After two noisy nights inside a rumbling train, my travel partner and I are looking forward to some peace and quiet.
Nicole didn't sleep well. The night before, she was sharing the cabin with three men playing The Symphony of Snore-chestra all night long. And I was one of band members. Hehe.
Anyway, on the third day of our trip, we returned to our Hanoi guesthouse. Without much rest, we signed up for an overnight tour of Halong Bay.
As much as I'm normally anti-tour agents, US$50 (RM175) all inclusive is a pretty good deal. It's nice for once to let someone else do the planning and just sit back and relax.
The two of us were joined by eight other travellers from other parts of the world. Together we departed for Halong Bay at an ungodly hour of 8 in the morning.
Halong Bay is located 4 hours east of Hanoi by bus.
From there, we boarded our traditional wooden junk boat and checked into our cabin.
The boat sailed out and we were served our welcome lunch, which was a fantastic Vietnamese seafood fare.
The first meal was the best meal of the boat trip. Too bad after the good first impression, the meals got crappier and crappier each day.
Unlike Sapa, Halong Bay has long been commercialised and developed as a tourist destination. It may not have the warmth of the minority tribes, but development has made the place accessible and the rates between tour operators competitive.
Halong Bay is a natural wonder, a world heritage site and a top attraction for visitors to Hanoi.
The area is famous for their awesome limestone karst formations rising above the sea, dotted around its bay. It's every photographer's dream and I must admit I was impressed.
An overnight stay on the boat at Halong Bay is an experience I highly recommend. There's nothing more serence than waking up on a gently rocking boat amidst the morning drizzle surrounded by karst limestones.
We were lucky to depart on a clear blue day. The water was beautifully emerald green, shimmering in the sunlight. Sitting on the top deck with our new friends, we had fun watching one island pass by after another.
Some islands have more character than others.
Like Titop Island.
Legend has it that once upon a time, there lived a Very Old Man meditating inside that pagoda on top of the hill.
In the past, people used to climb that treacherous hill looking for that Very Old Man. When they finally reached the pagoda, they would kneel down before him and yell "SIFU!" while the Very Old Man stroked his long white beard and chuckled.
The Old Man would torture them for seven days and seven nights before teaching them kung fu and turn them into the next Bruce Lee.
Unfortunately, that was actually just some bullshit story I simply made up. There's no Old Man living on the hill top teaching kung fu.
The views on top of Titop Island is beautiful, but all there is is just some hairy Kuching dude sitting there acting stupid.
During the tour, we stopped by one of the many islands to check out the limestone caves.
It was alright , although I'm sure *cough*Sarawakhasbettercaves*cough*. They even had paved walkways and illuminated rock formations with coloured spotlights for the convenience of tourists.
It wasn't all that exciting.
This is the only rock formation worth seeing inside the cave.
Looks more like the "rock formation" you can see in my pants.
The guide says it's a "finger", but I beg to differ.
Fingers don't have testicles.
In the afternoon, the guide arranged for us some kayaks to get our fat asses working. Kayaking is excellent in a beautiful place like Halong Bay.
Unker Francis Ho must be proud to know that we were the slowest of them all and consistently ended up last among the group.
But don't blame me! How the hell am I supposed to concentrate when my buddy was paddling like this?
Somehow we miraculously managed to manoeuvre the kayak and had a short tour around the area. We paddled through a small tunnel and looked at some rocks looking back at us.
It was surreal. We felt tiny surrounded by monolithic limestones circling us.
The highlight of our trip was watching the sunset in Halong Bay from our boat.
It was simply sublime. There's something breathtaking about watching the colours of the water change to red as the sun sets.
Against the backdrop of limestone silhouettes, the more daring ones among us decided to have a dose of adrenaline rush by jumping off the boat and plunging into the water.
It looked fun.
Some even did amazing backflips off the top deck.
Made me feel like joining them also.
Don't laugh. I SAID DON'T LAUGH!