Halong Bay


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By the morning, the haze lifted though I could still smell the smoke. Breakfast was uninspiring white bread, fried noodles, fried egg, sweet potato cake, Chee Cheong Fun with roasted cinnamon pork. It was barely 720am when we finished our food and gotten our bags ready to get on the mini-bus to take us to Halong Bay. We’d paid US$75 each to go on an overnight trip on an average tourist-class junk. Food, sightseeing and kayaking were included. We’d originally toy with the idea of going on one of those more luxurious cruises which cost up to US$200 per person for a night’s stay, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend so much money on just an evening on the boat.

When the mini-bus showed up, we were told they had upgraded us to a deluxe boat and reminded not to discuss with other passengers the original price we paid. The journey to Halong City took 3 hours and it was uneventful. When we arrived by mid-day, the jetty was packed with tour buses and groups of tourists being herded in one way or another. Our guide bought the tickets and brought us to the tender to take us out to the bigger boat.

There were about 18 of us onboard the junk furnished with dark mahogany wood and decorated in beautiful Mandarin Oriental design. We went to our bedroom to have a quick wash before returning to the dining room for lunch. They brought us nine dishes to share among tables of six. We sat with a group of Thais and conversation flowed easily. We exchanged travel tales and I shared my holiday experiences in Thailand and Laos. The food was hit and miss but the company was great and soon it was time to disembark and visit Sung Sot or Cave of Surprises.

As we hopped onto the tender, we were really thirsty and wanted to buy some drinks from the village girls who approached tourist junks in their little fishing boats. However, the guide turned aggressive and impatient when he saw us trying to make purchases and said that wasn’t allowed. We were only supposed to buy drinks onboard the junk and not from the little boats. R and I got really annoyed but instead of arguing with him, we decided to just get our drinks at the Cave and whack the company with a nasty review on TripAdvisor when we return.

The limestone caves were pretty amazing but the “surprise” was just a rock which looked like a penis. I enjoyed the visit though being with a guide who clearly has no interest in his job nor creating a good impression really affected the experience. After leaving the Cave, we went kayaking in a quiet area of the Bay. The scenery was breathtaking and with calm waters, it wasn’t difficult to manouvere the kayak. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset while kayaking back to the junk, a really romantic experience.

Hot and tired when we climbed onboard the junk, we were told there was a “sunset party” on the upper deck where there was fruit and Vietnamese wine. When we got there we found two pieces of rock melon on a plate and a glass of red wine for each of us. Our Thai friends requested for water since we were hot and thirsty after kayaking and red wine didn’t seem at that point the right beverage to have. We were told we had to buy the water since only the red wine was free. Fed up with the lack of service, we went back to our rooms. What a great party it was!

We had some time to shower and fresh up before dinner and it was nice to be able to have a hot shower after such a long day. Dinner was quite good but the Thais found the food to be too bland. We were lucky the weather was good and the waters were very tranquil in the Bay. We could hardly feel the junk swaying at all. And yet just a few weeks ago, we read about a freak storm which overturned one of the junks, killing some tourists and crew on board.

After dinner, we decided to have an early night. We settled into bed from which we had a view of the Bay and the twinkling lights from the other boats. I slept very well having been exhausted from the previous day’s exhaused and the first thing I did when I opened my eyes was to pull open the curtains to feast my eyes on the emerald green waters and limestone cliffs outside the window. What a view and great way to start the day.

Breakfast was quite disappointing so we finished quickly and walked around the deck to take loads of photographs. Lunch was served a few hours later as our junk slowly headed back toward the jetty. Earlier, the Thai ladies had been to the kitchen and showed the cook how to prepare a simple sauce with fish sauce, lemon and chopped chilli.

Over lunch, they asked the waiter to bring this special sauce as the food was too bland. The waiter simply said there was no fish sauce on board so they wouldn’t be able to do it for us. One of the Thai ladies then said she had already spoken to the cook and saw there was fish sauce in the kitchen. She asked the waiter if he wanted her to go downstairs to the kitchen and get it herself. With nothing left to say, he went to get the special sauce.

I enjoyed the fantatic views and the experience of staying overnight on board. The cabin was comfortable and the food was abundant though much could be said about the service. If this was a deluxe boat, I dread to think what goes on average tourist class junks.

But then again, just like R pointed out, whether or not you were on a US$200 boat or US$20 boat, you get the same views in the same Bay, and I suppose I should be thankful the weather had been so pleasant so we could see so much of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Explore posts in the same categories: Drama, Relationship, Travel

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