Vietnam: Day Two and Three
Early yesterday morning I got picked up from the hotel to go on a two day Halong Bay tour with Sinh Travel. We had two very sweet Vietnamese guides. Unfortunately, nobody could understand them when they spoke. Well, every eighth word maybe. They had a tendency to clip the final consonant off of every word which, by the end of the first day we all found pretty amusing, eg 'the boat' was 'the bo', 'the bus' was 'the bu', etc. We were cruel. But not to their faces!
Halong City is about 3.5 hours from Hanoi, with a 20 minute stop in a big warehouse/shop/cafe place on the way. There were only 13 people on the bus so it was quite nice and I spent most of the bus ride nattering with a Canadian girl (an English teacher here on her school holiday from Japan). We got to the bo, I mean boat, and they fed us almost straight away - rice, fish, octopus, spring rolls, veggies, etc. Very nice. And we got chatting with a Hungarian guy (another English teacher from Japan) and a Japanese guy who was actually travelling without a group. He was doing about 4 countries in 3 weeks though!
After eating we went up to the top of the boat and relaxed. It was a bit overcast but still very nice floating around glimpsing the islands and the rocks (anyone know the difference between what constitutes a rock and what an island? I don't) and the other boats - both the tourist ones and the working ones. We stopped off at a floating village which was a bit odd. I mean this basically was a floating house where people lived and fished, and boats of tourists stopped off there so people could wander around the house and then get back on the boat.
We stopped along the way to look at two massive caves. I've never seen caves that size and they had a very strange lighting thing going on using green, red, blue lights to show you were to look to see dragons, lions, etc.
Back on the boat, before we pulled away, I spotted one of the school receptionists from Tokyo. I knew she was going to be in Vietnam now, but it was still quite funny to see her there. We shouted to each other for a bit from our respective boats before pulling away.
At around 5ish we got to Cat Ba Island. Was it worth going to Cat Ba? Hmmm. In five years time it could be a very interesting place but now it's somewhere you can really live without seeing, in my opinion. My boat friends were only on a one day tour so I made new friends with a lovely French family. The daughter, a few years younger than me, has been working in Cambodia for the last few years and we shared a room at the hotel.
When we asked at reception what there was to do on Cat Ba we were given the hotels business card. We asked again and the receptionist showed us the other side of the card where there was a map of Cat Ba. We had a choice! Go right at the end of the road to see the market, or go left to see the beach. We went to the market and had a mooch around there for a while. We didn't want to spoil ourselves by doing it all at once, so we had a beer instead before going back to the hotel for dinner: fish, rice, octupus, veggies, spring rolls, etc.
Then we decided to go right. There was an amazing amount of Christmas lights decorating the street. I mean this is an island with 10,000 inhabitants and a handful of passing through tourists, so it was quite something. The roads were dead, but even so every scooter that passed still beeped it's horn for the hell of it.
As everywhere, people tried to sell us things at we kept saying no. Then, after realising if we went any further in the direction we were going we'd end up on a main road or something we turned back and heard a kids song (in English) being blasted from a bar. We started singing it and decided the next person to come up to us we'd sing this song to them. We did. And they, and us, found it hilarious (especially us). Some of them joined in as well. The point is though that they stopped trying to get us to buy pearls, postcards, etc. And that we laughed our heads off. (If anyone knows it the song was: Hello, hello, hello. Hello how do you do? Hello, hello, hello. It's nice to be with you [we waved our hands from side to side during this bit.] Then was a la la la bit when we rolled our hands.) - Never mind. You had to be there. Or not.
After a few drinks in a bar that looked like it was run by an Englishman, we went back to the hotel, nattered for ages, and crashed out.
This morning we got up early again and had breakfast in the hotel. The sky was much clearer and the boat took us much closer to the islands and the rocks. Lots and lots of them. It was lovely. We'd been joined by some other people though and one of the girls did a five-minute monologue to her friend about her favourite leg waxer, or something. It was lovely when she went downstairs! We went through more floating villages, mainly consisting of just 3 or 4 houses and sitting upstairs on the top deck was so nice - although a little cold!
After about three more hours on the boat we got back to Halong City (city - yeah right!) and had lunch in a restaurant there (all of this was part of the deal we paid for) of veggie things, soup, rice, etc. There were some people in the restaurant, also on a tour but not with us, who whinged. We didn't understand why though. The food was lovely and we'd only paid peanuts for the whole tour anyway.
The road conditions on the way back were interesting. If there was any speed limit in play it wasn't evident. We saw one truck on its side that had come off the road and there was a lot of beeping of horns all over. There were also lots of oxen and cattle along the way including one with a plough. It's so easy to forget how people still have to make a living this way when closeted in a Western way of life, isn't it?
Oh, and when I got back to Hanoi I saw it had been raining all day. And I'd missed it!
In the evening I went to the Funky Monkey pub for a quick drink with a guy from Thorntree but he then had other arrangements so I toddled off to Cha Ca Street and ate at Cha Ca La Vong, which was lovely! It's a one dish restaurant (so no ordering problems there) and they bring a little frying pan on a stone fire thing to your table with chunks of fish cooking in it. You then add various green vegetables to it. By various, I mean I have no idea what they were. There was also a bowl of cold noodles, a bowl with roasted peanuts, another with parsley and some chilli sauce. And all washed down with a beer. Very very nice!