We woke early but didn’t move so the crew knocked on the door at 8.10 to get us up for breakfast of juice, watermelon, cheese triangles and bread. As we ate the boat cruised out of the area that the boats anchor in. The authorities insist that all the boats have to anchor in the same area so it has dozens staying over-night, all within sight of each other and with the noises from each drifting across the water. The only disappointment was that I hadn’t seen any of the phosphoresence that Ali’s friend had seen on his trip.
We headed to the “Fighting Cocks” or “Kissing” Islands which are one of the highlights of the bay and attract all the boats, who jockey for position to allow their guests to take pictures.
From the island(s) we went to one of the two floating villages in the bay to take a boat trip into more caves. I imagine that the floating villages originally survived by fishing, but now the one we visited is obviously reliant on tourism. Though it is all floating, the village has a school, government office and shops though they are hard to identify as, apart from the flag outside the government office, they look very similar to all the other single storey buildings around them.
We got on to the tender again and were taken to a pontoon where the tourists arrive to join the rowing boats that would take them round the caves. We split into three boats and ours was rowed by a small woman who rowed forwards unlike at home where we row with our backs to the direction of travel. Despite the fact that any one of us weighed much more that she did, our rower did not seem to have any difficulty propelling us along. The first cave took us into the centre of an island a bit like the centre of a volcano filled with water.
After our trip through the caves we were rowed passed much of the village and our guide pointed out her house. Some of the boats, perhaps pontoons is a better description, are made from concrete and have brick structures built on in places. Lots have dogs which we joked must be meals.
Once we got back on the big boat we made our way back to Ha Long and ate at a restaurant on the roadside. Noodle soup, shrimp, fish and fried rice. We had to wait a until 12.30 to get on the coach back to Hanoi so that the drivers etc could get their breaks. I took the opportunity to spend a fortune on a pair of flip-flops. I think it was the equivalent of 70p
The journey back was uneventful. We stopped at a different rest-stop but it was very similar to the first, lots of large marble sculptures, silk embroidery, wooden games and clothing.
We got back to the Backpackers Hostel at 4.30 in plenty of time to get picked up for the night bus to Hue. Soon after 5 a young man on a scooter turned up with a minibus following behind our bags were loaded in the back and we were loaded in the side door. Loaded is probably a better description than boarded as the minibus was already full, people ended up sat on others knees and three of us stood in the aisle next to the door, in total there were 22 of us in a 14 seater minibus with two seats already taken with bags. This apparently did not mean that the driver had to take it easy on his way to the coach.
We boarded the night coach, which despite having driven lots of buses and coaches was nothing like anything I have seen before. It was fitted with three rows of narrow reclining seats which went almost flat. The back of one going back as far as a cubby-hole type arrangement with a narrow shelf on the top with a recess for drinks and things. The space underneath was intended for passengers feet but was not designed with size 10 in mind, just as the seat was not designed for those who are 6′ 3″. There was a large bed at the back, next to the toilet, which was apparently flat but that was already taken by 3 young lads, I never bent down to see who was on the lower bunk.
Despite assurances that had been made at the hostel there were not actually any official stops on the journey except quick pull-ins to pick up more people and for the drivers to have cigarettes. The extra passengers took mats and lay on the floor between the beds, making toilet trips inconvenient. If you did manage to get to the toilet there was a pair of flip-flops waiting outside for use to prevent wet socks. At one point Karen poured a cup of vodka and orange for Jeff but the coach hit a bump as she passed it to him and he, and the Vietnamese woman lying on the floor below, ended up wearing quite a lot of it. Neither of them were happy about it, but the lady on the floor was less happy than JJ.