HaLong Bay started out with a 4 hour bus ride to the port. James, Dee and I were picked up from my backpackers at 8am by a small shuttle bus complete with dollies on the seats! There was a Vietnamese guy in the bus who spoke pretty good English that was basically our tour guide.
There were 9 of us in total on the bus after everyone had been picked up.
As we drove out of the city of Hanoi he stood up, facing us, handed out bottles of water. Then he went into a very unexpected and long conversation about human sex trafficking, the not so great relationship they have with China and some other topic. I only understood about half of what he was saying and I didn't get where this long drawn out sex trafficking topic was coming from. I think he said what he was wanting to say but didn't think we understood so he re phrased it 3 more times in different English words that he knew!
Taking the bus during the morning was great because it allowed for lots of extra sight seeing through the windows. I did try to sleep for part of it but it was near impossible with the hydraulic like seat I was on and the bumpy roads we hit as we neared closer to the bay. We stopped at the huge tourist shop on the way for 30 min or so. It was a bathroom break, souvenir stop, and over priced food stop! We didn't get anything. It's hard to justify buying a bag of chips or dried fruit for 45,000 dong when a decent street meal sells between 15,000 and 30,000 dong. So instead I snacked a little bit on food James and Dee had on them that they had brought from the states.
When we arrived to the harbor everyone piled off the bus and I was the last one, grabbing more waters for James, Dee and I. It's the backpacker way. The waters were free and available to us so I loaded up my day pack and then passed more off to my travel parents. As cheap as bottled water is to buy, free is always better and now I can apply that saved dong (currency) for food!
From the bus we were escorted to a small boat to take us to our ship, by our tour guide and it was then that we realized he was going to be with us on the entire excursion!
We were given our room keys and a briefing on what the schedule would be for the rest of the day. After we all were settled in our rooms we went back to the dinning area for lunch, an 18 course lunch!
My room was awesome and I wasn't sharing it with anyone and the food was great! Yes, I was satisfied with spending some extra money for this cruise!
We did some Kayaking to a cave the first day and several caves the next day. Ones that you can kayak all the way through. There was time for swimming off the ship and hot tubbing on the ship.
I washed my dirty clothes from Sapa and my shoes in the sink of my room since I had it to myself. I hung my clothes up on hangers from the curtain rods and turned the heat up in my room. Laundry service was no longer needed!
The ship had a Sunset drink and fruits offering for us the first night and a fresh spring roll making demo for us before dinner. Two people, James being one of them didn't get to make rolls because there wasn't enough ingredients.
In other countries they would have brought more out or figured out a way to make it up to him. Not in Vietnam, not in SE Asia. Things work differently here. It's chaos often I like to refer to the craziness here as "an organized chaos" my saying makes sense in most instances.
Dinner was another amazing meal, another several courses! A few less than lunch but still around 12 or so. My travel parents and I invited another lady, Maia to join us for dinner. She was traviling solo from Brussels for a month. Very fascinating lady with a connection to a lot of countries including Mongolia, France and Amsterdam. She's been added to my list of travel friend contacts.
Both mornings they offered Thi Chi at 6:30 on the sun deck and then coffee, tea, and a light breakfast at 7:30am
This is when everything seemed to start falling apart.
A group of 6 Chinese people Boarded our boat with another tour group.
While we were at breakfast we had our warm beverages and a plate with breakfast cookies to share. Then they brought each of us a plate with one cold fried egg, a small slice of ham and a couple cucumber slices and tomato slices on it and a plate of toast to share. Except for Maia. They told her she couldn't have that because she had booked only a one night stay and was leaving that day. She thought they were joking but they definitely were not. We shared our food with her because obviously that was awkward and rude of the staff to let her watch us eat.
So with the toast, I wouldn't normally eat toast now days, especially white toast. I just don't eat a lot of bread anymore but I was hungry so I was willing.
I saw packets of jam delivered to the Chinese table and then OUR table wanted some. We asked for it and they brought us more butter. So we asked again and tried to it more clear what we were asking for. The guy walked away and came back with a plate of cheese!
Meanwhile we watched another server pull more jam packets out of his pocket and hand them to the Chinese people! We were so frustrated yet we were laughing at how ridiculous this situation has become!!
Do you have jam? Butter? No jam! Cheese? No jam!
Oh and I actually got up and went to the Chinese table and pointed at a packet of jam so they'd know what I was talking about. They told us no more, as in they were out. Ha! Yeah right! We think they were just afraid of what the Chinese might do if they didn't get their way and they figured us westerners would dismiss it.
As we were getting ready to leave our boat, I noticed from my cabin window a women rowing up to our ship. She clearly had an intention to make a few sales. Her little boat was full of giant shells in perfect condition! I had to laugh! It seems everywhere you go... Even the sea, someone wants to sell you something.
Hello!? You buy?
We went to a huge cave called surprise cave, after breakfast on the 2nd day. It was like Disneyland! A really cool cave, massive! Lights had been installed on floors that shot yo against the walls in different colors. Pathways, stairs and rails were spread throughout the inside and while it was nice, the more natural look would have been way cooler but I guess this was a safer way to go for the general public.
We boarded a smaller boat to take out for the rest of the day and see more islands and kayak. We had lunch on that boat which was great considering the lack of facilities we had compared to the larger ship. Kate and her husband Blake, 2 other guests on the ship with us sat at our table for lunch. We really started to get to know them well on this small boat excursion.
We had some beach time and visited a pearl farm after lunch.
Then... the boat got lost! We were heading back to the big ship and our little boat was lost or the ship was lost, who knows! We were just starting to get hungry, we were cold as the sun was setting and then it was dark and all we could see was the shadows of each other. For 2 hours we searched for the other vessel before we found them.
In true SE Asian form, there was no explanation for it and no compensation for our hunger or wasted time on the water. It didn't help that we were cold either. The plus side to that whole excursion was our small group really got to know each other better. We became more of a solid group of friends. Before we had only made ourselves up of small groups within our large group. We hadn't really gotten to know everyone.
Dinner was a huge let down that night, our last night. We had been spoiled from the first night. Likely because of so many added people to our ship.
The next morning at breakfast which consisted of tea/coffee and small breads,I met Jess. She was with the newest group in the ship and only did a one nighter. She's from Banff, Canada. She saw James and I talking at breakfast and thought we were father and daughter and she got homesick for her dad. I told her we were just a travel family and I was missing my dad as well but James was filling in for him during Vietnam.
I did a tiny WOD on the sun deck of the ship after breakfast, noticed a duck in a leash, in the water but tied to a boat - in the distance and then I went and packed up.
Are you still stuck on "a duck on a leash"? Yeah me too!
Brunch was served as we headed back to the port and I made sure to grab some extra food that would last for the bus ride home. I tried to sneak it into a bag but I'm pretty sure everyone saw me!