We had said goodbye to Les before our train left Lao Cai last night. He had plans to trek some more in the mountains and experience home stays or camping out. This morning, after a short night's sleep (carousing Germans in our car and a wake up knock on the door at 3:30), we said goodbye to Dawn and Ross, picked up Robin and dropped off Brendan (Jadine was back in Hanoi) and drove for 3 1/2 hours to Halong Bay. On the way we stopped for breakfast and the "happy room" at a touristy factory (marble sculpture, hand embroidery, silk clothing) and then at a pearl factory where we learned the tricks to discerning real pearls from fake (use a lighter to burn the pearl, scratch the pearl on a mirror).
By now the sun was shining and we were thrilled by our accommodations on the junk. Lunch was a delicious seafood meal; a rum and orange juice drink cost $7 US, I guess justified by the white tablecloths and a seven person crew! The junk motored through the limestone peaks jutting straight up from the water to a dock. We disembarked (BC Ferry talk) and proceeded to climb up to and through several large caverns. Doug had briefed us on the expected phallic symbol bathed in red light; this is not called the Cave of Awe for nothing.
We then motored over to another dock by a beach. We ascended TiTop islet by foot; it was more than a 12% grade. At the top Paul and Doug conversed en francais with French tourists who were impressed that we had cycled throughout Vietnam. Upon reaching the beach Yvonne went for a swim in her clothes, joined by Doug having his second swim of the day. Very salty water.
Dinner again was a lovely time with Yvonne being surprised on her birthday by a cake, lovely bouquet of red roses and an enlarged signed photo of the group. Bernie, Paul and Nancy kept her supplied with red wine. Dinner was followed by dancing, with Bernie getting everyone up to boogie around the dining table. Bernie and Sharon were still dancing at 10:00 while others were enjoying the still warm night air, the stars and the magical evening.