Day 28 – Cruising around the bay

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I had an amazing sleep last night as I had a whole king size bed to myself in my own private room.

Sure, it cost $18 for the room instead of the $6 I paid for my dorm bed the previous nights, but sometimes you need a room all to yourself.

Of course I couldn’t sleep in in my nice comfy bed as I had to be up at 6:30 to get ready, grab breakfast and be set to be picked up at 8am for my trip out to Ha Long Bay.

The main man at the hotel – Zoom – was a tremendous help setting it up.  In fact, he’s just generally a huge help with everything.  The man is so friendly and always smiling.  Any question I needed answered (and I had alot), he was happy to answer.

I, once again, had an amazing omelette for breakfast and then waited in the lobby for the driver to come pick me up.

He came by around 8:30 which meant I was the last one of our group to be picked up as he had begun picking up people at different hotels at 8am.

I went aboard our tiny little bus and my eyes popped.  It was filled, and I mean filled with Asians.  I knew instantly that this was not going to be the amazing trip I had hoped for as there’d be no one to meet and no one to talk to.

Oh well, I resigned myself to that fate and figured it was only a few hours and at least I’d be on a boat in the bay – things could be worse!

Since I was the last one on board all the real seats were taken and I was forced to sit on a fold out middle aisle seat.  If you’ve never heard of such a seat – let’s just say they suck!  I couldn’t lean back as the seat back only went half way up my back plus I was cramped in there.

This would be a looooooong four hour ride to Ha Long Bay…

About half way through our journey we stopped at an outlet store along with every other bus that was herding people up to Ha Long Bay.

I actually bumped into Eve, the girl from Winnipeg I had met on the plane ride over from Manila the other night and we chatted for a bit while we waited for our buses to reload.

Shame our trips are similar but just slightly askew so we’re almost in the same place at the same time but not quite.  Who knows… our paths may cross again.

As she loaded onto her bus and I loaded onto mine I was surprised to see 3 distinctly non Asian people load up onto ours.

They were sitting in the very back and I guess I just hadn’t seen them there what with the 22 other people surrounding us.

Of course I was still stuck in the middle of the herd and it wasn’t until we finally unloaded again 2 hours later at the boat dock that I was able to talk with them.

The 3 were from Sheffield in the UK and were a mom (Sally) celebrating her 50th birthday with her daughter (Charlotte) and son (Josh).

It also turned out that they were only doing the day tour like me and not spending the night on the boat.  I soon found out this meant that we would be separating from our Asian swarm and going on a different boat!

So the four of us joined two middle aged ladies from France and an older fivesome from Perth, Australia and the 11 of us boarded our own boat.

Thankfully everyone was pretty cool.  I was actually able to practice my broken French with the two ladies from France and I spent some time trying to get to know everyone there.

Not long after we boarded our boat and set sail we were given our lunch which was a nice offering of different dishes to share.

The dishes were chicken noodle soup, deep fried spring rolls, a whole fried fish, marinated tofu, pan fried pork, squid in a vegetable salad, cabbage and finished off by fresh orange slices.

Very fresh, very delectable!

After lunch we went to the Thien Cung caves.  Unlike my previous experiences with caves last year in Ljubljana, Slovenia and a couple of weeks ago in Sagada, Philippines this one wasn’t that spectacular.

Not only was the cave overrun by what seemed like every passenger of every boat in the bay at the time but it was all lit up with different colored fluorescent lights.

While the lights made for pretty colors it detracted big time from what we should have been taking in – hundreds of cool looking stalagmites and stalactites.

Oh well, the lights were pretty anyway…

After being in the cave for almost an hour we all headed back to the boat and launched off to our next stop in the bay – kayaking to a couple of hidden lagoons.

Now because I had left my big backpack at the hotel and was travelling with limited clothes I opted to forgo the kayak option.

Instead I chose the basket boat which cost 130,000 dong ($7).  Sally and I shared a boat that was rowed by this little 20 year old Vietnamese woman.

It was kind of relaxing being able to just sit back and take photos and not worrying about getting wet.  Besides, the plan is to do a day trip to Tam Coc river in a couple of days where there will also be kayaking.

Passing by the dozen or so boats out in the area at the time doing the same thing, I ran into a couple from Thunder Bay (that’s in Ontario in Canada for you non-Canadians).

Kevin and Emily were nearing the end of their months long trip and we got to talking about, what else, watching the upcoming Team Canada Olympic hockey games.

During the conversation I mentioned I was going to be in Hoi An in a few days during the semi-finals and gold medal game and had already searched out a bar there to watch the games.

Luckily they had just been in Hoi An and knew of such a bar.  So, fingers crossed… next week I’ll be watching the big games!

Such a great random meeting – those are always the best parts of a trip like this!

As the afternoon came to a close we sailed down the bay past what seemed like hundreds of islands to Cat Ba Island and our home for the night.

After a unique little experience with a pink bus…

…we we’re off on a 30 minute ride in a van (I know, after all that, we didn’t get to ride in the pink bus!) to Cat Ba town.

The van dropped us off at our different hotels which were actually all on the same block of the same street and we said our goodbyes.

I made plans with Sally, Charlotte and Josh to meet up for dinner later and then checked into the Cat Ba Hostel.

After settling in and freshening up I went out to their hotel at 7pm and we headed out to dinner.

We walked down to the main street where the man at my hotel said all the restaurants were.

We looked at a couple of menus and then we were enticed by a chalkboard outside a restaurant that was offering a free fresh fruit pancake for dessert.

How could we resist?

Damn marketing!  Let’s just say, the reason they have to offer a free pancake is because their food sucks!

Our first sign should have been the toilet paper dispenser at each table where normally you would find napkins.

Our second sign should have been the waitress who spoke no English.

But, we stayed and ordered anyway…

We decided to share a few different meals which is why I love going out to dinner with a few people because you get to try a little bit of everything.

We ordered fried noodle with shrimp, fried chicken with butter garlic, fried beef with tomato and onion, fried pork with pineapple, and fried rice with vegetable.

As the plates came out you could tell before you even tasted it that the meat was way (and I mean way) overcooked.

That, along with the missing (or really, really, really small) shrimp and the tomato that looked like pineapple made for a meal full of giggles.

Yes, it sucked – but, I’ve learned to let these things slide and just laugh it off.  After all, it makes for a great story.  I mean, really, there was a toilet roll dispenser at our table!!!

And… on that note…

I shall end this blog!

Asia Trip 2014, Trip Journal

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