Re: Spring 2013 - Page 56

After a particularly gruelling hike our group took a shortcut down a steep hillside. In theory, this should simply have involved a modest river crossing to the village below. Unbeknown to us heavy mountain rainfall had swollen the river to the point where it had become virtually impassable. Dreading the thought of an extra four miles to the nearest bridge, we crossed the fast flowing river with water up to our chins and backpacks above our heads; much to the amusement of the local villagers who gathered to watch. The final leg of the tour was a visit to Halong Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong is made up of a myriad of limestone islands. Several floating villages are occupied by sea gypsies and the passing junks of local traders while the scenery is nothing short of stunning. Cat Ba Island is the largest of 366 islands which make up the archipelago at the South East edge of Halong Bay. Approximately half is a national park, although most visitors relax on the few sandy beaches which surround the main town and visit the neighbouring islands. Seizing the last opportunity to replicate the Top Gear motorcycle tour, a few of us hired bikes. True to form, after about 20 kilometres my rear tyre burst on a remote road. As if by magic I was rescued by a passing villager who, despite the language barrier, set about repairing the damage. The end of the tour saw a return to the traffic-filled streets of Hanoi. This was probably the most stressful part of the entire trip with congestion resulting in a check in at the Malaysia Airlines desk some 30 minutes before the gate closed. Vietnam is a beautiful and diverse country with distinct cultural differences between North and South. For a nation that has endured so many years of conflict, the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. They’re also rightly proud of everything their country has to offer.” By Lee Hills 54 “ 55 Trekking in and around Sapa was the most physically demanding part of the trip, but we were rewarded by stunning scenery. “ For a nation that has endured so many years of conflict, the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. They’re also rightly proud of everything their country has to offer.