21/10/2013 - 22/10/2013
We were picked up from our hotel quite early. There was another couple from our hotel who were on the trip as well - Tyneil and Daniel from Australia. The bus journey to Ha Long took a few hours and we then got on a small boat to take us to the larger boat that we'd be staying on. We were allocated our bathrooms and were then served lunch. As Jamie had told them he was vegetarian, plus I'd said I don't eat seafood, we got some interesting veggie alternatives. It was all communal food, so we'd take bits of whichever dishes we fancied anyway, but the veggie squid was fascinating! It looked like tiny squids, complete with eyes. Not sure why they thought vegetarians might want their food to look like meat, plus it tasted pretty gross, but kudos for the attention to detail. Plus there were veggie shrimps that really did look like shrimps (but tasted like rubber). The pretend fish was decent though, plus all the regular dishes were good, so I'm not actually complaining about the food - we ate well.
After lunch we were back on the small boat and we went to visit Sungsot Cave (known as 'Surprise Cave'). It was pretty spectacular, plus lit really beautifully. Although there was also a part with a phallic stalactite that they'd illuminated in red and referred to as the 'happy finger'. Not quite so tasteful but amusing for sure.
After the caves there was the option of doing some kayaking, though I passed on that as I'm not a water person. We were then taken to an island where we could walk up to a lookout point and/or have a swim. It didn't take long to walk up to the lookout, though it was quite tiring. When we were back down on the beach we strangely bumped into Ruut, who'd been on our carriage on the Trans-Mongolian! She was on the same tour, with the same company, just on a different boat. Small world and all that. It was nice to catch up with her.
We then headed back to the main boat for the evening. We had a brief cooking lesson before dinner - learning how to make spring rolls. Then after dinner it was Happy Hour on cocktails, so we took advantage of that and played some cards. There was much amusement over the inclusion of 'spite' in one of the cocktails, as well as Jamie's request to inspect the milk before ordering a White Russian. That wasn't quite as mad as it sounds - it's common to be given sweetened condensed milk instead of regular milk in Vietnam.
The whole of that first day at Ha Long Bay was pretty rushed, just to fit everything in. There wasn't really time to just chill out on the boat and enjoy the scenery, which is totally beautiful. I have to confess that it was the Top Gear Special that first made me aware of the existence of Ha Long Bay - it looked amazing on TV so it was pretty exciting to actually get to see it in person. Thankfully there was more time to just chill out and enjoy it on the second day. The only other thing we did was visit a pearl farm where we ran into Ruut again.
The bus got us back to Hanoi late afternoon. We were getting the overnight train to Hue but had a few hours to kill first, so hung out at the hotel for a while and also went to have some dinner, of course. As we'd booked the Ha Long Bay tour through the hotel, they'd offered us a free taxi journey to the train station, which was really nice. Tyneil and Daniel were getting the same train (though getting off earlier), though had booked their tour independently, so hadn't been offered the free taxi deal. Still, as we'd become friends, it made sense to share the taxi, which was fine with the hotel staff. One of the guys working there carried our bags to the taxi and waved us off. However, when we arrived at the train station, he reappeared to unload our bags and pay the taxi driver. It was really shocking, he seemed to just magically appear from nowhere. Apparently he'd been following on a scooter. He then carried our bags on to the train for us. You really can't fault the level of service at Hotel 3B.
Our cabin mates were 2 independent male travellers who didn't say anything to us and pretty much went straight to bed. We assumed they were both Vietnamese. However, the next morning, the guy on the lower bunk said something in English to Jamie and clearly had an American accent. It was a bit of a shock. Thankfully we'd not said anything rude about him the previous evening when we thought he couldn't understand us! Actually we've taken to talking about people in a kind of pigeon Welsh, just because they're a lot less likely to understand that. I think we'd just said how our cabin mates didn't seem to be annoying! The verb 'to annoy' - cythruddo - has definitely been a useful one to learn. Anyway, after a night of sleep, the American was suddenly chatty, which was nice. The other guy was definitely Vietnamese.
We arrived in Hue about 2 hours late, though that did make it a more reasonable hour, so wasn't too bad.