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Terri. Halong Bay Tour - day 2. 30/3/10, then to Hanoi

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 26 April 2010 | Views [595]

Took a rotting, rocking rowboat (with an engine) into this cave, Halong Bay

Took a rotting, rocking rowboat (with an engine) into this cave, Halong Bay

Another reason to stay on Cat Ba at this time of year – in the off-peak season lovely hotels are found at ridiculously low prices and budget guesthouses are sooo cheap. Our accommodation was part of our package from the brown –toothed junkie (and we were happy with it) but we bumped into a lovely Israeli family, who had been on the junk as day tourists with us, and they had found a mid-class hotel (including the chandelier laden swish foyer) at the centre of the main street on the water at $20US for a large family room with bath and inclusive breakfast.

After an adequate breakfast at our hotel with our Dutch companions, we were collected and returned to the pier to re-embark the “Discovery Oz” – our not-so-grand old lady. As there was a little drizzle we found a seat in the covered restaurant but it didn’t take long for the skies to clear and we were taken to another fish farm – maybe it was the same one – I didn’t bother looking! Following that we stopped and were told that we could visit an outdoor cave in a rowboat and it would cost only a few dollars. We tried to get the tickets for free seeing we had paid for more than we had received but our guide said it wasn’t his doing as he was paid to take us on HIS tour schedule, so we parted with our dong and lowered ourselves into a timber, unseaworthy dinghy and sat like sardines with the other travellers- it was fun, especially when our little motor wouldn’t start and we were the only boat left behind! The seats were rotting pieces of timber planks that didn’t look much worse off than the skeleton of the vessel. After a few more pulling attempts our engine roared and spluttered and we were on our way - grateful that we had now become detached to the chain of crafts and would see inside the outdoor caves in peace. It was lovely but Adrian thought not comparable to what you can experience in Australia.  We ventured the identical route back to the mainland harbour – a part of our package was taking a different route – just another paid extra we missed out on. Get over it! For lunch, we were escorted to a large bay side restaurant that catered to the majority of returning boats. It was busy so while we were waiting for our shared meals to arrive, Adrian and the big Dutch man went looking for our brown toothed, brown jacket friends. Ours was unfortunately nowhere to be found. Frank found his but the guide was not concerned and told him to refer any problems to the nearby Police – either he knew that no one would bother with all the red tape or he was pals with the local authorities. The men returned for lunch and then we boarded a top quality mini bus with working air-con and a new guide to head for Hanoi. We spoke to the guide about our rip off deal and he immediately told us that the man we had purchased from was a local crim, that two of his brothers had died of overdoses and other family members were in jail.  He continued telling us that he owned the boat, the company, the bus we were now on and he did the package beginning and ending in Hanoi for only $40US per person for the three days inclusive of everything. He was lovely but  unable to refund us any money!

We were dropped off near Hoam Lake, at our request, and began looking for accommodation. We ended up at “Central Backpackers Hostel”, opposite St John’s Cathedral, looking for a room. As none were available until the next day, we decided to share two singles in the dorm for only $10US. The hostel had free internet, free breakfast, free tea and a happy hour when fresh draught beer from a keg was shared for free. Adrian was there and waiting each night. They also had $40, 3-day tours to Halong Bay on offer. If we had paid $40 we would have had nothing to complain about with service, food, tours and accommodation – it really is an unbelievable deal although I would advise taking some extra food and drinks to have in your room to avoid hunger or inflated snack prices on board.  As it was fairly late we went walking looking for dinner and ended up adjacent to St John’s Cathedral, eating opposite our hostel, at “La Place”. The meals were lovely though I don’t recommend the chicken coconut curry as LP advised – generally, I don’t think the Vietnamese are good at curries and it tasted like chicken, coconut and nothing else. The atmosphere was stylish and relaxing, the kids enjoyed the crayons and paper table cloths and the food was certainly appreciated after the fish heads and choko over 3 days in the Halong region.

Back in the hostel, after some time on the internet, we retired to our dorms and all had a fine sleep. Nim was with Adrian -she was the only snorer around- and I was with Ash.

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