The tourist business is Halong Bay’s main business it seems. Hundreds of tourists, bussed like us from Hanoi and elsewhere, embarked on a variety of junks, ranging from small to large, from junky to elegant. This is why it took so long to pick a cruise operator – there too many choices.

We boarded a small sloop, put on our orange life jackets (everything is heavily regulated) and found our way to our home for the next 24 hours, a midsize boat with, to my relief, its center of gravity at a reasonable level.

Our tour guide (Dung but call me Danny) presented the program, we got our cabins (small but comfortable), and then came up for a wonderful lunch while we wove our way between the majestic limestone rocks formations that, according to legend, represent dragons sent here to defend against the ever agressive Chinese. Slowly the pack of boats dissolved as everyone went their own own. Only a handful remained on a similar course

At lunch we learned that Axel’s helpful gesture to turn the fish after we had finished one side, brought bad luck, according to our four table mates, two of them from Singapore and the other two from Canada but all with far eastern ancestry (China, Taiwan, Thailand and Korea). That explained that after he turned it no one ate anymore fish

We stopped for a kayak outing, with rather heavily used kayaks being brought to our boat. I was a little anxious about kayaking which I haven’t done since my rotator cuff operation. Luckily we were in a double and Axel would pick up the slack when my weak arm muscles refused to work. After about an hour, and doing 30 paddles at a time, then 1 minute rest, just like my exercises, the muscles started to obey and things got better.

Hot and sweaty we went for a swim off the boat before cocktail hour arrived on the deck, followed by a cooking lesson (fresh spring rolls) that we ate on the spot. We had lively dinner conversations with our co-travelers most of whom had selected the two day/one night cruise and would leave us the next morning. Only three of us continued, Axel and I and our young solo traveler from Germany.

Squid fishing was also on the program but we were too pooped from the various activities and called it an early night. When one of the Flamish travelers told me her parents would never ever take such a trip and do such exhausting things as kayaking and swimming off a boat, I felt OK for being tired.

The next morning we climbed up the nearly 500 steps to the top of Titop Island with countless other tourists. Titop is (was?) a Russian the Vietnamese clearly revered, with an island named after him and a very Soviet looking statue of him sternly looking out over the waters in his crisp granite uniform.

Next on the program was a visit to an enormous cave, called surprise cave, presumable because the large stalagmite that stuck out like a sore thumb looked a bit like a penis, lit with red flood lights for extra effect. We learned that the French discovered the cave. I had a short experience of wriggling through a small hole in the wall into a bit of darkness. It’s not my piece of cake. I think these spelonkers are very brave.  I am sure there are thousands of caves more here, waiting to be discovered. The ones that were, up and down the country, were used to hide people and supplies at war time, probably since ancient times.

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