Friday, July 3, 2009

Halong Bay

Back on the internet! Just spent two days at a UNESCO world heritage site- Halong Bay. Google just told me that means that Halong Bay gets prestige and awareness as a site to protect for future generations to enjoy, and can be eligible for financial assistance. That is today's educational lesson.

Our bus picked us up at 8:15am (after we enjoyed some chicken pho for breakfast- that is a sort-of spicy chicken noodle soup for you unindoctrinated folk, and, for as much as we've tried to avoid eating street food, we just found out it's made at some lady's stand down the street and is the best we've had). We piled in the bus and found ourselves with some other travelers- a son and parents from Malaysia, Dave, Sandy and Gail from NYC (Dave lives in Hong Kong), and we picked up four British Doctors that just worked in New Zealand for a year (Fiona, Jane, Ellie, Tory). As you can see, we didn't talk to the Malaysians very much, but the rest of us turned out to be a very fun group.

We sat on the van-bus for 3 hours, eventually ending up in Halong Bay. We had one stop at a crafts place where we were tempted to buy, but did not since a) we have no more money and b) we might want some souvenirs in our house from Thailand as well. But, at the bay we loaded up on to our shuttle boat to take us to the cruising boat. We had heard horror stories of dilapidated boats and rats on board (if you get the cheap tours), so we went with the more expensive tour - Baitulong travels on the White Dolphin. And we were not disappointed- the White Dolphin was a very nice ship! You should have heard the British girls shout in delight when they saw there rooms- I can only imagine what types of places they were staying in before. It was a very nice room, although the shower was dimly lit and the AC wasn't cooking enough for us (but when it is this hot and you are out all day, it is never cooking enough!

Our first activity was waiting for lunch. 30 minutes after we went on board, we sat for an 8 course lunch. It started with a very traditional Vietnamese food- French Fries! No problem, Carrie had been craving them for the last 10 days. Then, in no particular order, we had clams, crab, fried fish, and a seafood salad with rice. Fruit for dessert (and maybe one or two more dishes- as with any cruise, they fed us till we dropped).

After lunch came the exploration of the Amazing Cave that was used as a film set in James Bond- Tomorrow Never Dies. Quite beautiful! Definitely inspired us (me at least) to go find some caving expedition when we are up on Boston. Outside the cave was a floating village that people live on year-round. They even have a floating bank!

After the cave, we got back to the White Dolphin for swimming and kayaking. Most of us went kayaking to another part of the bay that was used for the movie. Inside that little cove, everyone jumped out of their kayaks to go swimming. Why not? What danger could there be? Little did we know that there was a jellyfish lurking under the water with a hunger for my ankle. When it grabbed me, you've never seen me move so fast back into my kayak. I nearly flew out of the water. I guess it didn't grab me to bad, since my leg just got red under my calf, and it tingled/hurt quite a bit. But after a nap and some insect bite lotion (forgot our benadryl) and some beers, the leg didn't hurt at all!

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on the boat, enjoying the scenery, sun, and water. Lots of people dove off the boat into the water (neither of us did). We also discovered the secret to saving money in Halong Bay. The drinks from the boat cost upwards from $2 for a small bottle of water- a far cry from the $0.40 we spent in Hanoi. But, the floating village residents use their entrepreneurial instincts and load up little row boats filled with snacks, cold water, wine and cold beer. Of course, they cost more than in Hanoi, but significantly less than the boat. Carrie got us a bottle of wine, and I got Pringles, Oreos, and some Gold Beer.

About this time, we picked up two people from Australia. They were on a 2 night cruise, as opposed to our 1 night, and had been deposited on a different boat that morning, with a plan to return to our boat (their original boat) in the afternoon. Since we were the only other couple on the boat, Lindsey and Darren became our dining buddies. Lindsey is actually American, but had been living in Australia for the last 7 years. It was fun to listen to her Australian accent go in and out. Darren would later present himself as the instigator of our midnight boat diving adventure.

Dinner was with Lindsey and Darren, and similar food. Shrimp (head on), noodles, fish and crab cakes. Good, but we didn't take as many pics since we had company.

After dinner was just drinks and hanging out, and the aforementioned diving off the boat. I overcame a my old fear of heights, and my new fear of jelly fish and jumped as well. It hurt quite a bit landing, but the fall itself was fun. Carrie amused herself mostly by laughing at me. After Ha (our tour guide) came up and told us we couldn't dive anymore (little did we know that our dives took us right past the sleeping Malaysians windows) we headed off to bed.

We woke at 7:30, and found some people already lounging and enjoying the post-sunrise sun. Some (Darren and other Dave aka Disco Dave) didn't join us until 10ish, do to the additional activities of the night before, but we won't go into those (let's just say 2 bottles of wine, bottle of tequila and 2 bottles of Vodka for 11 people). But it was a very relaxing morning in the Bay with both a full breakfast and lunch. We got back on the van-bus and headed back to Hanoi. It was a long trip on a bouncy bus with a stop at another touristy place. Carrie and I got ice cream cones that tasted like they had been frozen 5-10 years ago.

Back in Hanoi we were exhausted, but we had to head out to FedEx to send our clothes from Hoi An home. We had heard that the Vietnamese Post Office was quite difficult to use, and we didn't quite trust them, but fortunately there was DHL, UPS, and FedEx all on the same block. We carried our 25.5 kg of clothes to each one and asked them a price for the US. When that came back as $400, we decided to send them to Chris's in Singapore. Much cheaper ($173 at FedEx). We will be picking them up and checking them thru on our way back home. And if anyone from FedEx reads this- it is really ridiculous that you don't take credit cards in Hanoi. And if anyone reads this at VietBank, it is really ridiculous that you have never seen a duel signature travelers check, but I appreciate the tellers patience as I explained to her why my signature didn't match Carrie's.

We headed back to the hotel for a shower and Carrie got to watch the end of a movie that she fell asleep during the other night (The One with Jet Li and Jason Stathom. Really really bad). Then we walked out to get some eats. The thing with Hanoi is, it is really hard to eat. There are a million places that you can eat from someone cooking on the curb, but if you want an actual restaurant, you better be prepared to walk, or know where you are going in advance. Eventually we found a place called Gecko. I didn't get Vietnamese besides my spring rolls, choosing an average Hawaiian Pizza instead. I like Vietnamese, but I don't really crave it (can't wait for Thai tho). Carrie got a traditional dish, Cha Ca- more or less Vietnamese grilled fish fajitas but with rice paper instead of tortillas. It was really good, and might be our lunch today.

After dinner we went to the night market. The night market is pretty cheap and a good place to go for some cheap souvenirs, but of course, we already bought most of what we needed. So we walked around, sweated alot, and headed home. Carrie fell asleep in the middle of Ocean's 13, but I made it thru.

Breakfast this morning was Pho, and Carrie is currently getting her nails done for $2 at our hotel. They actually clean the tools, so why not. Today should be a lazy walk around day, and then check out and head to Luang Prabang in Laos. The next time you hear from us we will be at the Merry Guest House!

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