Boat and Bungalow in Halong Bay, Vietnam
05.06.2010 - 07.06.2010 93 °F
It’s the crazy traveler again and I am sure I left off with stating how our Halong Bay tour guide arrived early and got me out a the shower. Well, let me give you the run down on the very “authentic” adventure. I use that word because although we signed up for a tour hoping to be with fellow westerners we also wanted to take in some culture. Just as we expected one thing after our long conversations with Kelly on her fun filled trip with tons of single men, well, we had a bit of a different experience. Let me paint a picture for you so that you can imagine for yourself the people on our deluxe boat in Halong Bay.
First of all, it appeared we were also going to be with fellow travelers speaking English, however, no real hot boys, rather a bunch of young kids. Okay, I can deal with that. It should be fun and make me feel youthful again (or the opposite). Once we got off the bus ride, well, things changed. We split off into two groups and I guess we picked the short straw once again but honestly I don’t recall ever picking a straw. All the westerners went on one boat and Lisa, myself and a lovey-dovey couple (appearing to speak English) went on another boat filled with 11 Vietnamese 18 year old students speaking no English but “can I use your USB cord?” Not to mention we had the boat captain’s 78 year old dad and uncle that really enjoyed their sticky rice wine and the guide’s wife that frequently was seen making herself vomit in the bathroom and not apologizing for making a massive mess in the sink, the toilets and the floor. So much for any others joining our crew as the Vietnamese group and family took up all the spots. I did feel like somewhat of a celebrity though in the fact that this one Vietnamese boy kept snapping photos of us. He liked taking “white” people pictures with his friends.
I chatted with our guide, who liked to be called “handsome guy” and he informed me just how lucky we were to be put with such a group. Maybe it was the waves or the ocean breeze but I thought he said “unlucky” so I agreed to that. When someone gives you lemons, why not make lemonade rather than a sour face? That is what we did. Turns out the couple was from Israel could only eat kosher (no seafood). We were the only real travelers on this boat so we always sat next to them, meaning, we always got loads of seafood. I didn’t eat too much as I just started eating it again but I did enjoy some squid, prawn and even a clam of some sort. The girl didn’t like veggies either so they opted to eat chips and laughing cow cheese most the time. No problem by us, we wanted the grub.
I must inform you of my favorite dinner thus far. It was “make your own fresh spring rolls” dinner on the boat. Talk about a party in my mouth!! You can put anything in those rice papers. They gave us meat, seafood, veggies, rice noodles and even pineapple. It was then and there that I decided I will make them for my family when I return to the US. If any of you reading find yourself having dinner with me, I will most likely have you try them. I enjoy them just as much as I enjoy Thai lettuce wraps at the Cheesecake Factory. Why? Because you make it to your own liking and everyone is happy. I was even telling the table you could put some nice warm fruit, perhaps some apples with caramel and make a dessert out of the it. The rice papers act as a holder for anything one chooses to stick inside. The possibilities are endless. I enjoyed some rice and pineapple after my 6 veggie ones. I couldn’t get enough as you can see I can’t stop talking about the spring rolls now. Yes, I am totally obsessed with these things. If you want a salad but have no real time to sit down and enjoy it, why not wrap it in a rice paper and eat on the go!
Moving on to our entertainment for the evening, it was a choice of a foot massage or karaoke. Now, I love to karaoke as much as the next guy but apparently not as much as the Vietnamese. They took over with all foreign songs and I attempted to have a conversation about sticky rice wine with the 78 year old man that was a captain in the war and served 35 years. I didn’t understand a word but found it entertaining to hear him try to explain the wine making process as I waited my much anticipated foot massage. Once my turn came around, I had an 8 minute massage I guess. It was more of a lower leg slap with a few seconds of actual foot “massage.” It was free so what can you expect. Time to retire to the room for some air con and sleep. Being put on this boat, there was no real mingling time with others due to the language barrier so sleepy time came early. For a second there I wanted to jump ship and go to another rocking boat that I could spot dancing and American tunes but I refrained and just enjoyed the relaxation with a cocktail in the room.
