Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halong Bay

Chasing my tail a little here in north Vietnam. Since arriving in Hanoi on the 29th Sept, I spent two days and one night there checking out the city. The following night I took my overnight sleeper to Sapa, followed by two days and one night there. My next night saw me take another overnight train back to Hanoi in order to join up with a tour to Halong Bay. The train arrived in to Hanoi at 5am and my tour was to leave at 8am. Generally I despise joining up with tours for a variety of reasons but in this case the end justifies the means as I have little time to play with. Besides, it all sounds very promising - the boat looks great on the brochure, the itinerary seems to fit in most of the highlights of Halong Bay and the price is just about right - $80 for two days one night. This includes a $15 single supplement - something I’ve come to refer to as the ‘gooseberry tax’. Single? Right, you sad bastard, that‘s extra.
Joining up with a tour means following a tour-guide, possibly the most hateful thing about travelling. A bus takes us from Hanoi to the boat and we all waddle after the tour guide, stopping where he stops, going left where…etc etc. Just like on school tour. The boat is indeed quite lovely and we’re all greeted on arrival with a hot towel and what both looks and tastes like Miwadi orange juice. Our first chat with our tour guide reveals - and tellingly he waited till we were on board to inform us - that the generator on the boat broke down the previous night. Last night’s guests - we’re unnecessarily informed - complained a lot. On arrival in my cabin there’s immediately a steady leak of water through the roof from upstairs, right down on top of one of the beds in my room. Fortunately there’s a second bed - the joys of the single supplement.
We visit a gigantic cave which they’ve ruined by inserting disco lights and, more bizarrely still, a fountain. It's a cave for fuck's sake. Over the course of our two days on the water it quickly becomes apparent that we are easily the slowest boat on the bay. In the course of the two days there our boat covers an area of one square mile repeatedly and all the while we are told that we are about to explore new parts of the bay soon. It never happens. The boat isn't broken either, we're told, it's just the water at this time of year. All extremely believable stuff.
The food is good, the people are lovely but ultimately the tour is an utter bag of shite - the cruise equivalent of being handed an ice-cream but only getting to lick the wrapper. I would have seen more of Halong Bay had I bought the 10 postcard package offered to me by one the many hawkers before we boarded our boat. But damn it, I’m loving Vietnam in spite of itself. Next stop Hue.

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