It was back to Kangaroo cafe again for Weetbix (for me) and Vegemite toast (for Danny). We enjoyed our breakfast at a leisurely pace, thinking we had plenty of time before being picked up for our tour. Not true. The hotel had given us the wrong time, and the full bus had been waiting for a while by the time we returned. Everyone on board was clearly a little frustrated with us. Not a great start to the day. It went further downhill from here.
The tour was out to the famous Halong Bay. It was a 3.5 hour bus trip in a cramped minivan with not a whole lot to see on the way. Our tour guide tried to impress everyone on board with random facts about the countries we were all from, such as, "There are 25 million people in Australia," (close enough) and "Canada is the second biggest country" (by area; even the Canadians didn't know if this was true or not).
There are three pieces of advice I would give to anyone thinking of going to Halong Bay:
1. Go in summer. Today it was freezing cold (12°C), grey, misty and we couldn't see very far in front of us.
2. Do an overnight tour. Seven hours of travelling is a lot to do in one day and so you don't get to see much of Halong Bay.
3. Don't get on the wrong boat. We did this. We thought we followed the directions the tour guide gave us, but somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication. The guide on the boat we actually boarded noticed after 10 minutes that we didn't belong to him. His response to the situation: "This is serious". Not very reassuring. After a few minutes on the phone he returned and said, "It's okay, we sort it out". Before we knew it we were jumping boats in the middle of the bay, with nothing to bridge the gap straight down to the sea. Not exactly my idea of fun. It turned out we were still on the wrong boat, but at least it was run by the same company that we were supposed to be with.
Despite all of this, Halong Bay was fantastic. The bay was full of huge rocks coming straight out of the water (like the tour we did yesterday to the caves) and the guides pointed out all the funny shapes they could see in the rocks (which we could make out if we squinted our eyes and used our imaginations). We stopped at a floating village for far too long, and saw the huge fish they had sadly caged under their floating house. Lunch on the boat was mostly seafood, so I stuck with the spring rolls, rice and veggies. Some people chose to kayak around the area, but the scenery wasn't any more impressive from the kayak and it cost more than we were willing to spend, so we stayed on the slightly warmer boat.
Next stop was a cave in one of the rocks. We jumped off the boat (onto land this time, not another boat) and walked about 200m through the biggest and most impressive cave I had ever seen. There were masses of coloured lights set up inside, which was sort of tacky but pretty cool at the same time. Again the tour guide was pointing out shapes in the rocks to us, including Romeo and Juliet kissing (suuure). Then it was back on the (correct) boat to the wharf, where we finally met up with our original tour guide and we boarded the (correct) bus to go back home. Our tour guide felt so bad about the mix up (even though it was probably our fault) that he gave us a free hat each. Maybe we should try to become "lost" on every tour.
We arrived back in Hanoi at night and found quaint, cosy French restaurant for dinner. It was so small and homely that it didn't feel like we were in Asia any more. We ordered a cheeseburger just to have some cheese, plus a serve of extremely-alcoholic-but-still-delicious lemon crepes. Another long but (in the end) successful day.