The beautiful bay of Halong and a cat among the pigeons!

We departed this morning at 8am for our 3 day small group (14 of us in total, most of us Brits) tour to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. The journey to Halong City took about 4 hours, so we arrived at the port just in time to enjoy a beautiful lunch spread on board the ship. Without a doubt it was the tastiest and most exciting mix of food that I’ve been served on a tour since my 3 day trek in Nan with Tao.

As we left Halong City the sky was a little hazy, but the further out to sea we travelled the clearer at became. The sea wasn’t quite as blue as all the postcards suggest but Halong Bay is certainly a very beautiful place to spend a couple of days on board a ship. Imposing limestone rocks rise out of calm green waters and numerous wooden ships with tall sails and tiny one-man fishing boats are dotted across the bay. The scene is so serene it could have been painted on to canvas in front of your eyes.

Allan (the guy I met on the bus to the beach party at Nha Trang) was part of our group, along with 4 Irish guys (Simon, Colm, David and Rory), a girl called Caroline from Bristol and a girl called Anna from Bolton, all of whom have been travelling together for some time. The other 2 members of the motley crew were kiwis Anita and Anna.

Our first (and only) port of call for the day was a huge limestone cavern, whose name in English means ‘surprise cave’. Although I appreciate that the authorities have to ensure the cave is both safe and accessible in order for tourism to flourish, I did feel that the concrete floor and steps, metal handrails, coloured lighting and litter bins in the shape of penguins did make this natural wonder seem a little artificial. Nevertheless the coolness of underground was a welcome contrast to the blazing hot sun outside and we had a giggle posing with all the phallic stalagmites.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent admiring the stunning scenery from the deck of the ship, soaking up the sun, writing postcards, playing with the resident 3 month old kitten (a boat seems a strange place to house a cat, as they’re scared of water!) and exchanging travel information, advice and anecdotes with the rest of the group. When we watched the sun set it was through a partially cloudy sky, but beautiful all the same. The bodies of Rory and Allan were silhouetted against the sun as they dived into the water.

This evening after dinner, Allan took charge of some drinking games. We all sat up on the deck on cushions from the seating area downstairs and under the light of a single bulb suspended from the ship’s mast. We played a couple of card games, one of which was called ‘Down The River’ and finished up with a dice game called ‘Pigeon.’ Once you’ve played Pigeon you’ll never want to roll a dice again for as long as you live, through fear of rolling a 2 and a 1. I’ve not had as much fun with a couple of packs of cards, 2 dice and 3 bottles of vodka for a long time! Tasha is a hilarious drunk : she kept singing “Catch The Pigeon” and then proceeded to have a supposedly in depth conversation with Colm, which mostly involved her saying, “to be sure, to be sure” and, “top of the mornin’ to you”, in a semi-credible Irish accent!

Emma was pigeon for around 20 minutes and had to consume as much alcohol in that time as the rest of us did over the whole evening. She subsequently disappeared at around 10:30pm, with the intention of going to the toilet, and didn’t return. Rory was stumbling around in typical Rory style, and trying to jump off the side of the boat, and Caroline was blubbering drunkenly about the fact that she’d lost her torch.

Everyone peaked a little early I think so by around 1am most of us were asleep in our beds or passed out on the deck of the ship. I stumbled back to our room to find Emma, fully clothed, lying on her bed with her head half the way down and her legs dangling over the edge of the mattress . . .

A good night had by all!

Photos : Halong Bay at sunset

The girls at dinner (Tasha, Emma, Sam, me, Caroline and Bolton Anna)

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