You have rods, what more do you want from me?

Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
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Trip End Jun 11, 2011


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Where I stayed
Aclass Junk Boat

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, April 1, 2011

The night before we were told that the bus for our 3.5 hour trek to Ha Long Bay would pick us up between 8 and 8:30. To play it safe, we woke up at 6:30 in order to get ready and enjoy our last breakfast at The Little Hanoi 2. Right at 8 we were told that it would be closer to 8:30, but as we waited in the lobby, 8:30 came and went, then 8:45, finally at 9 we were picked up. At least it was only 30 mins late (I have a feeling this is going to happen a lot).  The bus was full with lots of Europeans.  About a third of the bus were made up of Frenchies, a third made up of German/Austrians, and a third from the UK.  This made quite the interesting mix as these groups tend to not like each other.  We of course sided with the Brits as my high school French is shaky at best, but Amy was able to speak some German to fit in with that group. 

The bus ride was fairly uneventful (save the uneven bumpy roads and interesting traffic rules) as I spent the time gazing out the window.  I spotted a lot of rice paddies (score another one for the scavenger hunt), a lot of men peeing on the side of the road and aiming directly at the bus (if only I had a Coke to hold out the window, I would have scored another one from the scavenger hunt), near accidents at every turn, and the Vietnam Canon Camera manufacturing plant.  It was at this moment that we had to have "the talk" with Amy's camera.  We told the poor lad that yes, we paid money to bring him to the states and this was his original home.  It was our hope that we would give him a good place to live.  In the end he forgave us for withholding this information from him and we continued on to Ha Long Bay. 

We stopped halfway through the journey to "use the restrooms."  However, the restrooms were at the back of the biggest tourist trap gift shop I have seen on this trip (including Disneyland).  Handmade goods and silks as far as the eye can see, and they can ship to anywhere in the world (in case we wanted to buy a 6 foot stone statue of a lion or a Buddha).   Not to mention the place was extremely overpriced.  Right when I thought I wouldn't spend more than $3 on any item in Vietnam, this place came around.  We quickly used the bathroom hoping to go right back on board, but they kept us in the store for 30 minutes, and finally I succumbed to the pressure and purchased a Snickers bar (in my second country now).  Back on board we finally finished the trip.

The pier at Ha Long was a madhouse.  Every Westerner imaginable was there from dirty backpackers to wealthy retirees.  All of the boats have a similar itinerary, it just depends if you want to spend 1, 2, or 3 days on board and what level of service you would prefer.  After waiting about 20 minutes, the dinghy came by to take us to our Aclass junk boat.  Holding 12 cabins, it is a fairly averaged size boat.  We didn't want to go with one of the bigger ships that had 40 cabins as you had to fight for common space.  As we got on board they handed us a cup of tea and we explored for 3 minutes before lunch was served.  There were 3 tables and everyone segregated into their nationality groups.  We had a lovely conversation with a father/son duo and a couple from England, as well as a family of 4 from Germany (they didn't fit in with the other Germans because they were traveling for 3 months with a 3 year old and a newborn, which was frowned upon by the others).  Lunch was described as being authentic, which it was for the most part (save the French fries), and was very good. We then checked out our rooms which were first class - comfortable bed, life jackets and a huge bathroom with a rain forest hot water shower. Amy claims perhaps the best shower in Asia but of course this has yet to be tested.

After lunch we were able to enjoy the scenery and I must say that it is spectacular, limestone mountains as far as the eye can see (which was not very far on this foggy day).  Now I know why it is being considered as one of the seven natural wonders of the world (and we were told to vote for it close to twenty times in the two days we were there).  We then boarded the dinghy again which took us to a small fishing village where we were able to kayak around the area or let a local row you around.   I asked Amy if she was planning on helping me in the kayak or if we should take the row boat. She elected the role of official kayak photographer but agreed to paddle a bit. In the end we decided on the kayak and to Amy’s credit she was actually pretty good (at causing us to go in circles).  We were able to kayak through a few caves which were even more amazing as there was no one else around. Except, of course, our fellow tour-mates who insisted on yodeling once through the caves which was cute the first time and rather annoying after that. It was definitely a scene out of a movie.  We then made our way back to the fishing village in order to purchase fruit.  Since we have already tried dragon fruit, we went with lychees this time.  We also noticed the village had everything necessary in order to live (like a bar).  There were a lot of dogs and cats as well which made me wonder where they went to the bathroom. 

