Saturday 26 June: After being overcharged on the bus I arrive in Halong city. The bay is stunning but it's school holiday time and the thin beaches of imported sand are jam-packed with Vietnam weekenders.
Sunday 27: The tourist ferry to Cat Ba Island turns out to be a Vietnamese junk cruise (56th mode of transport) and I'm persuaded to stay the night aboard as "hotels all full" in Cat Ba town. I should know better but I argue it down to $30 for an evening meal, bed in a single en-suite cabin and breakfast. This seems fine. The English couple I speak to, both detectives from Hampshire constabulary, have paid more than $400 for two-nights.
It's awful - dreadful karaoke, overpriced beer, a pushy "irritating little shit" of a guide, meagre food portions, fresh water that runs out mid-afternoon, cabin air-con that shuts down in the middle of the night and none of the World Cup football that was promised. None of the passengers are happy, a little effort would have made it so much better.
Monday 28: The emerald brown sea in the UNESCO protected bay is full of large jelly-fish, litter, scum and junks. The police couple who consider Vietnam "a shit-hole full of crooks" cut their cruise short not wanting to throw good money after bad, pay extra to get back to Hanoi and fly to Bangkok. I'm put ashore at Cai Vieng quay 18 miles from Cat Ba town, join a tour-bus group stopping for a sweaty two-hour trek in the National Park. When I eventually reach town the bars and beaches are full of local tourists but the view from my hotel balcony makes it all worthwhile.
Photos of Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island.