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A lesson learned...

amongst pretty islets

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We caught a local minibus to Halong Bay and I don't know whether it was the confined space but it wasn't a very pleasant ride. A lot of Asian men are rather more concerned with their nails than Western men and tend to grow one or more to a length Cruela DeVille would be proud of. This obviously requires some up keep and they are quite happy to carry this out on the bus, nail clippers and all. It turns mine and Adam's stomach a little which made the ride a little less enjoyable.

Thankfully it was a fairly short trip in comparison to others so soon enough we were in the small seaside town of Bai Chay and we were a little surprised. Being as Halong Bay is one of the places to go in Vietnam we had both been expecting to find a town which was completely geared to meet every whim and desire of the modern tourist and obviously that it would be filled with said tourists. This however was not the case. There were plenty of hotels, but the place itself was almost entirely devoid of foreigners. We saw one coach full that was leaving but aside from that there was really no one. The fact that it's low season may have had an impact but considering the number of travellers we'd encountered every where else it was surprising.

We checked a few hotels out, some of which were fairly grim. There was a girl on a motorbike who wanted to help us but we kindly declined. In the end we struck gold and found ourselves one of the cheapest rooms we'd had in Vietnam so far. It had massive glass doors which slid open so you could step out onto the balcony which provided a wonderful view of the islets of Halong Bay. They are quite a way off shore and the mist tends to cling to them but nonetheless it was the ideal spot.

Once we were settled in we had some lunch and then went for a walk along the sea front.
We had been presuming that people would be falling over themselves to get us in a boat but this wasn't the case at all and we were slowly beginning to realise that most people didn't just turn up here on their own. At our hotel in Ha Noi they had been trying to get us on to different tours and we always declined but clearly most people don't. Therefore it is all sorted and people just get driven here and get straight on a boat, maybe spend a night on it or are transferred to a hotel. Maybe doing it ourselves was not going to be very straight forward.

The girl on the motorbike appeared again and asked us if we wanted to go on a boat but we stuck to our guns and declined. We then walked for over an hour to get to the tourist port which Adam had spotted earlier. Unfortunately it seemed this was the one time when showing up and doing it yourself was more expensive than relying on a travel agent as the man quoted us a silly price. A little disheartened we got a couple of motorbikes to take us back to the hotel. When we arrived there was a boy waiting for us in reception and he wanted to sell us a boat trip. Seeing as our options were some what limited we listened to him as he described what we could do. Our one major consideration was we had to be back in Ha Noi by 4:30pm the following day because we needed to pick up our passports from the Burmese Embassy before it closed and then we were catching a train north at 10pm.

He gave quite a good sales pitch, some what helped by us having exhausted every other option. He told us we could go out on the boat for 3 and a half to 4 hours beginning at 7am and then at between 12 and 12:15 a tourist bus could come and pick us up from our hotel and go non stop to Ha Noi and have us back by 4pm at the latest. A tourist bus didn't really appeal but it actually worked out cheaper than the local bus when considering the need for taxis at both ends and it would be quicker which would help with the time factor. After he'd finished we got up and said we would think about it and he responded in a fairly exasperated tone 'yeah, yeah' which got our backs up a little because we were genuinely going to think about it.

We decided to go out in to the town to see if we could find some other travel agents and then compare prices. It was a fruitless search though, several hotels advertised being able to sell boat trips but when we went in to ask we were meet with blank looks and shakes of the head. As we wandered from place to place we were very conscious of the girl on the motorbike who appeared to be following us. She seemed to be every where we were, at the tourist port she had been there when we got the motorbikes back in to town, some where during the course of today we had acquired an extra shadow. We suspected that some how the boy and her were linked, as they seemed to be carrying the same folder containing pictures of the boat and so on, but we only really had the one option. As we had made the effort to come here we decided that we should spend the money and go on the boat, even if the idea of an organised tour and getting a tourist bus back went against every bone in our body. We should have listened to our bones.

We managed to get the price down a bit which softened the blow slightly and he wrote us out a comprehensive receipt detailing the times of the boat and the bus, so I was fairly happy when the money was handed over. That done we went out and got some dinner. Some people at a restaurant had waved at us when we'd walked passed earlier so when they did it again it was a good enough reason for us. They were incredibly friendly and did a little to help the North in that department, although really there was no way they could beat the South. The food was really good too and we devoured everything almost as soon as it was placed in front of us. They made us spring rolls from scratch and the guy who seemed to be in charge of the cooking clearly wanted to know what we thought but was too shy to ask directly. I'd catch him looking over, trying to gauge our reaction but as soon as I looked up and smiled or tried to signal we were really enjoying it he quickly looked away. The day ended on a positive and we went to bed hoping for good things to follow.

