Published: December 5th 2007December 4th 2007
Overlook from cave
My experience in Halong Bay was pretty surreal. I look back and think that if a hidden camera show popped out at the end, I wouldn't have been surprised. I hope I can give you all a picture of what it was like...so here it goes. Sorry if this one is longer.
I arrived in Hanoi in the evening and went right to the backpacker area and quickly found a $8 room. I went to reception to book a Halong Bay tour which was the primary reason I made the effort to come to Hanoi. She tells me I'm very lucky because she has one spot on a special VIP tour. The warning bells should of gone off, but I didn't care, I just wanted to get there and see it. I paid my $30 and signed up for a 8am departure.
I was the first person to be picked up and took a window seat in the 15 seater van. The next passenger, JEN, entered and sat next to me, our shoulders were overlapping. It stayed this way for the entire 3 hour ride and no one sat next to her. She also forced me to have what
she called a "candy", but it was a menthol cough drop. As the bus filled up, I noticed a common theme, I wasn't Vietnamese. All 12 passengers in the van were Vietnamese besides me. As I started talking, they were all travel agents or invited guests for the launching of a new travel company. In other words, the hotel had a free seat on the tour and I was put on it. To my luck, most of them spoke decent English. This could be interesting.
After my quiet trip to Halong Bay, we boarded the boat and immediately sat down for lunch. I hadn't spoken more than 5 sentences up to this point. Lunch was some great seafood, but only chopsticks were provided. I thought I'd tough it out, and did for 45 seconds. The laughs came up and someone requested a fork and knife. The occurred on 4 separate occassions. I think it was on purpose just for a laugh, they staff knew I couldn't use the damn chopsticks.
We finally took off and the bay was amazing. Everything I thought it was and more, but so much more lay ahead. We stopped at a huge cave
after 2 hours of sailing. The inside was amazing and absolutely huge, but my group was interested in something else. Me being the only white guy and being 8 inches taller than everyone, they all wanted pictures with me. I must have posed in 10 pictures before it was said and done. I'd be minding my own business and they'd signal for over to jump in the middle.
Back to the boat again where me made a stop for kayaking which I passed on. The kayakers headed out and I jumped off the boat for a few minutes. I turn around and the boat is taking off. I'm stuck on this little platform with some random Vietnamese family and their dog for the next 60 minutes until the kayakers get back or the boat returns. Finally I got back on the boat for dinner. Chopstick ordeal again. As they included me in the convo, karaoke came up and I started getting nervous. I learned quickly, Vietnamese love the karaoke. For a business dinner, the company will serve food and then do karaoke, its just common practice.
9pm, the karaoke session begins. The table in front of us is
full of wine and sweets. By the way, between 12 people we drank 3 bottles over 2 hours and everyone was pretty loose...lightweights. The karaoke was pretty standard except for the background pictures. They showed scenes from coral reefs, to snow covered peaks to asian families singing karaoke together and it had absolutely nothing to do with the song. And after every song, the screen flashed a randon number which rated you somehow. Not sure how it worked, but everyone got very excited over it. I insisted on not singing, but they picked an English song and I hit the stage with, Don. We sung "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which I didn't even know. It was actually kinda fun and they all cheered for me. I sung once more with "Let It Be". Everyone joined in for a final hurrah to the night.
There are more photos below