inconsistent news from southeast asia

Vietnam-Travelogue  |  Travel time: September 2005 - March 2006  |  by Matthew Audley

Halong Bay, Hué

Well, everyone seems to think i'm maybe dead because i haven't updated the blog in some 10 days. That must say something good about how often I update.

Well, Nov. 13th was our date to go on our two day tour of Halong Bay. The night before we got to go out and partake of a fascinating activity in Hanoi: glitter painting!

It's like this: you've got a piece of sticky paper with a drawing on it, and all the pieces of the drawing are separate stickers one can peel off in order to sprinkle glitters upon them. It's a big date thing in Hanoi, not just kids. There were even some men there ALONE... but i'm not judging. It was fun and we got an awesome glitter painting. We were the only white people there, too.. i'm as shocked as you are.

glitter painting!

glitter painting!

Onwards, it was up early the next day to catch the mini bus out to Halong city to get on our boat. Please note at this point that we only paid $20 each for a two-day/one night tour. It was not enough.

The bus ride over there wasn't too bad, except no one ever told us what was going on or what was to be going on in the future. There was a lot of herding of tourist cows and a distinct lack of respect for us as humans, particularly once we were safely trapped on their boat. None of the staff on the boat speak english and they seem to despise us from the start.

out boat was something like that, i think. but with surly muscle-bound guys.

out boat was something like that, i think. but with surly muscle-bound guys.

Touring the first day involved a lot of islands and a stop at a huge cave (where we managed to buy reasonably priced water). Did i mention that when they said "drinks" weren't included, they meant water too? It was 20,000 VND for a can of beer or a coke than should've been 9,000 or so (i never saw them try to sell water) and they crammed eight of us around a table and fed us the least they could get away with. There were lots of free tables and tables with four people at them, but apparently we didn't pay for elbow room.

Back to the cave - It was big and impressive with lots of crazy psychedelic lighting of formations that are pretty impressive even without the crazy lighting. And they did a good job of making the whole place fairly tourist safe with a nice stone path all the way through it.

Islands.

Islands.

caves

caves

islands.

islands.

The islands and the ocean are as beautiful as the pictures would have you believe. I took lots of pictures that ultimately didn't amount to very much (it was cloudy all day, for one) and in the afternoon we went for a swim i didn't partake in.

Around six o'clock or so we dropped people off at Cat Ba island. You see, you had a choice: stay on the boat or stay on the island. It actually cost more to stay on the boat, but was recommended, so we went for it. Naturally, when they dropped other people off at the dock and left the boat sitting there for a while, those of us on the boat wanted to get off for a few minutes to look around (and to buy drinks that weren't over twice what they should cost). Those that attempted to venture on shore were told that they were FORBIDDEN from leaving the boat. There was yelling and gesticulating and a really angry muscle-bound guy, but our numbers won out and four people managed to get on shore (later to return with two bottles of rum they generously shared with the whole boat.)

At this point, angry muscle-bound guy instructed someone to untie our boat and let us drift away so the mutineers couldn't get back aboard. We all found this juvenile revenge very entertaining, including those lying on the wharf waiting for them to come back and pick them up after fifteen minutes or so. Really, the completely absurd behaviour both entertained us and brought us closer together as a group. Maybe it was intentional.

The evening itself was actually quite good. Somehow, all the people that stayed on the boat were really nice people and we spent the evening playing cards (we learned a new game) and learning a lot about chinese culture.

Unfortunately, we did have to go to sleep at some point, seeing as they'd promised to wake us up at 7:00. Our cabin, though small, seemed nice enough except that the window didn't open more than an inch. We figured that was alright since we had a fan.

12:30. All the power to the boat is cut. The fan winds down. I speak unprintable words and resign myself to lying up all night in the sweltering, unmoving air. It gets better immediately. Thanks to the fact that the constant drone from the fan has died, I can now hear big, hideous scuttling and scuffling noises. It doesn't stop or respond to my hissing at it - i swear it was too loud to be a cockroach - i'm thinking rats.

