Our trip to Halong Bay began with the usual, not knowing what the hell was going on, but I guess people want to know more about Halong Bay, rather than how annoying and frustrating Vietnam can be. We boarded our boat at 11am for our 3 day two night tour and set out for a nearby island where we would see some rather large caves. First up was our first meal on the boat. There was no shortage of food, with a large quantity of fish on offer. There was also lots of vegetables and rice. Not being a fish lover I ate my way through as much veg as I could. We were still travelling with Kerry and Simon and would be with them for the whole journey. We had a few games of cards after dinner and this came in handy as we had plenty of ‘free time’ over the three days.
The caves were nothing short of impressive, with many important Vietnamese animals clearly (depends on what angle you are looking from) formed over 1000’s of years by limestone. The crowds in the cave were a bit too big and I would advise anyone to get there
early in the morning. We also got to walk in another cave without our guide and this had a lot less people in it. It still took 15 minutes to walk around the inside properly. Back on board the ship, Kerry and Simon introduced us to a card game called Phase 10. Its not played with a normal deck of cards and is it’s own game. It took us awhile to get the hang of it and soon we were addicted. A full game can last an hour or more and if anyone at home is reading this, you can get it on e-bay!!!
The boat then cruised for a few hours to where we would anchor for the night. It is also where every other boat in the bay drops anchor. The boat lights at night did add to the atmosphere, as well as being surrounded by huge limestone cliffs, jutting up out of the water. Beer on the boat was a pricey $2 a bottle, so I limited myself to two for the day. The average price in bars is around $0.90, so again we knew we were being taken for a ride. If you wanted to
open your own beer on the boat there was a $1 charge per drink. A bottle of spirits came with a $10 corkage. Considering a bottle of vodka is only $2 in the shops, the $10 charge is a bit unreasonable. The food at dinner again was plentiful but was all fish and veg.
The next morning the clouds and fog had lifted from the bay. It was impossible to get a picture of what the place looked like the previous day. Halong Bay is easily one of the most spectacular places in the world. I know I might have said that before about other places but the list keeps growing. There are nearly 2000 islands in the bay, most rising out of the sea to reach a couple of hundred metres high and about 50m wide. After sailing for a while we arrived at Cat Ba Island. We were staying at a hotel on this island for the night and we didn’t know what to expect really. On our way to the hotel we stopped of and trekked in the national park for two hours. We walked up to the highest point of the island at 250m and
then up a watch tower another 10 or 15 metres high. The views were amazing and luckily we were one of the first to arrive there. Shortly afterwards the crowds arrived. There was only enough space for 20 or so people on the top. As we were leaving it was full with about another 40, just about to reach the top. Our guide never completed the trek with us as he got a convenient phone call before the hard part began. He could have followed after us but went back down instead. He was a friendly guy, but his way of guiding was to say ‘and now we go here’. Nothing was explained to us. No local history. Nothing about the supposed 2000 fauna and 12 natural animals that live on the island. He was very poor over the three days and really was only happy when he told us we had ‘free time’.
After the trek we checked into our hotel. I asked our guide was there anyway I could get something other than fish. He said it was impossible as the food had all been bought for our tour. This I found a bit strange. I asked
could I have vegetable noodle soup, the local, and very easy to make food of Vietnam. The answer was no. I explained that I didn’t think every meal was going to be fish and that the cabbage for vegetables wasn’t quite filling me. It was basically tough s**t again. The meal was the same as the others, plentiful as ever but mainly all fish. Now for those who think I should just eat the fish, I don’t like it. I never have and I probably never will. Dinners were now starting to revolve around plain rice and cabbage for me. Some of the veg even came with seafood in it.
After lunch we went kayaking around a nearby island. My self and Michelle had done this before and it turned out to be a disaster. This was no different. We kept turning right. No matter how hard we tried the kayak kept turning right. An hour later (and a few obscenities) we promised to never kayak again. Dinner was exactly the same. A seafood lovers dream and a meat eater’s nightmare. I could eat and survive on vegetables no problem but all it was only cabbage and onions. Plan’s
were already being made for a supper dinner on our return to Hanoi. We were meant to stop at a fishing village on our way back on the last day but never did. We did pass it the previous day and only for I asked the guide what it was, we would have been none the wiser. Everyone on the boat was a bit mad at the shambles of a tour. At our seafood dinner (imagine being handed steak six times in a row, you would be sick of it) I got talking to a Chinese guy at our table who was on parts of our tour. He was clearly pee’d off at everything. He said to me ‘I like Vietnam, but….’ I knew exactly what he meant.
Anyway, Hanoi was to bring a different story. The people were friendly and polite and easy to talk too. It turned out to be our favourite place in Vietnam and we ended up spending four days there. Kerry and Simon left after the first day to go to Cambodia so we were on our own again. We met up with the Irish guys we had met in Nah Trang and had
a few Bia Hoi (cold beer). These outdoor bars are where stories are told and legends are born in Vietnam. Little plastic chairs rising 10 inches off the ground, one keg of beer and as many locals as tourists. Beer costs 3000 dong, which to me and you is a little over €0.10 a glass. A local student came over talking to myself and Michelle one evening. It was clear from the start he was there to practice his English on us and we were more than happy to help him. His English was quite good and he did ask us to correct any mistakes he made. The only thing he said was is-land instead of island. He asked me what did I think of Vietnam. I hesitated. He said, ‘it’s ok, I have talked to many tourists before’. I didn’t have the guts to say what I had really thought so he said what I was thinking. Sometimes they can be rude, rip you off, be unthankful, call you names in Vietnamese to your face. He said this was not just to tourists but to Vietnamese as well. He said everywhere he goes they try to rip him off
or fill him with lies about one thing or another. I did tell him though that the people who have nothing to sell you, are the genuine people. We talked with him for over an hour and he was very interesting. He explained to us that if he wants to make it in life he needs to learn English. He cannot afford the price of lessons so he goes to the Bia Hoi’s a few nights a week and talks to tourists. He was a qualified civil engineer and very passionate about his country but as quick to point out is faults. He said most Vietnamese think westerners are American and that is why you might get a cold shoulder. They have forgiven but not forgotten. He said every Vietnamese person has a story and it still hurts today. I enjoyed the chat with him and his dream was, to travel the world like us and to start with Vietnam first.
For all my giving out we couldn’t have met nicer people in Hanoi. The previous week we are going to put down as just a bad experience and bad luck. A bad run of things you might say.
To brand a country (as maybe I have!), after meeting a few bad eggs and getting a few dodgy buses would be wrong. Maybe I should try Marmite again.
In a bit. DH
Song of the blog: Oasis - Little by Little
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