Halong Bay is in Northern Vietnam and consists of over 2000 limestone islands separated by calm bluey-green waters. It's an area of extreme natural beauty with many caves to explore as well as tunnels to kayak through, which lead to secret lakes trapped between deserted islands. We boarded our ship, Marguerite, on the morning of New Year's Day 2014 for a three day, two night cruise… what better way to start the year?
Our first day on board this splendid vessel began with us making political chitchat with a very attractive, Emmy-award-winning (single) journalist from London whilst dining on stuffed crabs and grilled prawns… Unfortunately, it ended with Katie walking face first into a Mind your Head sign and me rolling down the stairs in a heap.
“WHAT HAPPENED?” I hear mother Holmes and mother Moreton scream simultaneously in despair! Well, where to begin…
As you all know, Katie and I are not big drinkers, enjoying only the occasional sherry at Christmas, but when we booked our cruise ship with Tomkin we were warned that whilst gourmet food was included in the price, all drinks would cost over double that of those in England: that's why we were left with no choice but to smuggle a bottle of vodka on board.
As we climbed off the coach from Hanoi, having arrived at Halong, we were greeted by Mr Tom, a young Vietnamese man whose job was to look after us during our time on board: a role he took extremely seriously. Anything that upset us would cause him extreme discomfort, he even helped us to cross the road as we walked towards the ship, which was very nice as usually the Vietnamese just run us over.
Within moments of being on board, Katie (forever alert and on-the-ball) spotted an attractive man. She was using the secret code language only we know to get the message across,
“Laura! Laura! Twelve o'clock! I repeat twelve o'clock! I'd give him a secure 1.” (One means very good, with only Marcel ever getting higher with a minus 5).
I looked in the three, six and nine o'clock directions before she slapped me across the face and told me to stop being a gormless baffoon.
“LOOK IN FRONT OF YOU! He's the only person on the ship who's male and not balding, obese or with his wife!”
Just then Mr Tom announced we had two minutes to finish our welcome drinks, three minutes to put our bags in our rooms, one minute to relax and then we were all going out to explore a magnificent cave. The joys of being on an organised tour…
I don't have a 'Cave' setting on my camera and caves are really hard to capture adequately in image form… there were really cool bins inside it though, so this would have to be my best photo:
After the cave we climbed a mountain on a tiny island to watch the sunset, before returning to the Marguerite for the evening.
Somehow, I was sitting next to Colin (the attractive man who later turned out to be an Emmy-award-winning-journalist, please keep up!) for our return welcome drinks. No sooner had he circled his wine in his glass and sniffed it that I realised I was about to engage in conversation with someone of supreme intelligence.
Ok, so some of us are born highly knowledgeable and others are constantly striving towards it. I, falling into the latter category, realise that while it's not always possible to be intelligent it is possible to seem intelligent. Therefore, I always have a list of handy questions on standby for situations such as these. They're useful for giving the illusion of wisdom, whilst also establishing the type of person you're chatting to… For example:
“Oh, you're a political journalist. Fascinating! I'm deeply interested in politics, whilst I was in China I became aware of the huge communist presence. If you had to choose a communist leader from the past that you thought had some redeeming features, who would it be?”
Now, the judgement. If they answer someone like Pol Pot slowly begin walking away and then, at a safe distance, run in the opposite direction, throw yourself off the boat if you have to. If they answer Ho Chi Minh or Deng Xiaoping proceed with the conversation exercising extreme caution. If they say someone like Nyerere, you may be chatting to someone who's really quite interesting.
Katie soon joined in with questions of her own,
“Does anyone ever tell you, you sound just like Michael McIntyre?”
Just then Mr Tom announced dinner would be served in 3.5 minutes and that everybody had 3 minutes to get into position and 30 seconds to unfold their napkins. Sadly, Colin wasn't on our table.
Incidentally, what do you think happens when you put two very hungry backpackers (who've been living on boiled rice and bits of veg floating in soup for four months) on a cruise ship in Halong bay with gourmet food?
… They throw their chopsticks to the wind and face plant the stir fried ginger with beef?
The cruise ship staff are too clever for that. Cunningly, they place passengers in a formal setting with the food in the middle of a white-clothed table to be shared between six. And what always overrides hunger?
Neither of us were willing to disappoint our parents for the sake of a garlic infused king prawn. We offered others first, only took a smidgen here and there, made polite chitchat etc etc… Is it really surprising that after this huge feat of self restraint we needed a vodka?
The last thing I remember we were all drinking on the top deck, Colin was talking about something phenomenally fascinating and I was wondering whether it was appropriate to start taking notes. Katie was staring at him with eyes like saucers and I realised he knew the answers to all the questions we've accumulated on the trip so far.
… The next thing, the vodka bottle was empty, Katie had walked face first into the Mind Your Head sign and I had fallen down the stairs with such a thud that Mr Tom, who'd been snoozing on the bottom deck, was awake and screaming:
“Noooooo. Lau-rah! You fall-ed down the stair-es!”
Katie was laughing so much she couldn't get her camera out of her bag to get a picture and I was half way up to standing, wondering if there was any chance Colin hadn't heard, when I decided he definitely had and so to just stay there resting my forehead on a step for a moment,
“You tumble-er-ed down. Thud, thud, plop. I see-ed it! I see-ed it!”
“It's all ok! Shhhhhhh! I was just picking up my phone! We're going to bed now.”
“I see you in morning. Five-thirty sharp. Thai chi! Yes? Don't forget!”
Unfortunately, after this escapade, I fear all hopes of either Katie or me actually managing to marry Colin have now been quashed. Which is a real shame. Not just for us, but… for Yorkshire.
And that was all just in day one!
The cruise continued with: kayaks to hidden lakes, monkey spotting on a deserted island, sun bathing on the top deck and, the highlight of the second day, chatting to an 86 year old German woman called Erica, who was travelling alone and who told us all about growing up in Nazi Germany. Seriously, our IQs have rocketed.
It was a fantastic, hilarious, scenic and educational start to what we hope will be a brilliant year.
Happy New Year to you all! Katie and I wish you all the very best for 2014. X
Ps. We found out Colin had won an Emmy after a little stalking via google on our return from the cruise… we screamed continuously for 5 minutes.
PPS. We are currently in Burma and the wifi is pretty much non-existent. We will try and get this blog up to date ASAP.