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After a good sleep we woke just before 6am and went to our last excellent onboard breakfast at 7am. An hour or so after that we were kayaking with our new guide Tom Tom around some floating fish and oyster farms. We spent much of the time floating on the water talking to her about how she didn’t want babies and wanted to travel! It’s really interesting talking to young Vietnamese working women and how the society they are a part of is changing so radically. Tom Tom said that most men want sons to ‘carry on their blood’, and was very interested in our life choices. Our advice was to be strong and keep doing want she wants to do.

It was a misty morning, which was perfect, as we experienced the bay in a completely different atmosphere, the rock formations looming out of a white fog. We slowly kayaked back to the floating family where the kayaks were stored (dogs played on the pontoons, and the men repaired the blocks of tarpauline-wrapped polystyrene that kept everything afloat, while a sure-footed toddler waddled between the square, oyster-lined wells of open water).

Back on the Perla Dawn, we packed our bags and checked out, paying our large drinks bill! Then there was a cooking demonstration, where we all made fresh spring rolls (and ate them), before a big lunch. We seem to be constantly eating.

Soon after, the ship left Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba island and motored across thea wide strait towards Cat Hai (the island, now attached to the mainland by a new Japanese-built bridge, from which the boats go out to the tour ships), passing a succession of working ships and garbage scows. We chatted with Cuong and Tom Tom some more.

Back to the shore and our minibus, farewell hugs with Cuong, and a drive back to Hanoi with Tom Tom. A couple of hours later, after a stop at the same service stop we visited on the way out, we were back at the JM Marvellous hotel and greeted like celebrities by all the staff. They’re all like old friends! We got changed and put in some laundry to get done, and in the meantime reception got us front row seats to the evening’s traditional water puppet show.

We were about to head out for a drink and dinner when one of the staff, Lizzie (Linh), suggest a place where we could find a great street food snack, and then decided to walk us there. She is 24 and just lovely, and seemed to really take to us (several people, including her, have commented about our big smiles and open faces). Suddenly we found ourselves on a fantastic little street food tour, eating at 3 places. The first was on the pavement, where a woman deep-fried fitters of sweet potato, banana, and sweet corn. At the next spot, a narrow little alleyway, we had delicious bowls of noodles, beef and roasted garlic – and, amazingly, bumped into the owner of the 3 JM Marvellous hotels, who ate with us and then paid for our meal when she left! Finally, we went to a small tiled room off the street where we had a rice and sweet bean mixture and bowls of refreshing cold tofu.

Lizzie was fantastic and we covered a lot of topics and became close friends very quickly. We suggested she should run special street food tours!

Time for the puppet theatre; but we had a drink at the rooftop bar first, then walked through the busy, packed, exciting, brightly coloured and lit streets to Hoan Kiem lake and the theatre. An amazing, very funny and charming show, with fascinating traditional instruments (played by very talented musicians) and singing accompanying the wonderful water puppets. Really enjoyable.

We had ice cream at a cafe/bar on the waterfront, then headed back to the hotel, only stopping to check out – wait for it – a board game store that happened to be only a few streets away from the hotel. I filmed a little video for my YouTube channel the Esoteric Order of Gamers.

Back at the hotel we had a long chat with Lizzie, Fiona, and Tom (a new guy just back from a holiday in Sapa), got us all linked together via Carol’s Facebook account, and showed each other photos. This hotel is such a special place, with such wonderful people working in it.

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