My requests to the weather gods for sunshine were ignored.
Even with a combination of rain, clouds and mist, the natural beauty of Halong Bay shone through and it became obvious why it is such a heavily visited World Heritage Site.
On a three day, two night trip, there was a stark contrast between the days. As much as I like boats and tourists en masse, my sense of independent travel quickly evaporated on day one, as I followed the hundreds of other tourists in a queue, through the obligatory, but impressive, hillside caves. This was then followed by the opportunity to line up, wearing a lifejacket four sizes too big, to wait for a paddle and a kayak, to do a token 30 minute paddle around the rocks. I declined the opportunity.
The on-board night time karaoke was actually quite fun, although the Vietnamese boat crew do like to monopolise the microphone. Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" really sounds kind of cool when sung with a Vietnamese accent.
Day two was a heap of fun because it included a trip to Cat Ba Island. The island is a natural, rugged place where we cycled and walked in the rain through some gorgeous scenery before being taken to the beachside bungalows. Then it started to feel more deserted and was a great chance to enjoy some solo kayaking among incredible limestone karst formations and down fjord-like waterways. An absolute highlight for me.
Day three and it was back on the boat to cruise through the very peaceful Lan Ha Bay, before returning to Hanoi via the always-pleasant return bus trip full of weary, cramped but happy travellers (mostly).
After viewing one particular life raft on board, I was glad that the main boat had been seaworthy. The raft may have been past its prime. but made a nice decoration on the top deck.