“The 16th most beautiful place”

You lucky bastards.

I address this to the large proportion of my readers who live within the boundaries of the county of Yorkshire. How many of you knew that this year, Lonely Planet, the world’s largest and most respected publisher of travel guides and information, has voted Yorkshire on to it’s podium for ‘Greatest places to visit’ in the world. I’m serious. Not the Grand Canyon. Not the white sands and glittering blue waters of Mauritius. Not even the futuristic cityscape of Shanghai. It’s Yorkshire, a place I’ve lived for the best part of 30 years and for which, at least 29 years were spent devising ways to be somewhere other than Yorkshire.

But apparently it’s time to start appreciating your surroundings people. And perhaps shed a tear of sympathy for those of us who’ve spent the last week having to make do with the mere ’16th‘ most beautiful place in the world.

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Roche Abbey, England

Now before continuing, do me a favour readers to save me a great deal of fruitless descriptions and rambling pontifications; open Google, click on ‘image search’, type the words “Ha Long Bay”, and hit Enter.

Done it? Good. That ought to save us all some time.

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Cat Ba, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin near the Chinese border, has been our home for these last five days. And good though these photos may seem, the reality is by my calculations, approximately 637 times more stupefying. Now I agree with Lonely Planet, it’s beauty might not quite live up to that of a Friday night in Barnsley, but you’ve got to accept, there’s worse surroundings in which to while away your time.

And as we glided gently through the landscape aboard our luxury cruiser, rising at dawn to practice Tai Chi on the top deck while the sun inched it’s way over the peaks and rose high into a clear blue sky, as we ventured through sunken cave systems and traversed the mirror-flat blue lagoons by day on speed boats and timbered sailing ships, and as we sat at anchor, fishing for squid from the stern of our ship with the mountain’s silhouettes framing a perfect cloudless night sky and a trillion stars, all I could think was: “I wish it was more like Doncaster”.

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Sunrise, Ha Long Bay

And it’s hard not to feel sorry for them, as we sailed past an old gentleman smoking a cigar and fishing from a hammock outside of one of these floating houses. Because he’ll never get to see Bridlington. He’ll never be accosted by a tramp in a Thurnscoe bus station. And he’ll live his entire life without ever having the opportunity to sample a breakfast roll from the Wetherby service station on the B1124. All he has is his family, his wooden home, his motorboat, an infinite supply of fresh seafood, and his dog. And all with nothing to look at but boring old Ha Long Bay.

I’d say it’s time for some of you lucky folk to do what Lonely Planet always recommends for those people who find themselves in a more scenic location than others. You should send him a postcard. I mean it. Go out into your beautiful Yorkshire town (or mine for that matter) and photograph your very favourite boarded-up council house, public lavatory or crack-den, print it out on a postcard and mail to Nguyen (everyone in Vietnam is called ‘Nguyen’), island paradise number 3, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. That ought to brighten up his humdrum existence.

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Man on his hammock, in his house on water, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Enough sarcasm? Fair enough. I’ll return to something you might have missed: “our luxury cruise”. Luxury. Not a word synonymous with our style of travel. In fact, I think its the first time the word has cropped up in my 10 weeks of emails, whereas terms such as “budget”, “basic” and “downright-disgusting” are commonplace. But not this time, “Luxury Cruise” indeed, la-de-fucking-dah, Mr Bob Esquire if-you-please. Courtesy of an excellent Christmas present from Marie-Carmen’s mum (thanks Rosa!), we were able to dispense with our usual grotty, cheap and leaking methods of transport, because we were booked for three days aboard ‘The Emeraude’, a swanky replica of a 19th century paddle steamer.

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Sunrise, Ha Long Bay,Vietnam

Talk about a change of circumstances. In the space of an hour 

we’d moved from a rickety £6 hotel with no hot water and a mattress made from the very softest of concrete, to an ocean facing French-colonial style cruise cabin with teak decking, duck-down bedding, and something called a ‘pillow menu’ (“that’s right sir, you just choose your preferred type of pillow from the ten varieties we have in stock, and we’ll bring them up to you in a jiffy”). Not a Bia Hoi in sight either, instead a selection of imported Belgian beers washed down our 5-course gourmet meals. Though I was a little concerned about the part of the info booklet that read “Smart attire encouraged for dinner”. Sorry fellas, best I can do is some tatty old combat trousers and a bar branded t-shirt. This is the t-shirt incidentally that I won for completing the Rocket Fuel challenge in Hanoi, thanks so much for that you scumbags. Miss Marie-Carmen posts a challenge to facebook, you lot vote on it, and somehow I’m the one who has to drink eight glasses of near medicinal strength demonic home-distilled alcohol in flavours such as cinnamon, chilli and garlic!

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This I suppose, is where I might normally say ‘that’s all folks’. But on this occasion, it isn’t. Today there’s actually some news for those of you who’ve managed to read this far in to the email. Because on Thursday night, on the deserted sun deck of the ship, with only the moon and stars to illuminate the glorious bay around us, I asked Miss Marie-Carmen to marry me.

She said yes. Good job really or this letter might have ended on rather an anti-climax.


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On the whole, I’ve had worse weeks.

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