Halong Bay 9th - 10th December 2010
Halong bay is a collection of over 3,000 islands sitting off the east coast of Vietnam and I spent and a day and night sailing around them.
Unfortunately this was anything but relaxing, but it got me out of Ha Noi and it was highly entertaining, so much so I was honestly waiting for the cameras of You've been framed to appear from nowhere.
The joke in Thailand is that somehow in the unorganised chaos that everything appears to be, it somehow miraculously gets sorted.Unfortunately, the Vietnamese have not quite mastered this, so everything just remains unorganised chaos.
It started with the pick ups. I met 2 other travellers; Laura and Peter, staying in my hotel who were also going on the trip. Their pick up time was 7.30am and mine was 8am.I finally got collected at 8.20, and even though we all asked if they should be getting on the bus, the extremely rude, lanky guy (or Rodney as he is now known) shooed them away and said 'no, you wait'. To cut a very long story short, we spent another hour and 40 minutes collecting people from the tiny old quater we were all staying in (why they didn't give us a meeting point and we could have been on our way within 10 minutes, rather than it taking 2.5 hours I don't know!) Laura had at this point jumped on a motorbike taxi to go to the place they booked it as their pick up was now nearly 2 hours late, and she found us all sitting in the middle of a crossroads - I mean why not, we'd only been there 15 minutes, it's not like it's rush hour or anything, oh wait a minute. The travel agency where she booked it pointed at our van and said this was the one and then we had to go back to our hotel to pick up Peter. Seriously! Rodney even moaned at Laura saying 'Why you stay at a different hotel to your husband!', firstly they're not married, look at the names and secondly, because you can't read a pick up list she had to track you down herself! Idiot.
Anyway, the '2 hour journey' to get to the boat took a total of 4 hours, and then we had to stand around, constantly being shouted at and all told to stand in different places for another 1.5 hours! Sorry do you think this is the Army enrolment section or something? We were all stood there wondering just how difficult this can be. Some peeps were on a 2 day trip, some on a 3 day, they must have a list, so just buy the tickets, hand them out and off we go. But that would be far too simple. Rodney by this point was getting himself into a right state, and must have smoked a whole packet of cigarettes to calm himself down. At one point I had bit of an argument with him (yeah I know, unlike me! Lol) We were all told to get off the bus, and he was shouting 'who alone, who alone'. We had no idea what he was talking about as roughly half the people there were single travellers. He was marching up and down shouting and he was actually starting to turn purple. I asked him what he meant and he put his hand in my face, huffed, and walked off in the other direction. Oh dear! I was actually quite well behaved that time, I think I was more in shock at just how rude he was being, but I wasn't as well behaved when he came back and did exactly the same again! That was it, I don't care how stressed he is, don't think you're speaking to any of us like that. I shouted at him, told him not to walk away and to come back and speak to me properly, followed by 'who the bloody hell do you think you are?!' The group thought this was hilarious, and when he walked back he started waving a pink bit of paper at us all saying 'who this', errr, maybe you want to read the name out you fecking idiot - all our tickets are identical! It turned out to be Julia's, and when she said it was hers he actually shouted 'arghhh, why you not say' and walked off again in a huff!!!
He then made Julia stand by herself for half an hour, telling her she'd be on a boat separate to the rest of us, until he moodily ushered her back (didn't say she was back with us, just made her stand there). We'd all had enough by this point and went and sat down which annoyed him to no end. Then we all walked down the pier, only to be called all the way back because our transfer boat was at the dock, ready and waiting. The phrase, couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery springs to mind.
So by the time we got on the boat it's 2pm and we're all starving.Before lunch is brought out tho, Rodney introduces himself. He reckons his name is 'success'!Well beam up Scotty, cos whatever kinda cloud you're living on sounds an insane amount of delusional fun. :) So anyway 'Rodney' decides to start announcing all the fines we'll have to pay should we lose anything. This became bit of a running joke as everything we did had a fine attached to it. Here are a few examples of our fun tax; if you lose your room key it's $10 (fair enough, but he constantly went on about it), a canoe ore is US$20, a canoe is US$200 (seriously, where the f*** are we going to lose a canoe?!), there's a 10,000 Vietnam Dong corkage charge if you bring any soft drinks onto the boat, and a US$10 charge if you bring on a bottle of wine. Why is this?He reckoned it's because off of the boat the drinks are unhygienic, they are all past the expiry dates (even tho the boats sell them to the girls on the floating shops) and as they go from hot and cold and will give us disease. Awww isn't that sweet, they're worried about our health and in order to deter us they'll charge us hugely inflated fines if caught with any other drinks. Somehow I think the boat not wanting any competition on the hugely inflated prices (4 times the normal tourist price) seems slightly more likely. When we happened to mention this, he even had to audacity to say we were not to worry about the small costs on the boat as we are all tourists, so money not important! f*** right off!
We scoffed lunch down when it was finally served, which was really good and we were then given our keys. Rodney told us we had 10 minutes to drop our stuff in our cabins and then we were to meet on deck as we were going to a cave. We couldn't be late - he didn't have time to knock on all the doors and round us all up (I'd like to point out there was 14 of us and 8 rooms).
He gave us a whole 30 minutes to explore the cave and said not to be late back as they won't wait and we wont have dinner or anywhere to sleep that night. What a nice guy he is, don't you think?
The cave system was very surprising and I had a really good time. We walked up a load of steps and I could barely breathe by the time I got to the top (I really need to get fit when I'm back!) There was a gorgeous vista point over the bay we were in and then we all went inside. This cave system was amazing and we were all walking aorund it for so long we were all late back. Bad news in Rodneys books, who'd warned us we had 35 minutes and if we were late the boat would leave without us - "no dinner and no bed" he had warned. Everyone had had enough of him already and somehow we couldn't see him leaving without all of the passengers, lol.