8am was the wake up call and we had some simple breakfast and packed up our bags to hit the main land for a bus trip to the national park. We were reunited with some of the westerner folks from the day before and I also met a sister duo from North Carolina. It is nice to chat with fellow Americans every now and then. Once at the park we were given the option to trek or cycle. I chose the 11km cycle because I wanted to see the “hospital” cave used in the Vietnam War and never discovered by the Americans. This cave took 3 years to build and was used for 10 years. It was filled with operation rooms, meeting rooms, a large cinema room and even a small pool. I know what you may think, kind of odd for a hospital cave to have a cinema and a pool, right? Indeed. Maybe the guide just told us that to make it seem more exciting. He also showed us an area that he claimed was used to “practice” fighting and that you have to duck down back and forth through a lowered section of the cave. I gave it a go and tried it but thinking back it did seem strange to have that as well.
After our 11km cycle with our single geared bikes, we met back up with the other half that did the trek and made our way to Cat Ba pier and on the boat again to Monkey Island where we would have lunch and stay for the evening in bungalows. I took in a little beach lounge time then trekked up to see the only monkey on the island with the other American girls, Isabella and Eva. We made our way back down to the beach just in time for “happy hour” on the floating bar. HILARIOUS! Basically, the floating bar was a dingy that said “bar” on the side and our guide inside it with a bucket of some alcoholic punch. It was a great way to get everyone in the water and on tubes to paddle out to him for our free cocktail. Everyone began to mingle and just enjoyed the water with some refreshments. There was one couple from Germany who wanted to stay on the island badly but no more bungalows were left. Phuk offered them a tent and I knew they had no shower. I ran it by Lisa before but offered them our place to shower before dinner. Traveling in a camper van for a month in Australia I really knew the importance of a nice shower every now and again. The offer was out there but they said they didn’t need one.
Beach time is done and back to our bungalow to rest up and shower. We also made a little cocktail for ourselves and just chatted a bit when all of a sudden we had a knock on our door. The Germans wanted a shower after all. No worries. We stayed towards the front and let them shower in the bathroom. Who can deny someone’s wanting to be clean?
BBQ dinner up next. Yippie! Lisa and I ate with the 2 American girls and can’t say I left the table hungry. This girl was stuffed. We chatted a bit before they other girls called it an early night and Lisa and I sipped some of our homemade cocktails before mingling with others at the beach. Turns out the Germans were very cheeky. Ok, so I told the German girl how I used to go to campsites with my van in Australia and sneak a shower. It’s not that bad, it’s a shower. I guess she thought I wouldn’t mind her telling me what she all did. I was in shock and Lisa couldn’t even speak to her after what she all said. Basically, they not only took showers at campsites but would sneak in and use the power for their van, then break the laundry machines to wash clothes. I couldn’t believe it. They did this night after night and what really got to me was when she said they would go into the community kitchens and steal food. That’s where I draw the line. Once you’ve messed with my food, it’s over as far as I am concerned. You have to think that the people you steal from are no different and just trying to travel on a budget as well. Not to mention that comment brought back memories of someone stealing my food in Melbourne. Not cool. The girl was a bit drunk and that is why I think she rambled on so much but I will say that I kept a very close eye out for my things after that and I was so glad that we didn’t leave them alone in our bungalow to shower. She didn’t deserve my good deed of giving them a shower.
It’s nearly 1am and I was off to bed for a great night sleep in the air con bungalow. The rain started to come down at 3am and I love sleeping in the rain. I also had a laugh because the Germans were in a tent outside. What goes around comes around I like to think. The next day we had breakfast and then it was making our way back to Hanoi where we would later catch a night train to Sapa. Yes, a very long day of transport by boat to bus to boat to bus to chilling in Hanoi before a night train to begin a new adventure. We stopped off for lunch before the final bus ride and because we had a night train to catch our guide put Lisa and I on another bus that would get back to Hanoi faster. Lesson learned once again, never change buses. We were on a nice greyhound type bus but were moved to a local mini van packed with people and a very crazy driver. I tried to sleep while Lisa was crammed in the back seat with 5 others and spotted a dead body out the window. Not to mention, we did not get to Hanoi any quicker than the original bus. I guess “handsome guy” just thought it would be amusing to mess with some westerners once again. It is 5pm and rainy and we just dropped our backpacks off at Kangaroo Travel in Hanoi and have 2 hrs to roam around, grab some grub and be back to make our way to the train station for a night train to Sapa.
Aside from our full Vietnamese boat trip and the return bus from hell, it was a great experience. Thank God we were reunited with others the second day and I am glad I did the trip. Sure, it could have been much better if we were with a different group but we made the best of it and I honestly feel that one of these days my luck will change and perhaps I will be on a tour with just myself and 10 hot blokes vying for my attention. A girl can dream, right?
The Dish is out...