Eventually, sick of listening to the incredibly sinister noises, i located my headlight and searched out a huge cockroach that seemed to be eating our newspaper packaging job and was hiding in the depths of our room's desk, making him very hard to kill. Eventually, after scaring the hell out of myself trying to kill him and losing him behind the desk, i went back to bed and didn't sleep for many more unpleasant hours.

Day 62 (nov. 14) dawned early with pounding on our door. Repetitive pounding that didn't respond to yelling at it. Breakfast was a glorious feast of BREAD and BUTTER. I wish i was kidding.

However, the day itself was very nice - lots more islands and we actually went swimming this time. It was probably the highlight of the trip and I jumped off the 5 or 6 metre top deck - catherine caught only the splash on film, i'm afraid.

that's MY splash.

that's MY splash.

On the way BACK from our tour, we managed to get run off the road by a big truck. Then they tried to make a run for it. Boy was our driver mad when we stopped them. But this was just an amusing interlude after all we'd been through.

Day 65 we bought our open-tour bus ticket to saigon from the same dirt-cheap guesthouse which arranged our Halong Bay tour. Why? We may never know.

The open ticket is a great deal, especially when you compare it to the train. We tried to get a train ticket but found we can't afford it as it costs twice as much for foreigners. For $21 we get a ticket all the way to saigon with 4 stops along the way.

Our guesthouse screwed us around plenty, by the way, adding a ten percent "tax" onto our bill when we tried to pay it and "accidentally" adding an extra night. When we paid the second time, they accidentally added 15% instead of 10. At least I had the energy to bitch at him about how dishonest it was this time. Then, our ride to the bus turned out to be motorcycles that couldn't possibly handle our luggage. It was wholy frustrating but we managed to get on the 7 p.m. night bus to Hué.

Hanoi Street Scene

Hanoi Street Scene

Catherine, Hanoi.

Catherine, Hanoi.

The bus itself wasn't so bad, with seats that reclined quite a long way for the 15 hour journey. There was nothing extravagant like a bathroom but i was amazed how un-painful the whole thing was. I managed to actually sleep some of the time!

Day 66 (nov. 18) we arrived in Hué, a little worse for wear (we're both harbouring november colds dsepite the warm weather). Now, the reason the open-tour busses are so cheap is that they're highly subsidized by commission fees. Accordingly, there was a scary pack of touts waiting for us when the bus stopped. We made a break for it, but two of them trailed us for ten minutes or so, repeating the same damn thing over and over again. Found a nice place here for $5 and it seems like a nice small city with lots of parks and lots of history. The people here are undoubtedly of the small town variety, however, with very little respect for foreign women. Yes, it bothers me. Particularly after a night spent on the bus.

Yesterday, nov. 19, we looked around the city a bit, walking around the walls of the old city and the forbidden purple city inside. Decided not to pay the ridiculous admission to get into the forbidden city, which was once the royal palace, but we did get to see the largest flagpole in Vietnam (oooh!) and there's a nice display of tanks and artillery that the Communists captured. The other attraction around here is tours of the de-militarized zone (the former border between north and south), but neither of us have much interest in seeing a bunch of american military bases or the tunnels.

Tomorrow it's off to Hoi An, where i may or may not get a suit made for dirt cheap.

Hué is beautiful.

Hué is beautiful.

© Matthew Audley, 2005
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The trip
 
Description:
Leaving for bangkok on Sept. 12. Where we go from there is anyone's guess. Hoping to see Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Be back in six months or so if everything goes well. There really isn't much of a route planned - we'll see what happens.
Details:
Start of journey: Sep 12, 2005
Duration: 6 months
End of journey: Mar 19, 2006
Travelled countries: Thailand
Canada
Laos
Vietnam
Cambodia
Southeastern Asia
Malaysia
The Author
 
Matthew Audley is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 13 years.
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