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Terri:28/3/10 Halong Bay trip - day1

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 23 April 2010 | Views [500]

karaoke on the junk

karaoke on the junk

After a night in Bai Chay - the end of town closer to the dock for Halong Bay- we had Breakfast in the same cafe as dinner the night before. It was cheap and there was nothing to complain about but it wasn't as good as their dinner which I would highly recommend to travellers - cheap food and cheerful staff - Toan Huong at the start of Vuon Dao (no 1. in fact). There are many eateries heading up the hill here as well as the alley ways further up at great prices. I won't recommend the hotel we were in though -I can't remember the name- at $6 for a family it seemed a bargain - but at closer inspection was pretty dirty and run by crooks. Walking up the hill of Vuon Dao, it was on the corner of the first street on the right. Lay out a few extra dollars at the hotels run by friendlier women at the start of the street. The tour guide in our hotel runs around a lot of the hotels, as does an almost identical friend of his, selling tours at very inflated prices promising a better deal than you eventually get. For the record, he is very short with dirty brown teeth (should have been a giveaway to his habit that we were supporting)and always wearing a brown leather jacket. His English was very good and he talked about his little boy a lot- a bit of a salesman/charmer. Little did we know about him at this point. We anxiously waited for a late taxi to take us to the dock for our boarding at noon. Finally we were hastily packed in and before long stopping to pick up a young Spanish couple who also booked through our tout. At the dock we were introduced to our guide for the trip (outside the gates to the boats) and we were farewelled by our tour operator. After he handed money over to our new guidehe departed and  it was the last we saw of him. We were handed tickets for our journey and a visit to a cave as we lined up to make our way through the checkpoint and onto one of the many junks squashed against the pier. We noticed the cave visit was for the busy cave that we had not booked for as we had booked to visit two less touristy caves in our itinerary. This triggered a little suspicion. Then we arrived at our boat - of a different name. I notified the guide that we had booked for "Anh Binh" and this was "Discovery Oz" - he assured us that it was owned by the same company and that it was of the same standard. On we jumped to realise that we couldn't even get a seat where lunch was going to be served as a few dozen daytrippers had rushed on first. We had been told there would be no daytrippers and a maximum of 16 people on board - getting more suspicious now. We were ushered to the top deck where they set a "special" table for us and two young British boys who had also booked through the same tour operator at the same hotel as us.  Our glorious lunch of seafood was served! One fish head for the 6 of us, a few little bowls of vegies, rice and not much else - hardly enough to fill four westerners plus a couple of children with healthy apetities. Pi..ed off now, we tried not to let the changes ruin something we had looked forward to for such a long time and the kids were enjoying it. Not long after sailing and taking in the never nding crops of limestone karsts and caves, Adrian overheard  a couple say that they had paid $40 for this trip. The couple they were speaking were annoyed as they had been ripped off and paid $60. We had paid $95! I said to Adrian that maybe he misheard or they were doing a different trip to us and would be getting off at some point, but that didn't happen. Later in the day we asked about our cabin as we were told we could check in after lunch and had not been notified on board to do this. We were given our keys and were disappointed with what we found. The room was nothing like the pictures! The Bathroom was poky and dirty and there was two small beds, not the family room we had been promised and not the decor or ambience either. There was also no electricity or water. We were told this would be turned on for certain hours only so bad luck, no choice of when to have a shower or the use of your own toilet. The shared toilet was on the side deck of lower level and had a sliding door that wouldn't slide shut - glorious views from the loo but nice to have someone on guard! We were really annoyed and I felt guilty that I hadn't found our perfect Halong Cruise and Adrian felt bad because I hadn't attained what I was after - he was also a little annaoyed about the wasted money too! After a few tears, I decided that we had to make the most of it - the scenery was still the same, there were some great backpackers on board to socialise with and the kids thought everything was amazing anyhow! We stopped at Surprise Cave and despite the conveyor belt of boats coming in and out and the steady stream of traffic warmly encroaching each others body space through the passages, we enjoyed what we saw. It was a first for both children to be in a cave's chambers and they were enthralled. Also known as Hang Sung Sot, the cave has 3 chambers of which we could only visit 2 but they were beautiful even with the kitsch colourful lights spraying rainbow hues on the brain-coral looking stalagmites/ctites. It was a good build up to the interior walking up the steep entrance and through the cool loop walk, back to a wooden bridge to reboard the Discovery OZ. ( We thought the name so funny and we were the only OZ-ies) We later went through a small fishing village and stopped at a fish farm. I stayed on the boat to watch our gear as the others climbed down to the flowating platoon and witnessed the feeding of various sea life being fattened up with 'who knows what' for the market. Eventually our day trippers (all Vietnamese) were dropped off and we anchored for the evening. We expectd to be spending the afternoon and night in a stunning heltered bay but were instead only metres away from Cat Ba Island's pier! HOw serene. We did get the afternoon to ourselves though as two more junks (joined at the hip) anchored close to us later in the day - obviously they were taken to a few more sights than us. Anyhow, it gave the kids time to do a little kayaking with Adrian in a double and then they decided, with some backpackers' encouragement, to jump off the decks of the boat. Nim stuck to the first floor, Ash went to the second and Adrian and one other brave/silly sole took off from the top/third deck. The water was cold - the weather a little windy and definately cool. I was content to watch the kids' excited faces as they leapt with gusto, after snuggling up in my polar fleece jumper! We didn't expect much for dinner and we weren't bothered when a similar meal to lunch came out. We did however have some spring rolls to fight over and the sound of Thai fish cakes sounded good but they didn't taste it and no table got through them. After dinner, the friendly working couple on board tried to get people interested ina bit of partying. In the end, it was just our family and a young Dutch couple who liked a bit of singing. Others were on board playing cards or drinking a little. Well, as always happens with karaoke, the passengers start off a little shy and eventually warm up and become microphone hogs. You may think it's the alcohol that causes it but our two little ones were only on water when they took over. The playslist was a mixture of 80's music, terribly old versions of nursery rhymes and clasic love songs from the past fifty years. Nim and Ash still managed to find enough songs that they knew - be they from soundtracks (The Abba musical was handy), or from our embarassing colllection at home or from knowing the song as a modern remake. They alo knew a few Michael Jackson hits though these aren't worth attempting without Michael's singing ability. Asher did think he was just as good as Michael! They had a hoot of a time and we forgot our woes for a brief time until Adrian mentioned it all in bed again - " How could you have not known... bla bla bla." Despite the day's stresses and minor problems, we all slept well although the power and water were again turned off with little notice when we were getting ready for bed -obviously the cheap tickets that most people paid didn't cover enough power and water to be left at our disposal.

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