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Vietnam (Part 2)


While we were in Hanoi we booked tickets for a 3 day, 2 night tour to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site formed through millions of years of tectonic movement, sea level change and erosion. It is a very popular and somewhat crowded tourist destination but that does little to dull the quite spectacular views.

It was just over a 3 hour journey in a Ford Transit from Hanoi to Halong Bay, but the roads were pretty good and there was a stop halfway to buy food, souvenir tack and have a stretch. Once we got to the harbour the enormity of this place as a tourist destination becomes immediately apparent there are people and boats everywhere. After a bit of a wait while the tour company dealt with the standard confusion we boarded a smaller flat-bottom boat to head out the Junk we would be staying the night on.

Heading out of the harbour amongst a myriad of other Junks

About to board our Amigo Tour's Junk

Our boat was very nice and we were in a group with 5 other New Zealander’s, 3 British, 3 Singaporean, 1 French, 1 Lebonese, 1 German, 1 Chinese and 1 American. A reasonably varied group and it was quite funny to have such a large bloc of kiwi’s although I’m used to that at work.

After lunch the boat set course for a the Thien Cung grotto which is an amazing cave complex that was apparently at one point used as a command post for the Viet Cong. It is quite a remarkable natural structure. The colourful lighting inside may come across as a little tacky but it does well to accentuate the stalactite’s and stalagmite’s and makes for impressive photos.

Looking out the Islets from the entry to the grotto

Entering into the grotto

Pretty Impressive

The following day we left the boat and most of the others in the group who were only doing a 1 night trip and headed for Cat Ba Island. Once we arrived at the dock we transferred onto a bus that took us in towards the middle of the island. We were given two options, we could go mountain bike riding or walk up to a lookout. Having suffered through some food poisoning that I think I picked up in Hanoi (not at Gecko) I thought it best to give the mountain biking a miss. A bit of a shame seeing I really miss mountain biking but I thought going for a walk might be a safer option. Alas, it was not be the walk was pretty tough. It was quite a steady hike up and boy was I was i struggling. It took a long time to recover once I got to the top and we both agreed that it actually wasn’t worth it. The island is so big and hilly that even from the lookout you couldn’t see out towards the bay.

Overlooking the vast expanse of Cat Ba Island

Pretty exhausted after the ‘walk’ we loaded back into the Bus and headed towards the main settlement on Cat Ba. The town itself is nice and compact spread along the small bay in which it sits with a fishing village and a couple of restaurants floating just off shore. The hotel we had was actually really crap and it seems power is a bit scarce and the very noisy diesel generator did not provide enough power for the air-conditioning or fans. By this stage we were pretty exhausted but we got ourselves sorted and headed for the main swimming beach which we were told was just up the road. It was a reasonably short walk and it was actually pretty nice with the water temperature damn near perfect.

Swimming Beach at Cat Ba

Looking from the walkway beside the swimming beach

The setting sun for the balcony of the hotel in Cat Ba

Cat Ba, despite a crap hotel was actually really good and even though we were pretty knackered by this stage it was enjoyable. After suffering a night in the hotel – where to be fair air-con was now available, we got up for the departure back to Hanoi. Of course the journey back to whence you came is never as enjoyable but it was pretty nice once we started seeing the familiar metropolitan surroundings of Hanoi. Did I mention just how exhausted we were?

Back in Hanoi we had made reservations at what appeared to be from reviews a slightly nicer place than the decent hotel we had stayed at before heading to Halong. La Dolce Vita Hotel right in the centre of the Old Quarter lived up to the good reviews and was  a nice place to attempt to recharge. Recharge before heading back to Saigon and the last item on our ad-hoc itinerary.

The flight back to Saigon was this time on an Airbus A330 with Vietnam Airlines. After arrival we headed back to the hotel we had stayed at previously seeing it was a location and price that was pretty hard to beat. After a good rest and a vist to our previous haunt’s we retired for the final push.

The following morning we set out for the SASCO tour building where we had booked a Cu Chi tunnel tour. While by this time we had become the jaded tourists, Cu Chi tunnels is well worth the visit – even towards the end of a trip. Admittedly our particular tour was full of the 16-21 year-old British toff market which we had encountered a bit by now but we pulled through and aside from the rampant over-commercialism the real story of the tunnels soaked in.

Secret tunnel entry at Cu Chi tunnels

Climbing out of the 'tourist-modified' tunnel

After the Cu Chi tunnel tour it was a 1 hour 45 minute trip back to Saigon after which it was naturally time for cafe stop, we so indulged. Then we needed to go and collect our luggage from the hotel and head to the airport.

All in all a somewhat full-on trip but very enjoyable. As I finish off this post I am now in Hong Kong, surely the subject of a future post. Somehow I will have to try and fit in a post on the abnormal hum-drum of work… somehow… oh such is life.

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