Ha Long Bay: It Was Aiiiiite

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On my second day in Hanoi, I woke up early to catch a tour bus to Ha Long Bay. Hanoi Backpackers has two options for going to Ha Long Bay. Option #1 was the party cruise, Option #2 was the regular boat tour. I decided to go with Option #2 to avoid the very young, very rowdy, and oftentimes very drunk Aussies at my hostel. I wasn’t in the mood to meet certain kinds of people. At least on a boring cruise I could read and do my own thing.

* * * * *

Ha Long Bay was not what I expected. After seeing gorgeous photos of tall cliffs and mountains in the middle of blue-green waters, I disappointed with the gray skies and cold weather. It’s pretty, but definitely not as magnificent in the winter, apparently.

My group was a pretty quiet group of 15 people – a Chilean couple, a Czech couple, a Dutch woman, two girls from Germany, two guys from Brazil, one American guy from D.C., and a bunch of other Europeans. Our guide was a young Vietnamese cat named Tam (I think). We boarded a wooden boat that we’d be staying on for the next 24 hours and headed out to sea.

The first part of our day on the boat was lunch – I sat down at a table with the two couples and saw the pathetic spread – it was made up of a lot of weird little dishes that didn’t go together. Stir frys, fried tofu, egg rolls, some of it good, most of it mediocre. I know they want to please tourists and all, but could they make some authentic food in the joint? That’s actually what a lot of tourists really want!

Talking to my tablemates for a bit, I found out that the Chilean couple was thinking about grad school (I didn’t want to seem like a downer, but I talked about the pros and cons of that for a bit), and that they were students traveling before going to school. We all, of course, also compared travel notes. That’s the one good conversation starter you have when you’re traveling: “Oh, how long do you plan to travel? Where have you been so far?”

We also talked about traveling in other parts of the world, and safety. Talia, the Chilean woman, said that South America is actually pretty safe and that women could travel solo over there without too much worry. Her partner said not to go to Venezuela, however – because shit sometimes doesn’t work there (the planes won’t take off sometimes, people find their rental cars breaking down, etc.)

* * * * *

The first day on the boat was mostly just seeing Ha Long Bay from afar, seeing some caves, and going kayaking. The caves were horrible! They took some nice, natural caves and tried to turn it into Disneyland. Since there’s not much to the caves, they put in colored lights everywhere and even some fake fountains to make a wish pond. You could even take posed photos in the caves and get the prints right there. Tam, our guide, didn’t have much to say about the caves, other than “look, doesn’t that look like a unicorn? Doesn’t this look like a dragon?” It was the stupidest tour I’ve ever been on in my whole life.

The kayaking was actually kind of fun. The dock that we stayed at was being used by local fishermen to hold the fish they caught – from geoducks to cuttlefish. I paired up with the older Dutch woman and spent about 20 minutes paddled around the tall mountainous cliffs in the sea. We also circled around a lot of boat houses and some boats that sold fruits and produce to travelers. The best way to see Ha Long Bay is definitely by kayak – you really get to understand how amazing these land formations are when you’re seeing them from the water’s level.

As evening came around, we had another bad meal and then had free time for the rest of the evening. I took a little nap and later started talking to Farbod, who was the other American on the boat (oddly enough, he was the first American that I befriended on my trip). He and I kicked it for a little while, choppin it up and getting to know each other for a bit. By the time that Tam, our guide, came around to give all of us room keys, I was paired up with Farbod – which I thought was kinda funny. I’ve never had a random guy roommate before – at least, not in a two bed room.

Farbod and I also got into a really interesting conversation with the Chilean couple about American politics. It’s funny because it’s usually considered a taboo  subject to talk about in most social situations…but we talked pretty freely about what we thought about Obama, our opinions about what really happened during 9-11, and the American political system. It was interesting to hear other people’s perspectives of the US, and to compare and contrast the US with other countries’ (mostly European countries’) economic systems.

Farbod is a fellow game player, so I spent a good amount of my free time playing card games with him. He’s pretty competitive, so it was pretty fun. I taught him super speed, Chinese-style dueces – he did pretty well, beating me at some rounds of dueces – and some other games. Tam also came around and “taught” us “13” — Vietnamese style! I was psyched – I was playing Vietnamese-style dueces in Vietnam!! What! We also played Oh Hell (aka “Trumps”). I could play card games for days…

While our boat was pretty chill and quiet, Farbod had the great idea of getting everyone together to play group games at night. It actually turned out pretty well — almost everyone came up to play the “Label game” (where you have a random famous person’s name on a piece of paper held up to your forehead, and have to ask the group yes/no questions to guess who it is), which was fun because everyone’s from different countries (we tried to make the famous people diverse and international). We also played “Celebrities” – Vay’s charades game where you get into teams and play 2 rounds.

Round 1: Talking, no acting

Round 2: No talking, just acting

The Chilean couple suggested it. I had no idea the game was international.

This game was HELLA fun (and funny) because everyone had a different command of the English language. Some of the clues were hard for people (roller coaster), some were just bizarre (grave digger), while some were just funny to watch people acting out (Vietnam). Tam, our tour guide, got HELLA excited and into the game, and was jumping around and shouting throughout the entire competition.

After another game of charades, we all retired to our rooms and went to bed. I have to say, however that playing those games on the boat was probably the highlight of my trip to Ha Long Bay – even though it had nothing to do with the Bay, other than that we were on a tour boat that brought us all together. That’s what traveling’s all about I guess.

* * * * *

The next day we had another bad meal for breakfast and spent the next 3 hours heading back to shore. We somehow picked up another couple of tourists taking an early return back to Hanoi (they didn’t want to waste their time on another night in Ha Long Bay), which allowed me  a chance to talk to some new folks. One of them was this guy was named Reshirdan, a 37 Pinoy dood from Oslo that spoke 4 different languages. We talked a lot about traveling, about our life goals, about…fuck, I honestly don’t remember, but we got along pretty well. He was another solo traveler that was going around the world for a bit.

One of the things that he said has stuck with me ever since the end of my trip. When talking about life goals and traveling, he told me, “Yeah, I do want a family and all, but…you just can’t force those kinds of things. No matter what happens, I’ll be okay. Life is too exciting to worry about things like that.”

Yeah, I have to say that Hanoi was all about realizing some deep shit. Everywhere I went, I met people from around the world that taught me a thing or two about what it means to navigate a life worth living.

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Posted: January 30, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Vietnam

Tags: , , , , , ,


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