After a breakfast of toast, jam and eggs we made our way to a Pearl Farm, where we were shown how pearls are made. For those that don’t know (and we didn’t, so it was very informative!) they have to plant a pearl nut (which is the shape of a pearl but made up of oyster shell and membrane) into the stomach and because the oyster can’t break it down or digest it, it just coats it which produces a pearl. Out of all the oysters they plant with this, 70% will die and of the 30% that are left, only 10% will produce the perfect pearl. We learnt that different types of oysters produce different colour pearls – white, yellow, black, pink and red.

All pearled out, we went back to our boat where we waited for another boat to come and collect us for the second part of our journey. Not everyone on our boat was doing the tour for 3 days so it meant we would be mixing with a different group. We jumped onto the little boat with all of our luggage and within seconds, the crew all started shouting at each other. They looked really panicked and we had no idea what was going on. All a sudden our guide started saying, ‘get off, go back on the big boat, take your luggage’ and all the crew started jumping off the boat and hurrying us off. Turns out the police had decided to get on the boat we were supposed to be getting on next which meant we would have to wait until they finished. God knows what they were doing, but we just had to do as we were told.

After an hour or so, we were allowed to board our boat and this time we made our way to another island – Cat Ba Island where we would be doing a bike ride to visit a local village. There was a Chinese woman and her family that had joined us and she was making a big fuss with our guide about the fact that they had two elderly people with them who wouldn’t be able to participate in the bike ride and could they get there some other way. He offered them a motorbike but she was even more horrified at this as she said it was too dangerous for them. She really gave the guide a hard time, firing all these questions at him. Not sure why you’d book a tour with a bike ride included if you knew some of your party wouldn’t be able to participate!

When we reached the island we jumped on the bikes and the journey began (the old couple decided to stay on the boat). The scenery was fantastic, even riding through a small cave and passing some rice fields. Once we reached the village, we were taken to a school. It was only small but still homed about 40 kids – the village only had 340 people!

After a short look round, we made our way back to the boat. It was a relatively easy journey, with only a couple of hills – but the Chinese lady still managed to fall off – TWICE! Bet the elderly couple could’ve ridden the bikes better than her. One time she fell over and was only walking with the bike!

The reflecting powers of Ha Long Bay

Back on the boat, we had another lovely lunch as we made our way to the other side of Cat Ba Island where we would be staying in a hotel for the night. This we were looking forward to – heating and a hot shower! We reached the island and got a mini bus to our hotel. We checked in, dumped our bags and decided to make our way to a viewpoint our guide had told us about. We thought it would just be a walk up a hill, a look at a view and then back down, but having been stopped to be told we needed to pay, we hoped there would be slightly more to see. Once we reached the top – after a twenty-five minute steep climb – we discovered an old army base, complete with helipad, canons and bunkers!

After exploring for around two hours, we made our way back to the hotel. It was a very quiet town as it was off-season and usually would be filled with tourists, however there was a number of dogs just wandering the streets. We’d encountered these before and they always made me nervous the way they bark and follow you down the street. Barry always said I was overreacting and that I shouldn’t show any sign of fear as they can smell it.  Never the less, whenever we passed dogs, I would always grab his arm and this time was no different. One dog just started following us down the road, Barry told me to ignore it but all of a sudden I felt its teeth hit my leg. I screamed, Barry shouted at it and kicked it in the head. It backed off. I don’t think it was actually going to bite me properly but it scared the crap out of me anyway! I think the dogs here just like to show you who’s boss, as they know they could end up on your plate otherwise!! Hanoi loves a bit of dog meat!

 

After running from the dog, we got back to our hotel, where we were served another delicious dinner and then curled up in our bed with the heater on full whack.

The final meal in Ha Long Bay

The next morning we woke up feeling a lot warmer than the previous day and got ready to leave. It was an early start – getting picked up at 7:20. We met our guide in the lobby who told us we would be getting motorbikes back to the dock – WHAT? MOTORBIKES? Barry and I had avoided them at all costs up until this point given how crazy the traffic is and that you rarely get a helmet. In this instance we felt like we had no choice, so we both jumped onto the back of two motorbikes and crossed our fingers that we would make it back in one piece.

 

We did. And it was not as bad as we originally thought it would be. Then all that was left for the rest of our tour was just a boat ride back to Ha Long City, along with a nice warm mini bus to take us back to Hanoi.

Barry and Stef on Mopeds in Vietnam