Not trusting the iPhone alone to wake us up, I set two alarms. At seven a.m, both gangnam style (from the tablet), and the robot tone (from the iPhone) were kind enough to wake us in our pitch black room. Not feeling like we had a wink of sleep, we grumbled out of bed and got ready to walk to James’s place.
We had to be there for quarter to eight if we wanted to have a free breakfast, unfortunately, by the time we were prepared to leave it was already twenty to eight (I knew I should have set the alarm for quarter to seven, but, as always, Sara knows best).
In the lobby, we had to wake the young guy who worked there from his bed beside the desk. He was the nicest guy, climbing out from his covers all bleary eyed, as we frantically fondled the money we owed. With that sorted we were out in the thick of it again. This time with all of our luggage.
Every scooter passing by constantly blowing their horns, irritating me more and more. Inevitably I grabbed Sarah’s bags, so I was carrying three to her one, we finally made it to James around 7:50am.
To our surprise we were still allowed breakfast. The food hit the spot and during that time we met a guy from Scotland named Jamie, he was a tall guy standing six feet two inches, brown hair and piercing blue eyes, he was also joining us on the trip.
Not long after, we put our bags in storage then at half past eight our minibus arrived to take us on a three hour journey to the harbour.
We picked up more passengers on the way, to say it was a squeeze would be an understatement. I reckon I had around three centimetres of legroom, and was shoulder to shoulder with both Sarah and the people beside me. This made for a very hot and uncomfortable ride.
We made one stop on the way to a very nice place, where Sarah was blown away by the quality of the toilets and the hand soap inside.
With fresh smelling hands, Jamie, James, Sarah and I sat around a table enjoying some m&m’s Sarah had bought.
We continued down the road for another hour or so until we reached our destination, the harbour.
Here, our tour guide (who told us earlier his name was Popeye, he chose this name himself for two reasons, 1. He liked spinach and 2. It was easier for tourists to say) introduced us to our captain, then proceeded to sort our tickets for us.
Randomly, the girl from the airport showed up, you know, the one with the bad luck on buses. Still not knowing her name we made small talk, safe in the knowledge we weren’t sharing a boat with the cursed one, Just joking, I’m sure she’s not cursed, just has bad luck.
With each of us having a ticket in tow we followed our captain to his boat. “Thank Poseidon,” it was a decent looking vessel which was well preserved and put together. We got on one by one, aided by the crew, climbed the mini staircase, and were instructed to place our bags down then take a seat at the tables inside.
The weather was quite chilly by this point, and a cold sea breeze continued to blow in as we were told the itinerary for the day ahead. Soon after, we were given keys to our rooms where we were to take our bags then regroup at the tables again for dinner.
The cabins were very quaint inside, with two comfy beds and a bathroom hosting a giant shower head, we felt very well catered for.
We did as instructed and met back up with everyone for food, it was some of the best food we had had since being in Vietnam, and to say it was all prepared on a boat at sea, it was very impressive.
The whole time during dinner we were heading towards our first destination, a cave we were set to explore.
It didn’t take long, all of ten minutes, before we arrived at the first stop of the day.
We all jumped from the boat and followed our tour guide towards the steps which would lead us to the mouth of the beast.
Before climbing, Popeye told us the legend of how the two thousand islands came to be. He spoke of a dragon that formed valleys and crevasses with it’s flailing tail as it charged towards the coast, when it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles visible.
On the same breath, he then went on to say how geologists claim it had something to do with tectonic plate movements, I am more inclined to go with the latter explanation.
We eventually reached the top, inside the cave was very impressive indeed, there were lots of stalagtites, and stalagmites all of which had different coloured lights being shone upon them. It almost looked like Santa’s grotto given the time of year.
As we ventured deeper, we noticed the ceiling looked like it had been rubbed with several large spoons, as everywhere you looked there were dips carved into them (this was caused by the sea years ago, when the tide was high enough to breach the cave).
We continued along the path behind Popeye, where he’d stop every few yards to show us rocks which resembled different things.
There were five in total, a monkey climbing a stalagtite, Santa’s face, a laughing Buddha, a turtle, and last but not least a rock which resembled part of the male anatomy.
At one point, Jamie, James, Sarah and myself got left behind because we were too busy taking photos, eventually we caught up at the viewpoint.
Here, you could see way out across Halong Bay, to the right of us were some rocks which looked like a persons feet dangling over the edge.
With all of the conceivably imaginable photos taken, we made our way down the steps and back to the boat.
