*MUST get blog finished ASAP of Asian trip...
Expectations high we dined at the hotel restaurant takingon ample nutrients to get us through the 3 hr drive to Ha Long Bay. Checking out but leaving our bags, we packed an overnight bag and were duly collected at 8.30am. The heat high but the car cooled by air con we set out of the city. Once the traffic thinned all bets were off as our driver hovered habitually over the centre line surging and weaving in turn through the haphazard traffic for three solid hours. Karen turned many shades of green mixed with red as the local driving technique infuriated her. The driver was lucky to escape without a good tongue lashing and follow up cuffing from behind.
As we neared Ha Long, the rain started. We were dropped off at a waiting station whe re we waited patiently for our changeover. We eyed up the other tourists and wondered which of the 600 junks that departed daily was ours. About an hour later (hungry as rabid dogs) we were ferried out to our floating palace (Ha Long Dream). The "Öne Square Meal" was handed out for medicinal use and again it saved the day.
Once on board we were revitalised by the waiting orange juice and the thought of the high seas. The rain had abated as we set sail/motor for the limestone valley.
Seated at beautifully laid out tables we waited impatiently for lunch to be served. With only seven passengers on board and more than seven staff we reveled in the peace. The 6-7 course meal was well received as was the bottle of Chilean Chardonnay ($35USD) we quaffed all too quickly.
After lunch we roamed the decks and were quickly brought to the first stop on our tour of the area to a well worn tourist route. the "Cave Walk' was outstanding. An array of carved out steps took us and around 150 other tourists on an incredible journey deep inside one of the plethora of lime structures synonomous with this area. The cave was a large as a football field and as hot as Hades. Fighting off the stuffiness I was glad to see the exit but still amazed by the experience. Herded back on board we motored off to the next destination; swimming beach.
As we clamoured to gain full immersion we were rudely stopped in our tracks and directed through the ticket booth. Unfortunately we didn't have small enough local currency, so our kindly captain (fearing impending mutiny) dipped into his own pocket for us and told us we had only 15 minutes to enjoy!
We ran to the water and swum out to the nearby buoy where I overzealously circled it and it's large abrasive chain. Bleeding and smarting I exited the water and thanked the heavens that I was travelling with my pharmacist friend and her extensive booty of products. Fearing our 15 minutes of waterplay was over we headed back and our captain ushered us to the nearby steps to partake of the hill top view.
We climbed tentatively in our jandals up the carved from rock steps where we were told by our fellow tourists of the ensuing 400+ steps to the top! Valiantly we squelched all 400 steps to the viewing platform wheezing like asthmatics. Some other German aged 'David Attenborough' type gentleman had lugged the biggest camera and tripod I had ever seen up there to take some serious panoramic shots. We paused to enjoy the fruits of our labour briefly then headed back down.
Our legs weakened by the intense climb descended in a mind of their own, wobbling and tremouring at will.
Back on board again we head to; ''Dinner Bay'' and dropped anchor with a handful of similar vessels. Calm and balmy we relaxed with blue cocktails swinging our legs freely over the front of the unfenced vessel reveling in the pre dinner peace. Staff and passengers alike swam off the boat while we smiled on approvingly.
After showering and readying ourselves from the last swim we were reluctant to enter the well used bay for another dubious dipping especially with my recently abraised skin .
The dinner was extensive with great use of the local seafood. Stuffed crab bodies, large bbq-ed king prawns presented in lovingly carved vegetables, steamed fish and fried rice gave us another good stretching. Washed down with a nice French Savvy ($39USD) we sat for awhile outside on top deck before succumbing to the results of our gluttony and turned in for the night at around 9.30pm.
The room was slightly more comfortable than the deck of crudely padded/non existent deckchairs so we extended our hunched over bodies and fumbled fervently with the stubbornly stationery air con unit. I did manage to kick it into action switching every button I could find.
We began a night of tossing and turning in the heat in our small and moderately cushioned cots. Karen restlessly paced the 2m x 2m room and hung herself out the door in an effort for a temperature respite. We dozed fitfully before we finally began speaking at 6.30am.