It’s a long drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back, but the boat trip proves to be well worth it. We slowly weave our way round countless rocky islands; they are tall and steep, lush and verdant, dramatic and other-worldly. Sizeable portions of the film Indochine were shot out here, particularly on Dau Go (“Dragon Island”).
The heavy rain has stopped just in time, and the sun makes one of its very rare showings (the two weeks are mostly spent underneath a cloudy sky, for which I am most grateful; I’m hot enough as it is, and have no wish to slather myself in protective gunk). We sit on the top deck and zone out, gazing into the middle distance with dippy smiles on our faces.
The two caves on Dau Go are cavernous and spectacular, with stalactites and stalagmites a-go-go. The first cave is illuminated with cheesy coloured lighting (which only I seem to like), and is packed with gawping boat trippers. The second cave is naturally lit, much emptier, every bit as dramatic, and much more atmospheric. Inside the second cave, K snaps away for all he’s worth; meanwhile, I have decided to leave my digicam in the suitcase until the last night. He creates “visual essays” on top quality slide film – I do cheerful point ‘n snap people shots, when we’ve all had a drink or two. I call this “complementary skills”.
The overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Hué starts off as a giggle, and ends up as an ordeal. It’s a giggle while we’re drinking beer and playing cards; it’s an ordeal when we realise that the air conditioning in our compartment is malfunctioning. Through the night, the compartment grows progressively hotter and stickier. On the top bunks, where it’s marginally cooler, Brad Pitt and I manage to doze fitfully, after a fashion. On the lower bunks, where it’s roasting, K and Jennifer Lopez get no sleep whatsoever.