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Published: March 2nd 2009
Tescos branches out...
We can't believe it! We are sitting in an internet cafe with passport (plus visa), train tickets and morale all in check. What a difference a few days make! Having had a trying few days in Hanoi, we have just had an amazing long weekend cruising around the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a group of 1,969 Islands and Islets in an area of 1,500 square KM. Even without the sun, it is spectacular and we think it is a contender to rival Ko Phi Phi in natural beauty. We'd like to say nothing went wrong, but read on and thank your chosen god that we are able to write this at all....
28th February 2009
The weekend didn't start well; we were already feeling apprehensive, not only about our trip, but being without our passports and onward train tickets was clearly on our minds. This was not helped when we were picked up and informed that we weren't allowed to store our 15kg luggage at the tour operator as promised, and that we would be carrying them with us for the next few days. With impending kayaking and trekking in store, we weren't
UNESCO Heritage Vistas
best pleased. Despite this the 3.5 hour drive to Halong City went by quickly and before we knew it we had met our fellow tourists and were being ferried out to sea to board our Junk Boat, Asia Cruise. Don't let the name 'Junk Boat' decieve you, this is the name of the style of boat and it was actually pretty flashy - we agreed that our cabin was probably the nicest bedroom we had had at that point! After around 20 minutes of cruising through the islands, we sat down to a very nice lunch and realised that we would be sharing this space with some lovely people, a great mix of Irish, Finnish, Swiss and Hawaiins, which really makes a difference to any trip.
After lunch - and a couple of hours of more cruising - we docked in an alcove to explore the nearby hidden caves, which were fun as our tour guide had many a story to share of what he thought they resembled. For some, we really had to stretch our imagination. Out of the caves, we climbed into our Kayaks for a 'gentle', 'harmless' row. The fact that us 2 are still speaking is
Playing in the caves...
great testament to us we think...we left successfully enough, but as the others sailed past us a few communication 'issues' appeared! As we were debating how exactly you turn in a kayak, we sort of, kind of, accidently smashed into a local fisherman in his rowing boat. Oops. Not best pleased by this development, he tied us to his boat to inspect the damage and shout at us. A lot. After some prolongued negotiations, and international relations restored, we were set free and left at top speed to find our tour group. Our bickering could be heard from quite a distance. After working out a system of sorts, we paddled through a cave into a hidden alcove where we saw monkeys playing - which is always a treat for us!
Back on the boat it was swimming time, which meant that Hayley got to jump the 5 metres off of the top deck into the freezing water below. Daniel cheered her on.
After warm showers and hot coffees on the top deck, we headed in for dinner and an intense karaoke session, where a real highlight - of this trip and probably our lives - was Hayley doing 'Gangsta's Paradise'.
Hayley did a full gigs worth of songs, and not to be left out Daniel dug out the crowd pleasing classic, 'The Gambler'. Kenny Rogers rocks. A very fun - if a little scary - day.
1st March 2009
A new month - technically the 4th month we have been away...but actually only our 2nd...
By 0720 we were on the top deck drinking hot coffee, and reminiscing about the night before - the roar of our adoring fans etc. We transferred to the largest of the Islands in the bay, Cat Ba Island. Here we went on a 2 hour trek with our guide, Funny Monkey. Funny Monkey spoke no English, but boy could he climb a tree and generally act simian like! We hiked to a lookout point around 600feet high overlooking the vast National Park, which was spectacular.
On finishing the trek we headed toward what - for us - had made us choose this particular tour; a bungalow on a private beach, on Monkey Island. Monkey Island is two beaches on a tiny island, inhabited by.....monkeys. Our beach was guarded by 2 chubby monkeys, who cooly strolled past our bungalow leaving us in no doubt
Our bungalow on Monkey Island
about who was in charge. We doubted that it would be a truely "private" beach, but for once the brochure had come up trumps. The bungalows were perfect bamboo huts, even nicer than our cabin - so we were very happy! That afternoon we took another short hike high up over the rocks and down to the other beach, where we spotted more monkeys playing but heeded the warning of not antagonizing them!
A slight blip in the itinerary was the companies first forray into night fishing. Basically 14 people got onto a little boat, we sailed for 10 minutes in complete darkness out to sea where we sat for a further 30 minutes after the engine stopped. The sea was fairly choppy and so it was a little discerning, but things looked up when the lights came back on. We were all prepared to catch some whoppers.....but it seemed the crew were to do the fishing whilst we sat and watched. A bit odd. In their defence, realising that they may not make a big catch they had earlier been to a floating market to buy some huge clams and shrimp to BBQ for us, which were delicious!
Monkey thief on Monkey Island!
Our first experience of fishing may well be our last!
2nd March 2009
Opening the doors to our bungalow this morning, Chubby Monkey casually strolled past - pausing slightly to make eye contact with us - when our neighbours asked if we had seen one of their flip-flops. If Chubby Monkey was human, we are convinced he would have whistled innocently and given us a wink!! The rest of the morning was about climbing back aboard our cruise ship, and a gentle cruise back to Halong City. The Junk Boats move reasonably slowly, so the chances of a head-on collision are slim. Not on our boat apparently. We were sat on the top deck and saw the other Junk Boat from maybe 200 meters away. It turns out that the other boats captain was in the kitchen - and our boats captain took the 'we're bigger than them' approach. And so, we sailed straight into each other. If we were a car, we would have been on 2 wheels! Fortunately - for us! - we were in the bigger boat and pretty much destroyed the other boats main stairway. The image of the passengers on the top deck of
On Asia Cruise
the other boat hitting the deck, is in hindsight hilarious!! Please note, no one was hurt in this incident!! With 2 boat crashes in 2 days, we will take the train next time. Just to top things off, as we tried to dock in a little, little transfer boat, we were inches away from being crushed by an outcoming Junk Boat! It was great fun!
So after a busy few days, and successfully gaining all we need to enter China, we now await our overnight train for the first leg of our immense boarder crossing. To put it in to perspective, it is 1900 on Monday now, if EVERYTHING goes to plan, we hope to arrive at 2000 Tuesday evening. If things don't go well, it will be nearer Wednesday Lunch time. Wish us luck!
Love to all, wish you were here to share our fun!
H and D
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