Another rattly sleeper, a very early arrival in Hanoi (4.30 am) and a three-hour wait for a coach-ferry-coach to Cat Ba, the northern Vietnamese island which is one of the launch points for a boat tour of Halong Bay … which might just be the highlight of our tour.
The travelling was seamless and our latest digs a functional hotel in Cat Ba town. Now we’ve only seen 10% of the island so we’re not ones to comment. It could be super-lovely, but the buildings are all a bit shabbily constructed (especially as it’s a major tourist destination), there’s still plenty of poverty and lots of rubbish. But, we had a bite of lunch (all of our stomachs were crying out for meat and two veg) and then, with swimwear in hand C and I walked to the next bay (as you can’t swim in Cat Ba town as it’s a fishing port).
Mad dogs and Englishmen. It was hot but the shortish walk lovely, and the ensuing bay a bit of a building site with the infrastructure doing its best to keep up with demand. But there’s no getting away from the backdrop: those James Bond limestone islands, all pointy and sheer, topped with green, shrubby bristles. Fabulous. Leaving the builders to their sand and cement we found a well made path around the headland (with commensurately fab vistas) and stumbled across a small resort and beach which suited us.
We swam and people watched and then walked back to the hotel, at which point C was shattered and I was up for a run, so I retraced our steps … and got very hot. We had a lovely evening out, discussing holiday plans (Bex reckons we ought to take a repatriation cruise from Miami down to Tierra del Fueggo and then drive north through South America). With Scotland, Paris and Tunisia planned between now and Christmas, we have nothing to complain about. Oh, and to finish the night we found the Vietnamese version of Britain’s got talent on the harbour ftont. Some of the singers were excellent.
And then onto the highlight of the trip: two days cruising around Halong Bay. To get to the boat inevitably (for us) it was bus, small boat and then big boat – we don’t travel without a fuss – but we were piped aboard by 11 am onto a two-storey, 18-guest boat that at one point in its life was probably swish and splendid. Now, the wood panelling was a little worn, the paintwork needed, well, painting and the fixtures and fittings were not quite fixed or fitting. But squint your eyes and you could have been on a luxury cruise.
But it was fab. Our room(s) were big family affairs with two double beds and two large aspect windows onto scenery which photos cannot do justice. A lot of that was the fact that whilst it was stifling, Mrs Sun was veiled by thin cloud. It didn’t matter to us though – it was all pretty perfect.
We jumped off the side of the boat (16 feet?), with both Bex and C managing it before we finished the trip – both were v hesitant, but encouragement from the lovely, mixed-nationality crowd provided the impetus. We paddled (twice) for a couple of hours, between shear rock faces, into bat caves and through small tunnels into hidden lagoons. We ate well – the food was simple and local and v plentiful. And the company excellent. In the end, for £110 each, it was well worth every penny.
To top it all we met a lovely Danish family. He’s an electrician; his wife a kindergarten teacher, their son had just finished school. We all hit it off immediately. They have our humour and our values. We spoke about everything. And, no surprise, we had so much in common. It was never the Vikings v the Saxons, unless we were laughing about it … or messing about in the canoes.
So tell me. No, come on. Why are we leaving the EU? Denmark is in the union, but not in the Euro. That makes them even more like us? The dad couldn’t understand what we were playing at … but was still very keen that we stay. There was no anger; just sadness. That’s how friends treat you.
We are living in a mad time. Who knows how it will end. Let’s hope well for us and all of our European friends. Oh, and the US. Them too.