In the morning we were up at around 6am and went downstairs for breakfast. At around 6:30am the girl showed up on the motorbike and our suspicions were confirmed as she guided us down to the road and hailed a taxi to take us to the port. The boy had said see you tomorrow but clearly now the deal had been sealed he was leaving the leg work for her. I'm not sure if she didn't really know what she was doing or whether she was just quite highly strung but she seemed to be darting off here there and everywhere, telling us to stay like we were her pet dogs. We waited obediently and allowed ourselves to be shepherded around, it's kind of par for the course when you sign up for a tour. Although when Adam asked if we would get a taxi back to our hotel after the boat trip she seemed confused and then said no we had to walk. Not exactly the complete tour package.

When we climbed on to the boat we were pleased that it slowly filled up with what appeared to be local tourists. I can't really explain why but somehow it made it all feel a little less scripted. The trips are on junk boats and as we set off so did dozens of others, all of us heading for the same place. We were now part of an extensive, photo-snapping flotilla.

First stop was a cave and every one filed off and joined a queue of people who were slowly making their way up some steps to the cave opening. Inside it was quite impressive, the rock formations were interesting and there were plenty of stalactites and stalagmites to look at. Different coloured lights; red, blue, green and so on were being used to add a bit of drama and people seemed to be loving it.
Caves are kind of lost on me a little bit especially when I have to trudge through at snails pace because a large volume of people are trying to squeeze through a small space. I was quite happy when we made it back in to daylight.

We were pretty much the first ones back on the boat, and then we sat and we waited. We mused about what people could possibly be doing and reminded ourselves that this is why we don't go on tours. Finally everyone was back on the boat and we actually started to get in amongst the islets. I'm no geographer, I hated it at school, so I'm not even going to try and provide an explanation for why they are there. They are like the tops of mountains though, just the summits poking out of the water and I wondered how far down they go.

Most of them are covered in trees and other vegetation which from afar looks like a large coverings of moss. Not to say that it wasn't pretty, or that there wasn't a kind of majestic quality to them.
When you think of how long they have been there and all the people that have gazed upon them they command a respect, one that is reserved for nature and how it has endured. It's just a shame we had to be looking at them with a bunch of other people.
Next we had a whistle stop tour of a floating fish farm. Many fisherman live out in these water villages and they catch and farm fish. Some of them were absolutely massive, I've never seen fish so big but due to people taking so long at the cave we didn't get to gape at them for too long.
Back on the boat we were heading in the direction of the port and we began to realise that our trip was over. Having been promised 3 and a half to 4 hours, it seemed we would be getting more like 2 and a half to 3.

Looking on the bright side though it meant we could get an early lunch before getting the bus and we wouldn't be starving when we got back to Ha Noi. We ate at the same place as the night before, we really had to shovel it in though because we were conscious of the bus which was due around 12pm. With a little bit of indigestion we hurried back to the hotel to wait in reception for the tourist bus. The clocked ticked by and soon it was half past 12, we asked the lady running the hotel and she said it would be here soon. Then it was 1pm and now we were really getting anxious. The journey back to Ha Noi would take between 3 and 3 and half hours and we had to be at the Burmese Embassy by 4:30pm or we wouldn't be able to get our passports and then we wouldn't be able to get our train.

The lady rang someone but didn't really say anything and we were just left to wait. It started to pour down with rain, almost as if to signify that we should accept that the gods were not on our side. Finally at around 1:30pm the girl showed up again and we walked down in the rain expecting to get on a bus, but no we just had to wait in the rain while she once again appeared not know what was going on. We tried to say we wanted a number or a business card, as we wanted to speak to the boy, as by now we were both livid. Her grasp on the English language seemed to get washed away with the rain as she replied to us in Vietnamese when we told her that the late bus was now going to mean we missed our train.

In the end she hailed a bus down and we reluctantly climbed on. The Western tourists on there must have been a bit surprised when we got on, drenched and furious. A couple of them asked us what was wrong and we explained, they were vaguely sympathetic although maybe they should have been more so as from what we gathered from the lady at the hotel we were held up by them having their lunch. We were now resigned to missing our train, there was no way we would get back in to Ha Noi by 4:30pm. We just hoped we would get a refund on our ticket.

We arrived back in the capital at around 5pm and went back to the hotel we'd stayed at before. They had a room and as soon as we'd dumped our stuff we walked to the train station. We managed to get an 80% refund on our ticket which was better than nothing. Now things had been messed up we were unsure once more about what to do, if we were to get the train the following day it would mean another arguably wasted day in Ha Noi. We decided to take the night to think on it.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 06:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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