Hanoi was hot, like really hot (near 40 degrees, heatwave or something). No longer did I sweat, it was my body crying from the heat. This led us all into a sense of false security, since Ha Long Bay was no warmer than a cool British October, we were underdressed at best. This was our first experience of the "tour group" - going it solo would have cost countless times more and involved chartering a boat for a few days. It did mean however we got to meet some interesting characters including Jimmy from Australia, ex army lad who was excitable to say the least.
The scenery of Ha Long Bay was much like that of Yangshuo China - karst limestone peaks, but instead they rose out of the sea. Our first day of the tour involved visiting caves (which were brightly lit in every colour) and lots of cruising the seas on the boat. We saw floating villages and were set upon by a fleet of rowing fruit sellers, the most vocal of which would scream "bannanaaa, mangooo" in a style that bordered on crying, then try and charge five times their value. We didnt buy any, they
kept on screaming.
We stopped for kayaking, or what I prefer to call "The Great 2007 Boat Race When Ross And Nick Were Defeated". We nearly capsized on at least two occasions, when a game of "chicken" went horribly wrong resulting in Ross and Nick broadsiding us (Zander and I) and involving us all becoming ever so slightly wet.
The first night we stayed at a hotel on Cat Ba Island. The one road town looked optimistically built for something busy - there were four lanes for traffic but not a single car. After dinner with our new German friend we went to a very snazzy bar where we had been given a flyer for a free beer which we drank and drank well. The place had an arabic theme and we relaxed the night away on large bean bags with tasty shisha.
The following day begun with a short treck in the hills of the Cat Ba Island ( a large area of which is a UNESCO world hearitage site). Nothing testing - there was a well defined path and a tour guide to lead our 15 or so strong group. That was at least until
the guide had to leave us to lead one of the more elderly and unwell travellers back down to the bottom. The instructions were to follow the path until he caught us up. This was simple enough until at the top opinions were divided as to which route to take - the majority of the group opting for what was clearly the path, while the four of us led by Jimmy (the mad Australian) took a more challenging route to get a better view from the top. Our track somewhat dissapeared until the point where we were forging our way across the rocks and vegetation. "Do you think maybe we should turn back?"
"Naaah, the paths just over there, we'll be back in no time mate"
No time soon turned into quite some time as our scramble became less of a treck and more of a mountain climbing in revese activity, with no real idea where we were headed. At least one thing was settled - there was no going back - the several metre rock face we just climbed down stood in our way just slightly. Jimmy pushed on ahead through the forest while we clambered, shouting back occasional
words of inspiration to us such as "come on you pommy bastards". After much time, grazes, mud sweat and shouting later we were finally found by our guide and led back to the path.
In the afternoon the four of us took a trip to the fabled "monkey island". I was half expecting some kind of "Planet of the Apes" setup where the monkeys were boss and the humans did tasks for them like feed them and was pleasantly surprised to find that was in fact the case. The island was owned by a family of 10 super fat monkeys that tourists would go and feed and take photos of and occasionally be bitten for their trouble. We witnessed such an outbirst when a teenage girl from New Zealand tried to feed one such monkey some pringles from her hand. Unimpressed with the choice of flavour ("original"), the monkey instead took hold of her leg and sunk his little fangs in for the kill. To our amazement the girl walked away unfased, commenting "oh no, now I have rabies and malaria, ha ha haa". Her siblings, delighted at the action just witnessed laughed hard at her face "ha haa
- he bit you!", and her parents suggested in a matter of fact way "why dont you wash your leg in the sea dear?". Clearly their opinion of rabies and certain death without treatment within 12 hours (as our doctor relished in warned us) differed from ours so we suggested possibly she might want to get it looked at, with the idea of avoiding a fatal disease that only one recorded person in the world ever (!) has survived. "Naah, it'l be fine in the morning". We all hoped so.
That night we slept well on the boat, retreating for most part of the evening to the top deck to avoid the endless kareoke (that no one was singing along to). In the morning we would return to shore and return by bus to Hanoi, before embarking on the long drive down to Hue.
See Ross' photos here: Hanoi/Ha Long Bay
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