30.11.2010 - 01.12.2010 14 °C
Halong bay is one of those 'must see' things in SE asia, possibly even a must see in the world really. So we decided we must see it! Fortunately our lovely hotel booked tours, and despite them understandably trying to sell us the Deluxe, VIP, SUPER DUPER $70 tour, we decided to opt for $40, 2 days in the bay and one night on a boat, Susie's favourite!
Simply enough we got picked up from our hotel and driven the 4 hours or so towards Halong City. One the way we stopped off at the mother of all tourist traps, a traditional arts shop, in the middle of nowhere, which probably knocked a few quid off the cost of our tour. Of course we didn't buy anything and to be honest everything there you could get cheaper in Hanoi, still they had clean toilets. Only 20 minutes out of our day and we headed off again.
We were greeted from the bus by tourists who had taken the tour the day before. They looked rather bedraggled, sleepy and fed up, but we didn't take too much notice. We were told to wait for a while by our guide, and meanwhile, we were overtaken by several very organised Japanese tours (who didn't have to wait, naturally)! Next, onto a boat which "moored" by constantly running it's engine and driving its bow into the pier, mmm eco! Fortunately, we only had to hang about long enough for a random member of staff to arrive with some food and we were off!
Soon we arrived at our rather fancy "Junk".
(Susie expects this luxury on Drommie from now on!)
Several blogs and LP heavily criticise the unauthentic and touristic origins of the junks, but we found ours rather charming. It might have been contrived, but it had some charm and hey, Halong is a tourist spot, what youi gonna do?! At lunch we sat with 2 Aussies and two Scottish girls who were on a gap year teaching in Malaysia. In fact, they were on the same scheme, Project Trust, that Susie had turned down before going to York (John considers his options whether this had been for the best or not....:p)Lunch was a fairly ordinary affair but there were CHIPS! Although not nearly enough, but still.
After lunch we arrived at a pier and were pointed towards a rather large and impressive (though no Kong Lor) cave. We had heard it was often dubbed the disco cave, and we could see why as the whole thing was lit up like a giant night club! Kind of beautiful, if somewhat ridiculous. Of course the Japanese were ahead of us, but they were being told, in intricate details, about the rock formations. We declined the explanation and continued out. We visited another smaller cave and then headed back to the boat.
Next on our tour was a floating village, not unlike the ones we had seen on our Battambang - Siem Reap boat trip, only this time it was at sea! Our boat was also approached by "floating coops", ladies with rowing boats filled with crisps, drinks, fruit, you name it! Kinda cool really, too bad we weren't hungry. Our guide also pointed out that one of the rocks in this bay was on the back of a 200,000d ($10) note.
After the village we continued on our cruise along the bay for what felt like years, and the whole time all we could see, from horizon to horizon, were limestone karsts. Endlessly. John kept exclaiming, "there are too many rocks!" it was insane how many there are and for how long they continue. It was incredible. Pictures say it all.....
Eons later we moored up with every other boat in Halong bay (which is alot) and were told now was the time for swimming! By this point it was getting dark, and it was pretty cold, but John was keen (Susie less so) and an Irish guy and the Aussie from earlier were goading excessively. Of course John had to jump in off the top of the 3 storey boat.....while Susie could just about manage to slide herself in from about 1m up. Hehe it was fun, but freezing, and the water was full of oil (which John swallowed of course, as he couldn't keep his mouth shut during the drop. Tasty!)
After we dried off it was time for dinner, another indifferent affair, and I'm afraid we had to concede to tiredness and headed off to bed at around 830! Ah well early day tomorrow, kayaking!
Now this kayaking business was a bit of an enigma to us, because we'd never been told about it when we were sold the tour, but the Scottish girls had. Anyway, 6:30AM, bright and early we got up ready for a paddle. Annoyingly our boat seemed to arrive last and all the boats were already out, meaning we had to wait another 20 minutes. Not a long time, but a pain since we'd been told we had to get up early. Also it was only the company our boat had booked with that was out of canoes, there were plenty sitting around not being used, grrr. Anyway, after a while we headed off into the water, and, despite a little argument we managed to make it about as far as we could around the bay. It was really beautiful, shame about the rubbish in the water, but we did rescue a plastic bottle!
After Kayaking we were taken to a small island which had a rather nice beach and a karst to climb. It was 50,000d ($2.50) each to visit but we decided the view would be worth it. It certainly was….
Afterwards we slowly headed back to Halong city and joined a convoy of boats doing the same. It was strange because we hadn’t seen any on our first day, despite reading it was a bit like a conveyor belt, but now we could see what they meant! Though it wasn’t annoying at all, it’s not like they can make Halong Bay bigger!
Once we’d docked we found out why the tourists had been so aggravated the day before. Despite being ushered off the boat, we then had to wait 45 minutes for the bus, which would take us just 5 minutes down the road for lunch. Not cool. Lunch was pretty dire too. Meh. Finally we got on the road again (not before stopping at another tourist trap, whose saving grace was ice creams this time, which we recommended to 4 other people and saw about 10 with before we left, note to tourist trappers, ice creams, not giant statues of Buddha, no matter how happy he looks!!)
As we pulled away from the trap our tour guide got out of the bus and was replaced by another Vietnamese and an American who seemed a bit confused. A discussion followed with him being told he would be taken to the airport. Hmm…we didn’t want to go to the airport, and nor did anyone else, though he had only agreed to come on our bus because he’d been told in advance that we were all going. This was a 1.5 hour detour for us and noone was very happy about it, oh except the Vietnamese and the driver, who pocketed an above market rate, $20 for the journey. Meh nothing we could do in the end but a shame. Eventually we got back to our lovely hotel to meet a shocked and upset looking receptionist who had, the day before, promised to save our room for us. Guess what, she’d forgotten! She was quick to offer us an apology and a room in another hotel. Hmm we thought, how much is this going to cost us? $15 she said, the same as we’d had before, and she’d pay the difference. Well it was a shame, because our new hotel was technically nicer, but the staff weren’t nearly as friendly and the room didn’t have a view, but you can’t beat that for customer service!
Finally, to top off the day we’d promised ourselves a little naughty treat, after a recommendation by one of the Scottish volunteers. PIZZA HUT! It was a long walk, to a suitably faceless mall, filled with rich Vietnamese, there to buy tvs and cars and things 90% of the population can’t afford, and we did get two larges between us (which drew shocked looks from pretty much everyone) and we did take half of it home and have it for breakfast and lunch the next day, but DAMN WAS IT DELICIOUS!