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Published: March 4th 2016
So, what happened next... We’re getting a little behind now. As I write this we are in the north of Thailand (Chiang Mai), that’s four blogs!
As the flight to Hanoi wasn’t until late afternoon we didn’t get there until about seven or eight in the evening. The airport transfer was easy for this one though. We had booked a Halong Bay cruise for the following morning, which included an airport pick-up and transfer to your hotel by a private car. What a relief. I’m always jealous when I leave an airport and walk past all the people at departures holding up the names of people they are there to collect. Why is my name never there? Why do I keep leaving the airport armed with nothing but a bus number which I read on Trip Advisor, that was probably posted in 2006, which the bus company that used to run it has now gone bankrupt, but none of that matters because I’ve forgotten it anyway and I never bother to write it down due to my superior memory. Well guess what!? IT WAS MY TURN! Well it was actually Tina’s turn, BUT IT WAS GREAT!
Off we jump
into our luxo air-con VIP-spec Toyota (something) straight to the hotel. Here’s a really not interesting thing I’ve noticed in Vietnam... All the cars I’ve been in seem to have some kind of aftermarket condom wrap on the headlining of the roofs, never found out what it was for, smoking maybe? Who knows? Anyways, we got to the hotel about forty minutes later. It’s a good job we had the airport transfer as it was a bit of a trek.
After arriving at the hotel we dumped our stuff and went into Hanoi to get some food. Nothing spectacular here, just stopped off in a tourist type ‘local’ restaurant for an easy bit of food (spring rolls - we’re not out of Vietnam yet). After filling up we headed back and went to bed. We were up early the following day to go on the Halong Bay cruise.
The following morning we had a hotel pick-up by the tour company to take us to Halong Bay. We left our large packs at the hotel as we would be returning there the following afternoon and staying another couple of nights, so just went equipped with what was essentially an
The bus ride to Halong Bay was shit. I noticed the bus was also a condom equipped model, but this had no bearing on the experience. The bus itself was fine, it was new, it had air-con, it’s just the way people drive over here is horrible. Slow, speed up, slow, speed up, as I’ve previously said you would think the throttle was a switch you toggle on or off. After four hours of that I didn’t want to get on a boat, I was ready to vom all over (again). Not only that, you’ll start to dose off and then WHACK, you hit the condom clad ceiling as you drive through what you’d think to be a meteor crater of dinosaur destroying dimensions. I have to do this again tomorrow? Another thing worth a mention on this transfer was the toilet breaks. Normally when I’ve been on buses anywhere you stop at a service station, the same service station anyone would stop at. Not here though, here you have ‘tourist’ service stations, massive buildings wall-to-wall stacked high with over priced bollocks. Somewhere in there was a timeshare and a tempur mattress too, I just know it,
it was that kind of place. It was a wash of pushy sale-folk and a sea of white hair, pishing away their retirement money. Me though? I just need a pish and guess where the toilet was? You got it, the other side this place, of course it was.
This boat better be fucking good.
After what felt like an eternity of at least one of my ideas of hell, we finally made it to the harbour.
The boat wasn’t quite ready, we had to wait thirty minutes or so before we could climb aboard, but when we did I was surprised. I had been on a cruise before and I hated it. It was a P&O affair and again, it was just full of old folk with a lot of money vs me, an eighteen year old with no money (we got it for super cheap) so as you can imagine, I felt a little out of place for seven nights. This though, it was nice. I would almost call it... intimate. It was a good sized boat, not as big as the titanic mind you. I never measured it so you will need to look
at the pictures for an idea of scale but I’d say I had about fifty to sixty shipmates which would be joining us on this fabulous vessel.
When we first got on the boat the crew were keen to get us into the mess deck for lunch but we had enough time to quickly check out or quarters. It was nice, everything was varnished wood, uummm. Our quarters where located in the starboard side of the vessel, aft-ish, but definitely toward the stern.
