Well, I finally checked out of the Elizabeth Hotel on Nguyen Huy Huan Street and waited for the “bus” to pick me up for my trip to Ha Long Bay. I intended on taking the trip with my buddy Kenny or K. Being here in Hanoi has not been cool for me. It’s been hassle after hassle and I’ve barely wanted to leave the air conditioned room for anything. I sat in the hot lobby sweating it out as the other tours loaded up in their prospective buses to the different tours sold in the hotel lobby. I had what I thought was clean laundry packed with my laptop and bunny into my backpack ready for the three hour ride cramped in a mini-van. Van booty is what I call it. Nothing can prepare you for that.
Before loading onto the bus I met Axle who is from Germany and had been traveling the world for the past 27 months. I thought for sure I was going to have a comrade and be able to practice my German. Nope. He was immediately adopted by a group of Germans already on the bus and I was left to listen to one of the men talk the whole way to the harbor. He had something to say about everything, but they didn’t talk to anyone else. We made a stop at some huge emporium of souvenirs for a bathroom break and then made our way to the harbor. Here, “buses” of all sizes drove in dropped off and picked up. Tour after tour made their way to their prospective boats slip.
We loaded our bags on the back deck and sat down for our first meal. It was nothing remarkable if not this side of gross. Everything, besides the food, was twice as much on the land and that made it really expensive to buy bottle of water in order to brush your teeth. Of course, they only had the small bottles as an option.
It was a short ride from the bay. The ocean breeze was nice compared to the heat and humidity of Hanoi. During lunch we were given our room assignments and I shared key responsibility with a young man named Robbie. The boat was parked outside the floating village and went to the Surprise Cave. After climbing through the Surprise Cave we kayaked around a few mounts before returning to the boat. I paddled with my roomie, Robbie from London, and I know I would have made K and my dad-in-law proud. Once the boat was anchored in a bay with about five other tours people began jumping from the top deck into the water. I did not. I jumped from the back of the boat into the cool salty water. I swam until a jelly fish was found swimming around the boat. Waiting for our next meal most sat on the top deck talking until we were called in for the meal.
I sat and listened mainly to other traveler’s stories. A large man from Holland likes trekking tours. As he learned his English while working in Ireland he spoke with an Irish brogue. There were quite a few couples...A Spanish couple from Barcelona, a Belgian couple, and an Italian couple. All were well traveled and I learned so much listening about their university system, their medical system, and how people are taxed. In my honest opinion, the U.S. is in the stone ages on most of these issues. Dinner was an unremarkable meal of octopus, rice, noodles, some type of greens and an expensive soda. Back to the top deck to avoid karaoke. Instead a few people fished for squid off the back of the boat, while the boat crew played cards, drank and played loud dance music. The conversations went long into the night about travel and tours taken. The Siberian Express, The Mongolian Expres, Sapa treks, Nepal treks into the Himilayas. I learned that the easiest language to learn was Indonesian.
Sleep wasn’t that great. I had warned Robbie that I snored and offered him an extra set of earplugs I had. He said a door mouse would have made more noise than I did.
There were four of us who chose the three day two night tour of Ha Long Bay. The second day we switched onto a smaller boat and went to the other side of the bay. It was a slow ride over some of the flattest and smoothest ocean water. It was nice to be with a smaller group. I was with some recent university grads from Brighton.They had no clue of the redemption they earned for the other Brits traveling the world.
We laid in the sun the ride out. We were all excited to do some kayaking and I think the four of us agreed that it was nice to have this day away from the larger tour. As we reached our cove we got into the kayaks boy girl, boy girl and followed Than through some caves and around some mounts. The scenery was amazing. It still feels like a dream being here seeing these sights.We had some quiet, except for Than’s bird calls that echoed against the mounts of limestone.We were able to maneuver quite well. Again, K would be proud that I got my kayak arms together. My shoulder still hurts, but it was worth it. We returned to the boat after going through a pitch black cave
and into a a protective cove full of cicadas sounds. It was kind of scary and felt dangerous as Keita and I go stuck coming out the mouth of the cave. A little shove from Robbie and Charlotte we were righted and made it back to the boat for lunch, which was actually excellent. Than told us the food was much fresher on the smaller boat,
After a few hours of chilling out after lunch we were informed that are boat had a malfunctioning motor and we had to wait rescue. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to be stranded. Once picked up we were lashed to another boat and towed to the Oyster farm where they farm for pearls. At this point I was hot, stinky, and tired. I wasn’t into learning too much about oysters, but I went with it.
We made it back to the larger boat and met with a new group of travelers. They were nice enough, but I was beginning to feel weary. The night was very hard for me as the captain and his Army buddy from 34 years ago sang Vietnamese karaoke at the top of their lungs late into the night. I took the pair of earplugs I offered Robbie and smushed them with my own to no avail. I finally left my cabin and gestured that it was too loud, stop. They did, but by then I really couldn’t get to sleep. I thought they were planning retaliation and feared they would pee on my AC unit to get back at me. The boat rocked abnormally through the night and I constantly heard voices.
The next morning I was done with the tour. The captain killed it for me. I was grumpy from little sleep and mad that I lost so much weight I had no cushion for my tush to take the “bus” ride back into Hanoi. The tour guide told me they would give me a ride back to my hotel and instead they dropped my off by Hoan Kiem Lake and I had to navigate busy streets toward the hotel, but I walked passed it to the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. It was 100% better than The Elizabeth Hotel. So here I am waiting my passport.