We caught a coach out to Halong Bay, we then took one of the dozens of tour boats that lined the dock. Luckily for us ours was a private boat so we didn’t have to cram on to one of the shuttle buses ferrying people across the bay. Still our boat followed the rest of the boats out of the bay and towards the 1,969 islands, we dropped anchor half way out to Grotte des Merveilles and had lunch which was pretty cool, seafood platter and one of my favorite Vietnamese specialties garlic chips! First stop after lunch was Grotte des Merveilles one of the largest hollow islands, the caves are full stalactites & stalagmites (Lee - I’m doing my Harry Hill impression as I type that!). The Cave is really touristy, the caves are lit up with colorful lights and we are marched through on a conveyor belt – it really ruined it, I can imagine it was a fantastic sight before we ruined it!
From Grotte des Merveilles we sailed for fourty minutes out towards Cat Ba Island, where we were staying overnight. We opted to dock on the South of the island and trek up through the National Park before we arrived at our hotel. The National Park was beautiful, at the peak there was a metal observation tower which was a blot on the stunning landscape, but it had to be climbed. It must have been a good hundred or so feet of rust steel, with a rickety staircase and missing platforms it was pretty scary but bloody hell it was worth the view!
The following day we Kayaked 3km from Cat Ba to Monkey Island, the Kayaks were twins, I got stuck with Sarah who isn’t exactly built for kayaking! I really should have been more patient, but she was actually making it worse, in the end I told her to stop paddling! Anyway despite my little strop, we made it to Monkey Island and the kayak was actually good fun, through some stunning scenery. Our guide enticed the monkeys down to the beach and where we were able to feed them nuts and bananas. Quite scary, they are viscous little w***s.
The following day we caught the Hydro Foil back to the main land, now Hydro Foil sounds quite modern, the fiberglass diesel wreck that we trusted our lives to was far from modern and fairly far removed from any vision you have of a Hydro Foil! We sailed back to a different port, taking us through the industrial heartlands of Vietnam, with huge container ports and ship building yards on either side of the river. A stark contrast to the beautiful limestone kasts that lie just a few miles away.
From the port we caught a coach back to Hanoi, through some even more industrialized areas.
Today being the 17th of March Andy & Jenna had to celebrate Paddy’s Day, so we found the only Irish bar in Hanoi, it was packed to the rafters and at $5 for a can of Guinness I made a hasty retreat to the café across the road with a few of the others where we watched from afar, drinking our $0.60 beer!
Fed up of carrying lots of crap about in my bag I had a clear out and sent a whole load of stuff home, I sent it by sea, so it’s probable that I’ll beat it back home! After the Post Offices in China, the Vietnamese postal service was a doddle!
Shame the rest of the day didn’t go so smoothly, HSBC excelled themselves. They managed to put a security hold on my account so I couldn’t withdraw any money. To add to the problem I called the bank and they told me that I had to go to a branch of HSBC to show some ID before they could release any funds. So I trawled the streets of Hanoi looking for the world’s bloody local bank! When I eventually found a branch (there are hundreds of ATMs just no sodding real people) they informed me that they work on a different computer system and that they couldn’t access my account to verify my security and unlock it. Ok I said, can I use your phone to call HSBC back in the UK? ‘No’ was the long and short of it, it would cost them too much money! In true Barlow fashion I called the manager over and she agreed I could use the phone at a cost of twenty US dollars. Having no money and no choice I agreed, knowing I would get the money back from the bank in the UK. Three phone calls to the UK and $60 later I am still no better off! Despite my lengthy conversation with the manager she couldn’t work out that as I have not been able to unlock my account I have no way to pay her the $60 for the phone calls! With a security guard hovering I agreed to try to withdraw the money from the ATM (near the door) one more time. I to pretended to use the ATM and when the staff weren’t looking I made a swift exit from the afore mention door! I ran for about four blocks, as I was unsure if my actions constituted as bank robbery??? And I wasn’t going to find out.
In a stroke of genius I called HSBC from my hotel, requested that my branch called me back. Within about 10 minutes the lovely Josie from HSBC Hadleigh had returned my call and unlocked my account. I can afford to eat again!!!
Thank god we were leaving Hanoi, I’m sure it’s a lovely city but I had had enough, what with the bank, the tour guide lack of help, the fact everything cost money, nobody wanted to barter and to top it all off because I couldn’t get my bank sorted in time I couldn’t buy the painting I liked. I really hope Hue is better.