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Vietnam Day 5: Halong Bay

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 26 December 2007 | Views [543]

We woke up early, around 7 am, to take our bus to Halong Bay at 7:45 am.

The bus was super crowded. It was really just a mni-van. Every seat was filled with a tourist and any other available floor space was filled with a backpack. The tour guide took a liking to me, Lianyi and Xai because, like himself, we were from ASEAN countries. His name was Tu, and he sat next to Xai. He asked Xai where we were from. Xai said Singapore and Laos.

Then he said, "Oh you all look like Vietnamese, except more handsome and more beautiful!"

Of course he was 100 percent telling the truth.

Then he asked Xai if we were friends or family and Xai said, family. He looked puzzled. "But you are from Laos and they are from Singapore?"
Yes, said Xai.
"But you come from different countries..."
"Why, is it wrong?" said Xai. He is smiling, enjoying his moment.
"No, no. Usually family come from same country."
"But we come from different country."
After a while Xai said, "We are friends. We met in school."
So then we all talked about Lao and Vietnamese kids studying in wonderful, clean Singapore. And we talked about who'd visited which ASEAN country.

The ride was about 4 hours long. Midway we stopped at a nondescript white building. It sold souvenirs and on the wall it said, "Workshop of handicapped children". Yet the souvenirs being sold here looked exactly like the souvenirs being sold in every shop in Hanoi.

While we sat there having breakfast, other tour groups to Halong Bay stopped by, and we spotted Raphael. He came and sat with us, and I offered to pay him back for the taxi ride that he shared with us but he refused to accept. He said he was really impressed by the way I walked away from the taxi driver in Hanoi when he said he had no meter. I said it was thanks to Lianyi and his repeated warnings about scammers. Lianyi asked me if that was a meta-nag, like me nagging about him nagging, but it really wasn't. Then we had to get back on the bus and that was the last we ever saw of Raphael. Cool guy.

Finally, we reached the docks of Halong Bay. There was a cool breeze and lots of tourists.

"What if, we get on our boat and out to sea, and the view is just like, tourist boats as far as the eye could see?" I said.

It was not inconceivable. From where we stood, all we could see were messy rows of tourist boats and tourists for miles and not a lot of peaceful water. We joked about this for a while, and I think each of us knew that there was a real possibility that that could be the case.

We had to wait quite a long time for our tickets but eventually we got on our boat. We had to walk down a sliver of a plank to get on. It was seriously thin. And I was carrying my sling gym bag. The Russian was scared I would fall into the water but I made it.

Once we got on the boat we felt very happy. It was a nice boat, and we were excited about what was to come.  Well, the first thing to come was a boat crash. Our boat had a lot of difficulty getting out into the open water and it kept banging into neighbouring boats and even snapping the ropes of one of them with two loud bangs.

Once the boat began moving, the staff served us lunch. It was mostly unimpressive and pretty simple. Much like the rooms on the boat. You get what you pay for lah. We were on a tight budget so we couldn't quite afford the luxury boats that serve lobsters and crabs on board. And anyway, it really didn't matter because Halong Bay itself more than made up for it.

The best part of the Halong Bay tour is sitting up on the top deck of your boat and just taking in the scenery around you. The fresh, cold air and the majestic cliffs are really something.

But every Halong Bay tour boat will make two stops at a couple of very popular caves, Sung Sot and Dau Go, where you can get off and have a quick walk inside. The limestone formations are beautiful to look at, but you wouldn't want to stay too long in the caves because they are super crowded with tourists.

After the stops at the caves, the tour boat sailed back to the jetty where we came from, and dropped off all the tourists who'd only paid for a one-day tour of Halong Bay. DON'T DO THIS. It's not worth it. The best part of Halong Bay comes after the cave tours, so you must book the two- or three-day tour.

After dropping of the day trippers, the boat continued to sail around Halong Bay and as it sailed, we soon lost sight of any other boat. We clambered up onto the top deck and watched the sun set over the bay. Beautiful.

Once night fell, it was much too cold and too dark to enjoy the top deck, so everyone went back downstairs and had dinner. We made friends with a couple of Scottish guys and played cards with them after dinner, during which Xai totally cheated and got away with it because nobody expects a Laotian liar!

Tags: halong bay, vietnam

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