Just returned from the most amazing time in Ha long Bay. I thought it was doubtful that the place could live up to the hype, but if it gets any better than that, I have yet to see it. I started out the trip with a useful Vietnamese lesson from our tour guide. Vietnamese is a very tonal language, and pronunciation has everything to do with meaning. Seems that instead of "hello" I was saying "Noodle soup, please". We passed the van ride fairly uneventfully, and boarded our ship. As soon as we were in the bay, we could see the karsts from afar, but they were hard to see clearly through the haze. Since I didn't know what exactly defines a "karst", I googled it for you: Karst topography is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite. The effect of these massive rock formations jutting through the water behind a thick layer of haze was kind of eerie, and very beautiful. As we got closer, we could see them better. Impressive, to say the least. I'll let the pictures do the talking, but even they don't do it justice. A link to my pictures is here:
The weather cooperated, bring us warm sunshine for the trip, with a bit of sea breeze. Everyone in my group was great, we were all about the same age. There were people from Canada, the US, England, Ireland and Australia, about 25 total. We sailed through Ha Long Bay for awhile, then we picked up some sea kayaks from a floating fishing village. We took the kayaks out through caves and into a hidden lagoon where we all went swimming. The water was about the same temperature as my swimming pool in St. Louis in August (cooler than the air, but not by much). After a great dinner of Vietnamese food, we all partied on top of the boat until way too late. The next morning, we sailed off to our next destination, Lan Hai Bay, where some of the group turned back and the rest of us went rock climbing. It is a totally different experience out on real rock. Quite a bit different than in the gym, but it was so much fun. Afterwards, we did some more swimming, then headed to Cat Ba Island where we spent the night. The next day, we headed home on the van after about a 1/2 day sailing back to the harbor. We arrived back at the hostel just in time for the free keg on the roof. We had a couple of beers with some of our new friends, then headed to a concert. It was the best $1.75 concert I've ever been to. The openers were a Vietnamese cover band that played Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, and the main act was Australian, and played a mishmash of different types of music. It was a great way to end my time in Vietnam, I am going to miss it here. In a couple of hours, we take a sleeper train south to Vinh, where we will (hopefully) catch a bus across the boarder to Phosavon in Laos. There might not be internet in Phosavon, if so, I'll write when I get to Vang Vieng.