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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 92 – Awesome Ha Long Bay

— STOP PRESS! — SUN SIGHTED OVER HA LONG BAY! — UNCONFIRMED RUMOURS OF BLUE SKY! —

It’s been a great couple of days out on a tour of Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. We were lucky enough to find ourselves with a fantastic group of people from all over the world – a Dutch couple, British couple, Aussie family and 4 crazy awesome Aussie girls. All really great company throughout the tour.

All the hopes we had for the tour were fulfilled and the efforts of the weather to improve for us really made the trip.

We arrived at our boat on the Monday around midday and while she wasn’t the fabled White Dolphin that Rob & Gilly had taken the cruise on she was a serviceable – well, pretty awesome really – craft with a hard-working crew and perfectly adequate living quarters.

After a wonderful lunch we reached a landing amongst the Karst peaks that jut from Ha Long Bay in all manner of shapes and sizes. We’d reached our first destination on the tour – a huge cave with mighty stalactites and stalagmites all lit with comparatively tasteful lighting after China’s approach in Guilin.

The scale of the cave impressed me the most – perhaps some of the photos will get this across but it’s very difficult to capture anything in the low light.

After this it was back on the boat and off to do some kayaking. I welcomed the opportunity for a bit of exercise and it was nice to go off and explore for a while. After a few false starts – including a couple of bounces of the rocks as we attempted to cruise through a cave [this was completely my fault as I started doing precisely the opposite of what I’d worked out I needed to do to steer] – we got the hang of things and got to spend a little time amongst the formations on our own.

After drying off and changing we moored elsewhere and climbed to viewing platform atop one of the limestone goliaths and were treated to a stunning panorama.

In the evening it was another feast and a chance for everyone to get to know each other a little better. Neither of the nights turned into sessions interestingly but that was probably for the best. When the imminent Milton reunion takes place there’ll be plenty of time for madness.

The next day began with a visit to a smaller, less touristy cave which proved a nice contrast to the day before. We then transferred to Cat Ba Island and checked in at a superb hotel with massive rooms. After a behemoth of a delicious lunch at a much lauded restaurant called the Green Mango it was off to discover the secret of Monkey Island.

It turns out that the secret of Monkey Island is that they hate the French.

When we first arrived there wasn’t a simian in sight and I feared the worst but after a few rustles of peanut packets the trees began to shake like a T-Rex was on its way and soon we were surrounded by them.

After a few nuts they seemed quite content to pose, play and sit comfortably amongst us. My camera was going like a Gatling Gun and they were great fun to watch.

It wasn’t long after that some French fella in a separate tour group took it upon himself to antagonise and tease the monkeys and naturally they then became much more hostile and territorial. Before we knew it Fi was set upon by two of them, aggressively after the contents of her bag. They managed to locate and unscrew a bottle of water by the time I’d calmly approached them and after a few splashes of said water and smiles – and a brief flurry of pawing at my cargo pants just to show me who was boss – we went our separate ways. They’d clearly determined I was neither French nor any other kind of enemy.

On the way back from Monkey Island we cruised through a huge floating fishing village. They fish for clams and it was a real treat to see the community going about their business as we simply drifted by.

In the evening we wandered around Cat Ba with Andrew and Emily. We enjoyed a few drinks and a late meal while sharing stories of our adventures so far. They’re on honeymoon and have given up their jobs and lives in the UK to move to Barcelona and go freelance. Andrew worked as a producer for BBC sport in London but took redundancy when the operation was moved to Salford. Emily worked in IT Marketing with some major players but they were both up for a new challenge and I’ve no doubt they’ll be successful.

Today we’re aboard a transfer boat traversing Ha Long Bay for the last time. The Kangaroo Cafe tour which we took on recommendation from Rob & Gilly – has proved to be the ideal way to experience the wonder of the place. From tomorrow it’s all about heading south for more sun, blue sky and suit fittings.