus ( Ben had come ahead of the bus, and when we were ready he rang the driver to get him to come down our narrow street to get us. This minimises the stopping time in the street, and the number of horn toots that would follow. ) We jumped on the bus ( we were first on ) and spent the next 30 minutes navigating the streets of the Old Quarter, picking up other people. There were numerous other mini buses doing the same thing for other tour companies as well.
So we left the Old heart of Hanoi in the rain at 8:30am and drove east, through Bac Ninh, and towards Ha Long Bay. There was the compulsory stop for a toilet break at a huge statue / clothing / trinket factory shop at 10am, and then back on the bus, and we carried on. Given the massive number of buses and tourists making this trip out to the same port for Ha Long Bay the route seemed to be very hap-hazard, with a mixture of motorways, normal city streets and a lot of roads that looked like they have been under construction for a while, without ever being finished.
As we arrived at Dao Tuan Chau harbour at 12:30pm ( which is built on an island just off the main coast, with a causeway connecting it to the main road ) the rain stopped and the sun started to peek through. We jumped off the bus and instead of scrambling aboard our cruise boat from the shore we got onto a small speedboat ( seating 8) and headed out into the islands for which Ha Long Bay is famous for. Our boat for the night was moored out in amongst the islands so we jumped on board and grabbed a seat in the dining room to await the rest of the people to arrive via the speedboats 2nd trip.
The boat consists of 3 levels: a deck which covers the entire top level of the boat, the level below this has the dining room / bar at the rear, 4 cabins with an external walkway down each side, and the wheelhouse for the captain at the front. The bottom level has the engine at the rear (with the area for the crew and the kitchen ) and 4 more cabins. The levels are connected by 2 sets of external stairs at the front ( one on each side of the boat ) and a set of stairs in the dining room between the lowest and middle floors.
So once we were all on board ( except for 4 people who were doing a 3 day / 2 night trip and were on their 2nd day, and were off on a excursion ) we headed off. On board were us, another NZ couple, 3 guys from Ireland, 2 French girls, 2 guys from Belgium. The 4 people already on the cruise were a couple from USA and 2 German girls.
We headed south through the islands in the sunshine and into the Lan Ha Bay area ( which has similar scenery to Ha Long Bay, with the limestone Karst islands appearing to float on the water, but is a lot quieter in terms of boat numbers ) and we stopped at a floating platform. After transferring from our cruise boat via the transfer boat that we have with us, we jumped into some double kayaks for a paddle at 3pm. We headed up a bay and then through a series of caves and out into lagoons which are fully enclosed by hills, and then back to the platform at 4pm. The whole area is very peaceful and quiet with quite clear water, but is unfortunately spoilt by the amount of floating rubbish ( plastic bottles, pieces of polystyrene, shoes and other trash ), but even so it was nice to be in such an out-of-the-way place.
Once we were back on the boat we headed north again to find our spot for the night. After we arrived and anchoredvsome of the people chose to jump off the boat and have a swim ( ours is the only company that allows this apparently) the rest of us just sat and watched. Sunset came at 6:30pm and was pretty but very quick, and then it got dark soon after that. We even saw stars tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks. We had a brief spring roll making lesson with Ben before sitting down to dinner on the top deck, some of which was cooked on the barbecue in front of us.
The night was pleasantly warm, but not hot, so we sat around talking and enjoying the view, and peace and quiet. That was until a 'party boat' came and parked about 100m away from us. The party was in full swing so it was a little noisey, but not too bad. We could also see other boats in the area around us, but from what we have heard we were in a quiet part of the bay.
At about 9:30pm I decided to head downstairs to bed. There was quite a bit of dew around so I was trying to be careful heading down the steel stairs that led to our cabin on the middle deck, but somehow I slipped on the 2nd to top step, fell against the right hand handrail and skated down the steps on 1 foot. To be honest I was thinking as I headed down the stairs that this was not going to end well, and would probably be the end of the holiday ( we had been talking earlier to another couple about how bad the emergency care was in Vietnam ). So when I reached the middle level and stopped ( instead of carrying on down the next flight of stairs ) and I was still on my feet I was quite relieved. I then realised that my left hand ring finger hurt, and as I turned to look at it I expected to see it sticking out on a 45° angle to the rest of my fingers. Again I was relieved to see it in the right place, but it felt like I had hit it pretty hard on something on the way down.
At this point the captain ( who spoke little English ) poked his head out of the wheelhouse which was next to the stair I had just surfed down ( it also doubled as his cabin ) and looked at me with concern. " I am Ok ", I said to him while at the same time holding my left hand in a bit of pain. I thought I would head into the cabin and run some cold water on my left hand to try to numb it down a bit.
As I got to our cabin door I realised my ring finger was bleeding so I figured I needed some first aid, so I went into the dining room and told Ben what had happened, and that I needed a plaster and some ice for my finger. At this stage I was quite relaxed about the injury and thought it would probably be sore for a few days. Again to be honest it could have been a lot worse so I was still relieved.
Liz then came down to find me and at that time I started to feel a bit light headed so sat down. After a while of sitting with my head between my knees I apparently fainted ( my eyes rolled back and my face lost all colour ) so I got lowered onto the floor to stop me falling further.
After about 20 minutes of this I felt ok again, my finger had been taped up and I had taken a couple of aspirin for the pain, and decided it was time to go to bed and see how it felt in the morning. It was certainly a more adventurous end to the evening than I had expected.
Meanwhile the party still went on at our neighbours boat....but I went out like a light when I hit the pillow.