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Vietnam - Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba (monolithic islands)

Written on: Tuesday March 10th, 2009

We booked onto the Halong Bay tour from Hanoi, as it is considered a 'must' when visiting North Vietnam. It is unmissable in the sense that the scenery and views are amazing but the fact that it is so unmissable makes it very much the 'beaten path'.

We were really lucky with our group and had a real laugh over the two days. Our guide, Truoc (which he said meant 'before') was learning English and reading "Being British - Men and Women"!

Norah and I went out into the bay in a kayak, and it was lovely to paddle around the floating villages, children on houseboats, fires, the dogs (which they eat). The children would run to see us waving and shouting "sin jao" (hello) and "bye bye". We paddled past a rowing boat with three girls who were excited to see us. The one paddling was around 10 years old, and the others looked around five and one!

Card games and karaoke entertained us after the sun had gone down. The problem was the crew were having more fun than we were. We could hear their drinking games downstairs and thought little of it. They then however decided to take over the karaoke, playing only Vietnamese songs and at top volume! After about an hour of each of us politely asking them to turn it down I decided to steal the remote control. Then all hell broke loose. One of the crew (the chef!) decided that he would shout at everyone until he could sing his karaoke again "How much you pay?!"and "Not only you!". Obviously forgetting that a) we were the customers b) he was now the only one who wanted it on as all the other staff had disappeared. This huge-scale arguing, one Vietnamese chef versus 30 paying guests, continued for about half and hour with him telling us we all had to go to bed at 10pm if he couldn't have his karaoke on (it was 10:30), until he decided to wake up the captain who promptly turned the ship's engine on; "We're going home" we all thought!

The next stage is the saga was the chef coming back upstairs apologising and saying "free vodka for everyone!". He poured each one of us a teacup full of the local stuff. We had no choice but to reluctantly accept it, athough most couldn't bring themselves to drink it, and then we eventually sent him to bed.

The silver lining to the tale is that we complained the next day when we returned to Hanoi and it turned out others had complained too and the chef was going to be reprimanded and his employment considered, and we got some money off our onward travel. That news was akin to the feeling that accompanies the squashing of that mosquito the morning after it'd been biting you all night!

After the first momentus night on the boat, the second night was spent on Cat Ba island and was much more normal. We enjoyed watching the locals from the fishing villages, who live out on the sea in the bay, go about their day- the children getting around to and from school in taxi rowing boats, trading cards from boat to boat.

Then another backbreaking no-suspension journey back to Ha Noi.

J.

(Sunflower 1 Hotel)