• 11 . 03 . 11
  • In which we tour Halong Bay, see a surprising cave and are accidentally fêted as newlyweds.

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Surprise Cave, Surprise Announcement

So we have one couple here celebrating a special occasion, Jamie and Emily who are here on their honeymoon! Cue much applause, congratulations, some cheeky grins and 2 red faces.

I should explain. No, we did not get married at sea, although as well as a captain we did have a licensed celebrant on board our Halong Bay Junk. Neither did we get secretly married in Hanoi on Emily Benjamin’s birthday. The red wine went to our heads, but not that much.

The fantastic staff at the Golden Sun Rise Hotel have helped us out with organising pretty much everything we needed out of Hanoi, so it was no surprise to find them willing and able to arrange a Halong Bay cruise, one of the staples of North Vietnamese tourism. It was however a surprise to hear the staff member tell the booking agent that it was our honeymoon.

With International Womens Day apparently falling on the day we wanted to begin the cruise (by the way, Happy International Womens Day, international women, hope you feel … emancipated!), virtually all of the nicer boats were full. So when the staff found one that had the honeymoon suite available, she just jumped at the opportunity before I could stop her.

We’d thought that would be the end of it, but just in case had worked out a convincing enough back story to explain why we A) didn’t have rings and B) were travelling for such a long time. Of course, as soon as we got independently talking to the other passengers this fell apart, and we were forced to sheepishly explain the situation to them. It proved to be a source of merriment for them this evening as the staff graciously introduced the happy couple and brought out a cake. After a few where are the rings? type comments (knowing full well that nonesuch existed, thanks guys!), we bought our fellow travellers’ respective silences for a slice each.

The rest of the night was spent answering fake questions about our fake wedding. The bridesmaids had burgundy dresses, the wedding song was “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”, the main course was Duck a l’orange and everybody danced to Thriller. It sounds like the world’s worst mashup of Youtube clips.

Earlier on, we’d arrived at the bay along, it seemed, with half of Western Europe. Halong Bay gets between 1 and 2.5 million visitors a year according to various estimates, and even with a grey day like today the dock was teeming with travellers, all lined up to board one of a flotilla of old-style boats. Once the stevedores had got our trunks in the junk, we set off into the mist and approached the silhouettes of limestone islands.

Despite the noise and bustle of the harbour, once we got underway it was very peaceful. The boat was almost silent and the people very friendly. Our room was fantastic, though I was a little disappointed that there weren’t rose petals sprinkled in the shape of a heart on the bed. The limestone islands really have to be seen to be believed and are awe-inspiring and beautiful, even through fog.

Before the sun set, we docked at Surprise Cave, which from the outside just looked like an interesting vantage point for the area. Inside was a different story though, as tremendous stalagmites and stalactites pierced the floor and ceiling of a network of caves large enough to rival the interior of Sydney’s Opera House. Surprising indeed.

As tourist destinations go, this one was magnificent. Though there were certainly lots of people, the scale of the place ensured it never felt cramped. The interesting features in the rock were picked out with coloured light to differentiate them, and the path was well-laid, smooth and even. I didn’t see a single piece of litter either.

It would be very easy to dismiss Halong Bay as the tourist trap it undoubtedly is. But we’ve found if you tour with the right company, it’s a great experience, whether you’re married, fake married or not even pretending.

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