Well I guess I should start this one with my reflections on Ha Long Bay. After a journey that took ages to get started -with our tour guide's compulsory visit to the police station- we arrived in Ha Long City (still on the mainland) where I was separated from the Aussie girl I had got talking to (as far asI could see the only other solo traveller who had come on this leg) and was sent to "boat 3".
Now on an English-speaking tour I expected a motley crew of Brits, Kiwis, Aussies, Americans and Canadians (maybe with the odd Dutch or Scandinavian thrown in) but not a bit of it. My tour group consisted of 5 Chilians, 3 Koreans, 2 Malaysians, 2 French, 2 Japanese and a German. Along with the Vietnamese crew, this made me the only native English speaker on the tour. And so began my two day career as an interpretor between Asian Second Language English and European Second Language English as the differences seemed to be huge. Personally I thought the standards of English were great, but the French couldn't understand the Vietnamese, and the Japanese couldn't understand the Chileans but other than that the conversations were fun if a little stilted. According to my lovely Korean (not very good at English) roommate and his reliable I-Phone translation, I am "bravery" for coming travelling on my own. Which is nice.
Ha Long Bay may well push Victoria Falls and the road between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng into 2nd and 3rd place into the list of places I've seen. Its hard to do the place justice in words or pictures if I'm honest. The hundreds of tiny islands make "the bay of the descending dragon"so gorgeous that I advise everyone to go. Now. Stop reading this and leave. Book the tickets and get there.
Still here? Fine then I'll keep typing. The next morning we got up and went for a walk on Cat Ba Island. At the top of the large hill there was a viewing gallery made of rust and plywood but as it was labeled "solid as a rock" up I duely went. The view was amazing. The holes in the floor and the Vietnamese Killer Hornets were not, so down I duely came.
We were then transferred to our hotel for the evening and as Youngjay had left I was put into a suite with a charming gay German couple. Now if I'm being totally honest then they probaly weren't a couple but the camp horseplay and comments gave them that air. We met up with the Aussie from the day before and then all went to the beach. Me and the Germans decided to swim out to the island in the bay that looked close. Actually it turned out to pretty far away. I was knackered (and bleeding) by the time I made it back to the shore.
That night we went out for drinks and met up with a group that some of you would have avoided like the plague --> Five French dentists. After this we went and watched some people doing rock climbing which was pretty cool. Until a chunk of the cliffside fell off. That killed the atmos a little...
The next day - after a strange meal which may well have contained dog - we headed back towards Hanoi. We moved well for two and a half hours until we hit tailbacks that went for miles. The driver seemingly used to this sort of thing switched off the engine and got out of the cab. Well when in Vietnam.... So I went for a walk along one of the busiest motorways in Vietnam. It was a strange experience, but it made for a couple of interesting sites - such as a bus full of monks, almost all on their mobile phones - presumably explaining why they were late.
We eventually got going again and passed the site of the two accidents which had delayed us - one of which looked like a pretty nasty case of motorbike meets truck - where there were men cleaning up the blood with squeegy mops and headed back to Hanoi