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E-bike expedition part 4 Vietnam - Online diary 2016-2017

Halong Bay – land of dragon legends

N 20°51'16.8'' E 107°05'14.0''
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    Day: 456


    Quảng Ninh

    Halong Bay

    Latitude N:

    Longitude E:

    Daily kilometers:
    Covered 185 km by car and boat

    Total kilometers:
    18,831 km

    Soil condition:

    Total altitude meters:
    54.661 m


    5:47 pm

    Temperature day max:

    Temperature day min:

(Photos of the diary entry can be found at the end of the text).


“Unfortunately, we can’t take your dog with us,” says the tour guide early in the morning as he picks us up from the homestay. “What? But that was agreed with your boss, wasn’t it?” Tanja replies. “We have two women on the bus who are allergic to dogs. Maybe I can put them and their dog on another bus.” “I also have an allergy to many dog breeds, but our Ajaci is allergy-free, so to speak,” counters Tanja. The tour guide thinks for a moment. “Well, if that’s the case, you can come along,” he decides. There are only four people on the tourist bus. The two young allergic Englishwomen, one of whom is hugely overweight and looks grumpy and the other has so much wood in front of her hut that you immediately wonder if her surgeon used a little too much silicone, raise their eyebrows when we get in with Ajaci. It soon turns out that they are not allergic but simply don’t want to travel with a dog. Ajaci makes himself small at our feet and doesn’t make a sound for the entire journey.

We cross the Red River, which flows into the Gulf of Tonkin in about 100 kilometers. Just like yesterday evening, the rush hour traffic in this city is appalling. Our bus struggles through the unmanageable crowds in temperatures of around 38 degrees in the shade. “Can’t you make the air conditioning colder?” the woman with the silicone stem calls reproachfully to the driver. “Sorry, it’s out of order,” it replies from the front. “Fancy!?” moans the young woman disdainfully, looking at herself in a small pocket mirror as she brushes on her artificial eyelashes. Tanja and I look at each other. “I miss my e-bike,” I say quietly. “And me first,” answers Tanja.

Sweating, I look out of the window at the dykes, bridges and the sprawling rice and vegetable fields on the outskirts of Hanoi. The traffic of the capital is behind us, but these streets are still bustling and hectic. The bus driver overtakes at crazy speed, regardless of whether someone is coming the other way or not, regardless of whether he can see into a bend or not. Time and again, he swerves out of the way of a vehicle at the very last second or simply forces oncoming traffic onto the defensive. During the kamikaze ride, impressive, rugged limestone mountains whiz past, giving us a foretaste of the famous Halong Bay.

Four hours later we reach the harbor of Halong Bay. “Phuu, and I thought cycling was dangerous and exhausting,” I moan, leaving the overheated metal box alive and in one piece. While we wait for our boat, I take Ajaci for one last walk. “Now do your wee-wee. You can’t do that on the boat,” I tell him because he’s busy sniffing and doesn’t think about lifting his leg. “And did he do his Wissi?” asks Tanja. “Nope, it’s as dry as the Gobi desert.” “I wonder how that will go on the boat?” “Hm, there won’t be a patch of grass or a tree where he can do his business for the next 24 hours,” I reply, also full of expectation as to how we’ll manage without the captain throwing him off the boat when Ajaci poops on the foredeck.

When the small feeder boat picks us up, our dog jumps onto the rain-soaked planks of a swaying surface for the first time in his young life without showing any fear. “Well done,” I praise Ajaci, who responds to my words with a joyful yelp. Nine tourists from England, France, Vietnam and Germany are now chugging along with us to the excursion steamer on which we will spend the next 24 hours. “Looks pretty run-down,” I say, entering the old ship. “I hope it doesn’t sink in the next few days,” jokes Tanja. “Actually, we shouldn’t make any jokes about it. In recent years, boats like this have often sunk due to their age. A few tourists have drowned in the process.” “Well, you can spoil the fun.” “There are thousands of boats like this and hundreds of thousands of tourists. The chances of us being hit are infinitesimally small,” I reply in a confident voice. “That’s okay. I don’t let horror stories like that spoil my mood,” Tanja replies with a smile. As soon as we are on board we are assigned a small cabin. A decrepit fan whirls through the muggy air, rattling loudly. We stow the little luggage we have and go up to the roof of the ship with Ajaci. It doesn’t take long and we cast off. We pass countless smaller and larger ships. There are so many of them that during the high season you can certainly cross Halong Bay by jumping from one boat to another without getting wet. At this time of year, however, there are not too many boats on the water and we can enjoy the World Heritage Site despite the heavy rain.

“Unbelievable,” Tanja marvels, pointing at the limestone cliffs that rise up to several hundred meters out of the water in front of us. “A breathtakingly beautiful sight,” I reply, also fascinated. Almost 2,000 of these jungle-covered hills and mostly uninhabited islets protrude their round heads from the Gulf of Tonkin. “Now I know why the translation for Ha Long means ‘the bay of the submerging dragon’,” I say. “Yes, you really could imagine dragons in this fabulous landscape,” Tanja replies, leaning her head against my shoulder. “Imagine a huge dragon that lived in the mountains on the coast. One day, enraged and furious, he stomped towards the sea to smash the evil enemies from the north with his tail lashing back and forth. In the process, he tore deep crevices and gashes in the landscape. When the mythical creature then jumped into the sea and dived down, its massive body displaced so much water that the valleys and gorges were flooded. The result was Halong Bay, which is hard to beat in terms of beauty. At least that’s what the legend says about the creation of this beautiful and unique landscape.” “A beautiful legend,” says Tanja quietly. “Hm, who knows, maybe there’s some truth to it,” I reply with a grin.

