Ha Long Bay - The kayaking trip that wasn't
Posted Date: 3/7/20133:16 AM

The tour promised hours of ocean kayaking through caves and massive granite islets stopping for swims and short treks.  We were happy to pay $85 per person for an exciting trip, an English-speaking kayak guide and good equipment.  The van picked us up and we were immediately suspicious when the next passengers were a Chinese couple with their grandmother.  “Meh,” we said, “she must be an X-treme Grandma.”  We double-checked our tickets with the guide (who did not, incidentally, speak English) and he quickly assured us that this tour was the right one.  Our next pickups seemed even less likely 

We arrived at the Halong Bay Harbor and marveled at the thousand or so Tourist Junks (big boats that are WAY too fancy to be called Junks, really, most don’t even have sails!) that had managed to wedge themselves along the six or so meters of pier.  At several points the junks were parked seven and eight deep.  Tourists of all descriptions were herded onto these boats, and we confirmed our ticket one last time and stepped aboard the luxurious Bien-something.  We discussed for the first time with other travelers what tours THEY were on, and none of them said kayaking adventure….in fact all said “Halong Bay Cruise”, an enjoyable tour advertised at $35 per person.  Looking around the beautiful ship and the gourmet meal, and seeing the pier drift away behind us sealed it…we’d take the cruise and worry about the cost discrepancy when we got back to Hanoi.
We had a blast on the ship, the Chinese family and Grandma, though not X-treme, were loads of fun though none of them had any English.  There were also a few backpacker couples, one from Denmark and the other from Holland.  We had a good time chatting as the boat glided through a calm blue maze of islets and other tourist junks.  Every islet provided another fantastic view, so there are many, many photos!
Our boat parked at the entrance to two extremely tourist-friendly caves, and our guide sent us up with strict orders to return in 40 minutes, or “boat will leave, no waiting”.  The first cave was decorated in a distinctly Vietnamese style.  Instead of plain color lights, there were lights of every color illuminating all of the interesting formations and grottoes.  The lights often illustrated a theme or story…the dragon formation was all green with red “eyes”, the fairy-pool grotto was all pink and yellow.  Even the garbage bins were amusingly decorated to encourage proper litter disposal.  It was quite nice, as Susan observed: “It’s like, hey, we’re a tourist attraction, let’s not pretend…we’ll go all out!”

The other cave is known as the “Great Cave” and included is a scale photo with Susan providing the scale.  1 Susan = 0.75 Michelles by volume, so the cave is approximately 1.3 million Michelles big.  The only downside to the cave was the obscene amount of grafitti covering most surfaces.  The caves are a UNESCO protected site…it takes a lot of nerve to deface something that the entire WORLD has decided to protect.
Our boat continued to putt around the bay and we came upon a floating village.  This was actually a village that floated, not a collection of boats…it was pretty neat.  The floating school was especially cool, a big building floating on 50 or so 50gal drums.  Our guide was less than amused when Michelle suggested that you’d have to swim to school…obviously you’d take a boat or jetski.

The next stop was a nice but heavily human-polluted beach.  The beach was a small stretch of powdery sand around the base of a lovely islet that probably receives 1000 tourists per day.  We met a large Russian tour group and Michelle had a chance to use her eight Russian words to great effect.  Apparently her accent is not so bad!  The effect may have been too great…the guy she was chatting with became very interested in finding out where we were staying…it quickly turned into an awkward “over…there…” situation. It was definitely a good thing that one of the eight words Tape 1 covered was “good bye”.
We spent the night anchored in a small bay with 15 other boats, diesel generators chugging all night long.  The deep water was nice to swim in, though neither of us were brave enough to jump off the top of the ship like our guide.  The Dutch and Danish guys were complete football fiends, and the night turned out to be the World Cup final.  The ship had satellite tv, and the crew were all prepped to watch (cheering Italia all the way, they wanted no part of those colonising French BARANGS!)  We had indulged in a little too much Tiger beer and white wine to stay up for the 2am match though, and were happy enough to get the rundown from the Danish girl the next morning.  Damn that Zidane and his headbutting ways!  We are so football savvy now!

The cruise back was pretty quiet, Michelle mostly following the ship’s kitten around and the Europeans and ship crew napping their hangovers away.  We arrived back in the harbour for a terrible commission-lunch stop and minibus back to Hanoi.

We took up the issue of our significant over-payment with the guy at the tour desk, but he conveniently forgot how to speak English and the manager was “mobile-off”.  He promised to correct the mixup and have our $110 refund waiting when we got back from our next tour…

Source: Susan and Michelle’s Excellent Adventure – RealTravel.com

A 25 year old engineering students who love the outdoors and travel for adventure and discovery of new people, cultures and fun things to do.
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