We needed to have a quick restroom break before setting sail again. Sarah was very sure she wasn’t going to use them, encouraging us to have a look to see what was discouraging her.
Inside the ladies were two toilets side by side, with no dividing wall. Meaning if you were to use one and somebody else came in you’d certainly get to know them quite quickly.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture to show you, as when we left another couple came in…. be a bit weird really if I were to take a snap when the woman was sat there.
Back on the boat, we were told it would be ten minutes before our next stop, I was looking forward to this as it entailed kayaking.
Each of us grabbed a life jacket and were seated one by one into our kayaks.
Sarah and I set off before James and Jamie, however, rowing in sync was something of an issue to begin with.
We rowed around a giant mountainous rock, erecting from the sea. We passed the boys a couple of times as well.
One time they stopped to chat, they told us what happened when they set off.
They hit into a wooden boat containing goods for sell and accidentally put a hole in it. Unsure of what damage they had truly done.
We were out on the waters for twenty five minutes before returning to Popeye.
When we climbed aboard our captains boat, it was a race against the clock to get to our next destination before sunset.
This time we only had to sail for five minutes, so, with a quick duck into our room to get out of our wet clothes, we were ready for the mini beach.
The reason for us visiting this beach? It contained a view point of the whole of Halong Bay.
However, to reach the top we had to climb about three to four hundred steps.
It was hard going, with each step burning my thigh muscles, reminding me just how out of shape I had allowed myself to become.
The higher we climbed, the more populated it was, as everyone appeared to be eager to watch the sunset, occasionally the stairs formed vertical queues, because the people ascending had to give way to the people descending.
Eventually we reached the last step to find the most breathtakingly beautiful sight we had witnessed yet. The only downside, it was filled with tourists who would ruin any pictures you’d take by photo bombing you every time (just so my nan knows, photo bombing is when people randomly walk by in the background destroying what would have been a beautiful memory).
After a while, people began dispersing and we were all able to get good shots before the sun disappeared behind the tall grey islands.
It’s funny, when you get to these beautiful viewpoints you spend so much time trying to capture a good photo than enjoying what mother nature has created upon her vast canvas for you.
Before making the descent, we asked a lady from our boat if she’d mind capturing the four of us, and our achievement of climbing so high on camera. However, after looking at the picture, we noticed a random lady, somehow, managed to photo bomb us, luckily, our photographer didn’t mind taking it again.
We returned the favour by taking her picture, then all of us walked back down the steep steps until we reached the beach.
Here, James wrote our names in the sand, while Sarah and I had funny photos taken by Jamie. We snapped up Neil Buchanan’s art attack then climbed on our boat for one last time that day.
Our next stop would be our final stop, as it would be here we’d drop anchor for the night and enjoy some fine food once again for tea.
While we were waiting for it to be cooked, Sarah and I went back to the room to put on some more layers (yes, it was actually that cold we needed to layer up).
We then sat in the dining area where we ordered a coke and waited for Jamie and James.
It turned out they weren’t in their room, instead, they were on the top floor of the boat.
We found the pair of them chatting with a group of American guys, they were from California and were very friendly and entertaining, telling us funny stories of their college lives back home.
Half an hour or so passed before Popeye told us dinner was served. We found our places at the tables and were blown away by the amount of effort that went into the food.
They had surpassed what we had for dinner by a long way, they brought out plate after plate, each one more mouth watering than the last.
Now, I’m not a seafood fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this feast. They first brought out a salad, followed by a plate with a glass upon it. There were several king prawns overhanging the edge, and inside the glass were several edible flowers, each made of carrots, potatoes, cabbage etc.
The next dish was spring rolls, then came a beef and vegetable plate, followed by stuffed chicken fillet and on that plate they had placed a tomato which had been carved into a swan. For desert they brought out slices of apples, which were carved to look like bunnies, I hadn’t had an apple since leaving home (other than in fruit shakes) and I missed it, as that used to be one of my favourite fruits.
It was a feast fit for a king, when it was all over some people called it a night and retired to their cabins, whereas Jamie, James, Sarah and I, remained at our table exchanging war stories of drunken nights out, and embarrassing incidents that had occurred.
When we were all laughed out, the four of us returned to our rooms. Where for the first time, we used the air conditioning unit for a different purpose, a somewhat alien purpose… to warm ourselves up.
That’s right, we set it to thirty one degrees, did I not mention it was cold here!!!