Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mon voyage (français) à Hạ Long Bay

After seeing pictures and hearing about my friend's experiences in Ha Long Bay, I knew it was a place that I wanted to visit. Travelling through a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site on a boat? Yes please! Sounds like a fun (and relaxing) adventure. I never expected that my vacation would also be so bilingual, an added bonus. (In truth, I think that during my time in Viet Nam I spent more time speaking French than English).

Before I insert too many pictures, I want to fore-front this post by saying that if you are travelling to Ha Noi/Ha Long Bay and are interested in doing a boat cruise among the islands, you do not need to worry about booking super far in advance. I booked in advance through my hostel, but when I got to Vietnam, I learned it was very easy to go to one of the many travel agencies in the city and book day before (or even morning of, as one of the people at my hostel did). For those more price-conscious, it can also be a cheaper comparing prices at different travel boutiques in the city, or even travelling to your chosen destination first and then finding a tour package upon arrival.

And now...
Leaving the harbour!
Among the islands
One Happy Camper, a Vietnamese Flag and some Islands.
Nous parlons français (^.^)
Compared to the busy traffic in Ha Noi, the constant beeping and the people, Ha Long Bay was pretty empty--even with ALL the tourist boats. There are over 1,600 islands and our guide said that despite giving this tour, he has yet to see all of the islands.

I love meeting other travellers and hearing about where they've been or where they are going. My cruise group consisted mainly of Europeans with people representing the UK, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany and then Argentina and Canada. And while the common language was mostly English, there were overlaps in language. A group of us spoke French most of the trip and I'm happy to report that while I am often mistaken for an American when speaking English, I am always correctly identified as Canadian when speaking French.

One of my new friends preferred to take pictures of the islands sans bâteau, but I find the boats add perspective and depth to the scenery. Even the tour boats look lovely amid the jagged points.
From a cave lookout. I think this was one of my favourite views of the trip.
The islands rise from the water like spikes on a sea serpent. Sudden cliffs topped with tuffs of green hair, jut from the waves at sporadic intervals. These are not the same geographical features that I'm used to back in Canada or here in Korea.

Our first day, one of our activities was kayaking around these rugged giants. We struggled a bit against the wind and waves that pushed us toward the rocky walls. The kayaks are so small in comparison, no match for these massive islands, and yet they can slide quickly through and around the rocks. I liked being able to explore away from our tour boat, too.
Where we boarded the kayaks (and then put down anchor for night time).
Out on the water.
I opted for a 3-Day-2-Night tour. One of my friends did the 2D1N but recommended spending more time among the islands and I am glad I took her advice. On the second day, we headed to Cát Bà Island, the biggest island in Ha Long Bay. After a bit of hiking and lunch, we could choose free time on the island (many tourists rented motorbikes or bicycles to explore), or we had the opportunity to hop on another boat to visit Monkey Island. Naturally, I picked monkeys. Our whole cruise family did, in fact. All for one and one for all! Ha.

The island is known for its beautiful beach...
 ... and of course monkeys:
Monkey drinking orange fanta on a beach
Here is my commercial for Fanta.
These monkeys were vicious. As some other tourists were climbing the small mountain, a monkey jumped out of the trees with half of its face all ripped and bloody. They stalked us on the beach and at the snack shack. One of them stole a can of sprite right out of my friend's hand. No personal space issues here. I will admit I was a little scared of these guys. I remember thinking I did not want to spend my last hours in Vietnam at a hospital because of an accident with a monkey... But all good.

On our way back to our hotel on Cát Bà, our boat took us through the largest fishing village in Ha Long Bay. Home to 3000 people, these fishermen live right on the water. I cannot say that I'm jealous, but I definitely respect their hard work and perseverance. Props.

The Fishing Village near Cát Bà Island
A closer shot of the houses in the fishing village
This trip was a wonderful and relaxing end to my time in Vietnam. I met some super cool people and I hope that someday our paths cross again. I wish, as always, that I could have stayed longer, but I suppose I will just have to go back one day.

Love and Hugs.

P.S. Let the record show that I caught Pokemon on Cát Bà.

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