Monday, May 24, 2010

Ha Long Bay & Tom Coc, Vietnam

After spending a few days doing nothing but writing and uploading pictures, I found myself on a bus heading to Ha Long Bay. With over 3,000 islands surrounded by the turquoise water of the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is a must see Unesco World Heritage site. People from all over the globe flock here to see this natural phenomena. I purchased a 2 day, 1 night tour and chose the option of sleeping on the junket (boat).

Ha Long Bay tours operate in a chaotic manner, as they herd you on and off the buses like cattle and randomly select you into groups. It was also a bit disconcerting the way they handle your passports. Before boarding the junkets you must hand over your passport which you get back the day you leave.

What was just moments earlier a cloudy, gloomy day suddenly became brightened with sunshine as the clouds magically dispersed. After all the backpackers boarded, we climbed the upper level of the ship we sought after our newly found sunshine and the cool refreshing breeze that was being produced by the start of our ship's engine as we began heading out to sea.

Here we come, Ha long Bay!


We had a good group of people on our ship: 3 Americans, 2 Portuguese, 1 French, 1 Danish, and 1 Serbian. After lunch, we all kicked back and enjoyed one another's company and the magnificent scenery that surrounded us. Sadly though, 5 of the 8 passengers were getting off at Cat Ba Island in exchange for 14 people that were leaving Cat Ba. I made sure to exchange emails with everyone that left. Luckily our new crew were also pretty cool. Everyone got along great and, surprisingly, there was not even one loud, obnoxious person on the entire ship. I surely thought that there would be at least one on a ship full of young backpackers. Nope! Nodda! Zippo! This made out for a lovely, relaxing evening on the bay.

As I was about to call it a night, me and a few people I was conversing with noticed something floating in the water. All of the junkets in the bay were disposing their rubbish into the sea. Again, the utter disregard for the environment in Southeast Asia is unreal. Very disturbing.

Having spent a week in and around Hanoi, it was time for me to head south. The next morning I arranged a tour to Tom Coc, located a few hours south of Hanoi. Tom Coc is known as 'Ha Long Bay on Land' or 'Ha Long Bay on Rice Paddies'. And that's exactly what it looked like, with enormous green limestone peaks scattered throughout the countryside. The tour consisted of a lovely group of people which included 2 Thais, 2 Koreans, 2 French, 2 Japanese, and 2 elderly Vietnamese. I was the youngest in the group.

The best way to see Tom Coc is by a rowboat on the Ngo Dong River. I shared my rowboat with the two Japanese women. The rowing ladies work extremely hard, and I definitely made sure to tip them. The boat ride, quite surprisingly, lasted a few hours. I was also surprised that there wasn't an entrance fee, so make sure to use that money to tip your rowing lady. The boat ride was stunning as we slivered our way along the river in between the mountains and its caves. Later, my tour bus dropped me off at a hotel where I waited for an overnight bus that would take me to the city of Hue.

Next Stop: Hue

-Adam

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