After lunch in the ship’s mess hall, we head for Hang Sung Sot Cave on the small island of Bo Hon. We can already see the yawning black hole in the rock from our junk. Lush green jungle plants hang like strands of hair over the elongated, dark cave opening. “Hobby,” I ask Ajaci to jump into the dinghy. He doesn’t need to be told twice and jumps in with a powerful leap. The two self-proclaimed allergy sufferers look at us blankly. The little boat chugs off, whereupon Ajaci howls with delight. Again, I’m met with a meaningful look from the full-bodied woman, who can’t believe that a four-legged friend is her permanent companion on this trip. Everyone else, including the boat crew, took Ajaci to their hearts from the very first second. Since we’ve been on the junk, Ajaci is constantly asked to pant into his smartphone. Because he knows what is right, he never misses a photo session. He even ingratiated himself with the captain.

As soon as we reach the ticket counter at the cave, we are greeted by a firm “Không!” (No). “Dogs are not allowed in the cave,” a Vietnamese man tells us. “Why not?” asks Tanja, to which we just shrug our shoulders. “Okay Denis, I’ll stay on the dinghy with Ajaci while you visit the cave,” Tanja suggests. “Oh well. We’ll get him in somehow,” I try to assert myself, because I know that almost anything is possible in the land of corruption. “Leave it alone. It’s too much wasted energy. I’ve seen many beautiful dripstone caves in China. One more or less doesn’t matter now. I’m going to enjoy the peace and quiet on the dinghy with Ajaci,” she says, which is why I climb the steps to the cave alone. As my small group follows our guide and I stay behind to take photos, I wander alone through the world of darkness that was once discovered by the French. Bizarre-looking stalactites hang from the cave ceiling, which is illuminated by colorful spotlights, while stalagmites grow towards them from the floor. A similar picture in many stalactite caves around the world and although we have indeed visited many caves in our travels, I am always fascinated by the artistic shapes of all kinds that Mother Nature models. Apart from that, each grotto is a different world with its own character and charisma. The main cave here is at least 30 meters high and perhaps 500 meters long. I feel as if I am in an underground city where the inhabitants of the darkness have been driven out by the many spotlights. I walk carefully on the sometimes wet and slippery paths. It’s a shame that Tanja can’t see this fascinating world, I think. “And how was it?” she asks when I’m back on the dinghy and Ajaci greets me enthusiastically as if I’d been away for months. “Very worth seeing.” “It was great for me too. I enjoyed the view of this fantasy world,” she replies in high spirits.

In the late afternoon, our junk anchors in a bay surrounded by karst hills. The dinghy takes us to a beach whose sand was supposedly artificially shipped here. “Let’s see how Ajaci likes the salt water,” I say and lure him into the sea. As he loves water, he doesn’t think twice and follows me. “Don’t drink it,” I scold him as he chugs the salty broth as if it were a tasty soup. While he leaves the suspicious-tasting water coughing, I dare to make my first attempts at swimming after my recent shoulder injury. However, I am disappointed to find that the movements are not good for me. A little dejected, I follow my dog, who uses a secluded corner of the beach to relieve himself, thus saving us trouble on board. I dry off and sit down on the sand with Tanja and Ajaci to watch the spectacular sunset. “Slowly, it’s time to continue our bike tour. The bikes are fit so far. The frame of my bike is welded but after my first cautious attempts at swimming I’m not sure if I’m able to steer a heavy bike,” I say a little sadly. “You’ll be fine. We’ll stay until you’re really strong enough again,” Tanja comforts me.

Back on board our excursion steamer, we enjoy the residual light that the sun is still shimmering over to us from the other side of the earth. The idiosyncratic mountains with their round peaks fade into the pale purple, pink and pale pink twilight. Then it is suddenly dark. The lights of other junks shine in the blackness of the approaching night. The yellow, white and blue rays are reflected by the dark surface of the sea. Laughter and music are carried over to us by a light breeze. The barman places a tray of Coca Cola and rum on a small table. “Free drinks for you,” he says with a friendly laugh. We settle down in the deckchairs on deck, drink our rum and gaze into the rain-soaked clouds that are only dimly silhouetted against the dark tropical sky and are about to part at the boat’s mast. “A nice trip,” I say dreamily, feeling the effects of the rum.

At 8 p.m., the few tables in the small ship’s mess are set for dinner. We sit at one table with a French elite soldier, an Englishman and his Vietnamese girlfriend, while the two pseudo-allergic women, another young Englishwoman and Englishmen dine at the other table. The food is excellent and the atmosphere exuberant, which is why there is a lot of drinking. Ajacis and my two friends in particular really let it rip. They tip one cocktail after the other behind the bar. “Tomorrow will be a really tough day for you,” I say as we say goodbye early and head for our bunk. “We’re tough,” they reply, cackling hysterically…

If you would like to find out more about our adventures, you can find our books under this link.

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