Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Days 237-40: Cat Ba Island - It's Jurassic Park!

The mature karst landscape of Halong Bay
The Sapa drizzle had reached Hanoi ... and most of northern Vietnam.  In temperatures fifteen degrees lower than those we had left, we returned to the city and boarded a bus for Halong Bay, one of the jewels of Vietnam.  Well, it's waters would have trouble dazzling us under this sky!

Our cruise on a dilapidated 'ship' with a lot of disgruntled backpackers began badly but soon picked up.  On the down side, our vessel might sink at any moment; the caves we visited, while full of impressive stalactites, had been turned into Disney at its most lurid; and five hours' cruise became two hours with a two hour wait for a bus.  On the plus side, Halong Bay may not exactly twinkle in the mist but it is certainly mysterious and alluring, with its hundreds of limestone karst islets puncturing a leaden sea.  Add an abundant green hair-do to each limestone face and the Jurassic Park theme tune quickly springs to mind, albeit with Nick Mohammed's lyrics.  Even Cat Ba island itself took the word 'scenic' seriously; like the bay, limestone pinnacles towered above us only the sea had yet to flood their stony toes.

Exploring Halong by Kayak
For the next three evenings, we hung out with some Kathmandu-bound Aussies who we had met on the boat, talking Nepal and pizza and voluntary work and beer.  Then in daylight, we sea kayaked through the mist and drizzle and strange fascination of a thousand limestone isles or went rock climbing on them.  Being a little out of climbing practice may have made us weak but it did not steal the scenic value of Moody Bay, where the boat dropped us on a small beach fenced with sport routes.  (For any climbers out there, Asia Outdoors can drop independents at the foot of the best routes; they're also busy bolting crags and running Deep Water Solo trips around the bay.)  Then it chugged back in the evening past floating villages where locals rowed boats with their feet to leave their hands free for fishing.

So were we still hacked off with the non-twinkly, non-iridescent, non-photogenic World Heritage Site of Halong Bay?  Not really; in the gloom, the bay had an atmosphere that made you wonder if a Velociraptor might poke its head around the next branch at any moment.  And once you've had that thought, it's impossible not to start singing: "it's Jurassic Park, it's a massive park, what could possibly go wrong?" (See Nick Mohammed on YouTube for further lyrics!)

Disney land

Boats galore outside the cave

The more industrious side of Halong Bay

Local fishing boats... this one a little like the Marie Celeste

The waters near to Cat Ba are a veritable floating village

Exploring kayak

Starfish and first use of Go Pro in water!

Paddling where the big boats can't go.

Exploring the caves and bays with a view to going back the next day to do some climbing!

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