Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Tonkin, mon amour – the dragon's treasures

Yeah, no, we're not done with the Vietnam posts yet. But almost! 

The main attraction of Halong Bay is, obviously, its karsts and the amazing views of them rising from the sea. But once you're there, there are a few more things to see and do. 

For example, there is one island you can visit – and this is the only island you're allowed to get off at – Titop Island (Đảo Ti Tốp). First, it's got a beach, which is not too bad a break from being in a boat. But, more importantly, you can climb up the karst to the top and enjoy simply stunning views of the bay around. Just incredible. We did pay a price for this, though, as it was waiting for our boat to pick us up here that we were caught – and soaked – by the storm I mentioned in my previous post. But it was so, so worth it.

Then, there's also floating villages, like Cua Van (Cửa Vạn). There used to be many floating villages, but the government relocated many people to the mainland, and so there are only about four left, with reduced populations. The sight of what remains, though, is amazing. The colourful boats, the setting... no wonder these people have lived on the water for generations.

There are also pearl farms. And let me tell you one thing – it's actually pretty interesting to see how your cultivated pearls are produced! It actually even looks a bit barbaric when you see someone forcing a shell open and cutting a small gash in the flesh of the clam to insert what will provoke a years' long irritation that will turn into a pearl... 

Probably one of the best things there's to see are the caves, though. Immense, beautiful caves in basically hollow karsts. The first one we visited was Me Cung Cave (Mê Cung). A smaller, labyrinthine complex that you end up exiting from a higher point, with views to an inner lake. Beautiful.

But the real prize is Sung Sot Cave (Sửng Sốt). Wow. This is most probably one of the biggest (if not the biggest) cave you've ever seen. To think that for thousands of years these things remained hidden, untouched, that nobody knew about their existence... It's a whole different realm here, and the gigantic cave just goes on and on and on... Truly overwhelming. And, as the previous cave, you exit from a higher point, to great views of the bay. If you're going to do one thing only in Halong Bay, it's gotta be this one.

Only one post left. About the whole reason of this trip...

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