Julia and I got a Kayak and after being warned about the fines yet again. I must admit that I'd got to the point where I started mocking him in the most sarcastic of ways possible. When he said it's $200 if we lose it, I said 'only $200, no, seriously we're tourists, it should be at least $500' he didn't have a clue what to say, so then I asked what do we pay if we sink it? If we can point to where it is on the bottom it's technically not lost, do we get a discount, especially if we have to swim all the way back. Another blank expression, hehehe. :) My mission = raging success, I must continue! :)
We got into the canoe and after crashing into the boat directly in front of us (4 times - whoops!) we finally managed to paddle out to one of the islands to watch the sun setting over the limestone peaks. This sunset rivalled the one I saw when climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, and was absolutely breath taking. The sun itself looked like Jupiter, the light was a glowing red / orange, and that in turn was highlighting the ranges of limestone peaks jutting from the sea. It was so peaceful out there and the reflection off the water made it even more surreal.
Once the sun had set it was time to get back on the boat of fun and we all went up onto the top deck to catch up. It was at this point that Rodney came bounding up the stairs and announced 'you all need shower now'. We all just laughed at him, because quite frankly his rudeness was just getting ridiculous. It would be fair enough if he was speaking broken English, but he wasn't and he knew exactly what he was saying. When we'd all stopped laughing he explained that there will only be hot water on the boat for 45 minutes, but thankfully we now had electricity so we could see in our rooms. I went to my cabin, got ready to take a shower, turned it on and it literally just dripped - and it was cold! Another wet wipe wash then, oh the joys of travelling. :)
Dinner was disgusting, everyone was still protesting at the price of drinks so I think only 4 drinks were purchased by all 14 of us, and Rodney of course couldn't help himself but to make further announcements throughout the course of dinner. Not only did he ask everyone about 5 times whether they were on the 2 or 3 day cruise, but constantly kept changing the itinerary and times for everyone. He actually really upset a French guy who in turn was trying to cause a mutiny to protest against not going to Kappa the next day. After an hour of arguing, he finally got his way but would need to transfer to another boat in the morning. We were told that the 3 dayers had to leave the boat at 8am, whilst the 2 daysers (that would be me) didn't have to leave until 11.30am. Awesome - I'll skip breakfast then and have a much needed lay in (as I've honestly reached my lifetime quota of rice and fried eggs!)
Hah, well Rodney, who nearly went overboard 3 times that morning decided to start banging on my door at 7.50am to tell me breakfast was nearly ready (seriously, you can't let everyone know when we can go to the caves but you can wake everyone up for breakfast -**** head!)I really wasn't very impressed. I told him I didn't want breakfast and was going back to bed. The second knock came at 8am, get this, to ask me what f***ing tour I was on!!! I said you've got to be kidding me, where is your god damn list?! You've asked me this at least 15 times whilst I've been on this boat - I. Am. On. A. 2. Day. Tour. Which. Means. I. Do. Not. Check. Out. Til 11.30am! Capiche. You'd think that would be the end of it. Oh no, cos 10 minutes later he knocked at my door again, and when I saw it was him I literally said, for the love of god WHAT NOW?! He looked at me and said you not want to get up? Noooooooooooo - now f*** off you lanky idiot! But apparently the boat was broken (how this had happened within the last 10 minutes and he couldn't have told me this when he woke me up the first time I don't know), and we all needed to move to another boat so this one could be fixed.
Once we transferred to the other boat we started sailing around the islands of Halong Bay and it was so nice to finally be left alone for half an hour to relax. Then we got to a 'water cave' which he demanded everyone go to as 'you're only here once, you go look at cave and pay that man $3.5'. I refused to move 1. Because how dare he order us around, and secondly cos quite frankly I've seen enough caves to last a lifetime. I actually started chatting to another tour guide who made the mistake of asking if I'd enjoyed myself and as you would expect from me, I told him exactly what I thought. Within 5 minutes Rodney had been sent upstairs to ask if I had any comments or complaints of the tour. So I told him, all very calmly which I think unnerved him even more, and he obviously wasn't use to someone giving such damming feedback, but he had single handily ruined it as much as possible and he needed to be told. I said I really wouldn't know where to begin. I told him he was rude, he looked at me like I was deranged, so I gave loads of examples. I told him the price of the drinks were extortionate and everyone feels like they're trying to steal our money just because we're tourists. I asked him if he noticed everyone refusing to buy drinks, and he said he had and that they'd only sold 25. I said to him, so in 24 hours, you've sold 1.5 drinks per person - that is ridiculous, if you just sold them for normal tourist prices, or even slightly over everyone would have been drinking as quite frankly there's nothing else to do, but we're not all on holiday in fact every single person on that boat was a backpacker and quite frankly they need to know their market and realise we can't afford it. We sat there for about 30 minutes and he actually apologised and said he would try and be more polite. Somehow I doubt it would have done anything, but I certainly felt better for saying something.
The journey back took 6.5 hours waiting at the side of a road and cramped up in a mini bus, so I was really glad to get back.
I went out for dinner that night with Laura and Peter to a really nice Vietnamese resturant but I'd started developing a migrane as so couldn't eat anything. I actually had to leave early as I felt so rough and when I got back to the hotel I was so sick, and so hot I had to lay on the tiled floor under the AC unit. A perfect end to a nightmare couple of days. My god I hope Hong Kong is better than this place!