Soon enough we were called out for the lunch buffet. Now we’re talking! It was amazing. I was very happy in my knowledge that we still had dinner, breakfast and then lunch to come. There was one slight issue though. We had to share a table with... STRANGERS! Awkz
Turns out they were sound and we had a lot in common. Ben was male, like me, and Kim was female, like Tina. They too were married and had no children, just like us. That’s plenty to talk about for the next four meals right? Fortunately it didn’t come to that as it turned out Ben was a real, genuine pilot! Not like a fighter
plane pilot, or God forbid, a B52 pilot, but a he was a pilot for an airline in Brunei where he lives (they were actually from Australia, mate) and flew Boeing 7-something or others. Most of the conversation for the next twenty four hours was me asking him plane questions. I asked everything. Any questions about planes, ask me because I asked it. In fact, don’t ask me anything because every answer was one of the following...“No”, “No”, “No... nothing happens and never has,” “No the plane flies itself, even take off and landing for the majority of the time”, “Emirates like to fall asleep at the stick”. One question I forgot to ask him and I’m really kicking myself about it now, was if he had ever seen a UFO or been abducted or flown through the Bermuda Triangle... ah well
After lunch we went on a small boat trip around the bay in rowing boats. There were four people per boat and it went between all the limestone karsts (look it up, I had to). It was very eerie as there were very little sounds. All you could hear was the splashing of the paddles of the
boat, no waves, no wash, no bird noise, no questions about aeroplanes... nothing. It was peaceful. We sailed though what used to be the area which was inhabited by a local population before they were turfed out when it became a world heritage site. There are a few floating houses still there to give you an idea of what it used to be like when the locals lived on these still waters. As I understand it, some people still live here to maintain the area, but only a few. It was weird seeing a dog tied in a floating house on the water. It was amusing to hear his mad echo between the karsts though. I think it thought his own echo was another dog. What an idiot.
We had been sailing for about ten to fifteen minutes through the tranquillity of Halong Bay when all of a sudden a tribal war cry broke the silence, echoing through the bay. I thought it was a Predator.
THE Predator wasn’t in sight, but instead I see the rower of another one of the boats stood up whacking the water with his ore, his crew laughing and chanting. What was
going on here then?! Turns out he had seen a big fish in the water near his boat, so naturally had to beat the shit out of it there and then. All of the other rowing boats, full of tourists by the way, started to converge on the fish, herding the fish into the shallows and into a dead end where it got a right good-hiding. I felt like a part of an organised hunt, but really I was just in for the ride. After another beating the fish was out for the count. The guy grabbed it by the gill and held it up, arms wide, with a roar of celebration. Hurrah! It was a bit of a shame really but let us not ruin the moment, for all I know the fish deserved it.
Satisfied from a bit of blood sport we headed back to the boat. We now had the option to do a bit of kayaking before dinner. Nothing I love more. Unfortunately and like a total arse I had only packed one pair of shorts. So wearing my only change of clothes I had, I jumped into the soaking wet kayak for an arseful
of water. It was a two man kayak so Tina was up front, me behind. Tina was right shit at this, she kept making us go around in circles as she couldn’t keep a synchronised pace. Further to that every time she took a stroke and pulled her ore out I got a face full of water because I was behind her. That’s if she didn’t end up hitting my ore with hers. It was a disaster. We eventually made it to the shore and immediately turned around and headed back for the boat. As we couldn’t paddle in a straight line this took ages and Tina was getting worn out. Fortunately my gym training kicked in and I got us back to the boat no bother. I even parked it first time.
I spent the next hour drying my shorts with the hair dryer in the bathroom so they were acceptable for dinner.
Not much to say about dinner other than it being amazing. It was a buffet again which meant spring rolls on tap. I had been thinking about what pilot questions I was going to ask over dinner while I was drying my shorts, so
that kept the awkwardness at bay too.
It was happy hour after dinner so time to get the beers in. After happy hour you could engage in a bit of squid fishing. Great, I love squid fishing while I’m smashed off my face.
Squid fishing was erm... Frustrating. We were doing it off the back of the boat and not a lot was happening. The crew were next to us doing some real fishing. We asked them if anyone had ever caught a squid and they just laughed. No one had. It’s just for fun apparently. Well... that was it wasn’t it. That was the carrot dangling in front of my face. “We’ll see about that,” I say to myself. Remember I’m pished.
Well guess what. While I didn’t catch a squid I did lift one two meters of out of the water before it broke free of my line. You should have heard the crew guys as I lifted it out, they were chanting and shouting encouragement in Vietnamese. When it fell, I couldn’t believe it. Nearly threw myself overboard. It was so close, I was heartbroken. Bastard.
I didn’t sleep a lot that night.
The following day was an early one. After the breakfast buffet we headed to the ‘Surprising Cave’ by boat. It was a cave, nothing surprising about it but anyway, it was fun at least. We were back on the boat two hours later where they were serving the lunch buffet at about ten in the morning. Fuck sakes, I was already stuffed from the breakfast one. Like a trooper though, I fired in again.
After lunch we sailed back to shore which took about two hours. I spent the time on the top deck, on a sun lounger, dosing and digesting a full days worth of food.
After another hateful bus journey back to Hanoi we were back at the hotel. We went into Hanoi and wandered around the lake and the surrounding area.
The following day we did sweet FA and arranged our departure from Hanoi and onto Bangkok.
Bye-bye Vietnam, what an experience you have been. Like nowhere I have ever been before. Will I be back? I’m not sure. I fear it may be a little chaotic for me, but I also fear I haven’t seen enough of it to
make that decision. Perhaps I will. This time though we’re chose not to extend our visas so had to leave before our fifteen day free entry was due to expire
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