Back on board the Aclass, we started our party which consisted of a glass of local Vietnamese wine, some fruit (pineapple and dragon fruit), and some music (mostly Rhianna).  We then had our cooking class where we were taught how to make anam (fried spring rolls).  Not sure we were really taught anything though as the mixture was premade and they cooked them for us.  But at least we learned how to wrap a spring roll for when I make them at home.  Amy enjoyed that the tour guide asked all the men in the group to practice first so that they could make them for the women once back home.  We then had time to relax before another authentic meal, and chatted the rest of the night away with our new friends (although we never got any of their names).  Just before going to bed, our guide Sunny asks if anyone would like to go fishing in two minutes.  The English speaking brigade decided to give it a go, so we headed down to the dinghy and waited.  After ten minutes, we figured that we might be taking the dinghy out to fish, where it was quieter.  So we went back up to grab a few roadies (you cant fish without beer).  After another thirty minutes of waiting, one of the blokes decided to see if Sunny was ever going to come down.  Sunny then exclaims "You have rods down there, what more do you want from me?"  The man has got a point.  We took turns fishing for squid (with rods) for about twenty minutes before deciding it was pointless (there was even a time when we though we would catch something by just sweeping the fishing net around in the water).  My guess is there is nothing living in the water since it is so polluted by all the boats.

The next morning was another early wake up call.  After breakfast we were taken to Hang Suc So (translated to "Amazing Cave" or "Surprising Cave").  There are 250 steps to the cave, which consisted of 3 rooms (with each room getting bigger than the previous).  The rock formations were carved over the last 280 million years and the Vietnamese have found shapes out of many different rocks.  There is the dragon’s head, the turtle, the two feet, the Buddha, and one other object that is up for debate.  Some believe that it is a canon shooting a hole into the ceiling (picture on the left), but if you see it from a different angle, it looks like something else (picture on right).  Nate if you are having trouble figuring out what it looks like, ask Kirby.  The cave certainly was amazing and I agree with the name.  Once out of the third room you get a great view of the bay and all the ships docked there.

We had one final lunch on the ship as we headed back to the pier and then on to Hanoi.  The bus ride back had some of the same sites as before (who would have thought), including the stop over at another tourist trap.  We made it back to our hostel to use the facilities and check email before our overnight train to Hue.  I love the hostel/hotel system here - even though we checked out from the cheap hostel 2 days earlier we were able to use their lobby, internet, W/C and they gave us tea during our transfer. Before going to the railway station, we wanted to get pho one more time so we tried once again to go to the place recommended in Lonely Planet.  They were closing up shop just as we got there, so back to Pho 24 for a quick meal (as we had to hurry in order to catch our train).  We made it to the new and improved Hanoi train station (the old one was bombed by those dirty Americans) and attempted to find our train.  Luckily there were a few nice men very eager to point you exactly to your cabin for a small fee (which apparently isn’t small enough as the first tip I gave him wasn’t enough).  Now I will let Amy take over to tell you why we will never take another train in Vietnam.

Amy here: I had told many of my family and friends before leaving on this trip that I was looking forward to the challenges it would bring. I wanted to be taken outside of my comfort zone and experience new things. I guess I should take that back about now because the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue just about did me in. Our hotel was nice enough to purchase tickets for us on the 'upgraded' soft-sleeper train (for a premium of course). On first look the train seemed almost clean with sparse furnishings and very basic construction - compartments had 4 beds each, 2 on each side with a table under the window between them. The whole train seemed made out of wood and the floors some rubbery substance so you could clearly see what was clean and what wasn't. I was pretty satisfied and right away made up my bed by tossing the standard issue pillow and blanket to the side and rolling out my sleep sack and airline pillow I had nicked from Dragonair on the way here. Then Dave and I waited for our mystery compartment mates. We watched as the entire car filled up with Western tourists. About 20 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave an older gentleman arrived and crashed onto the bottom bunk. After some initial conversation we learned he's a retired biologist from Vancouver whose wife wasn't willing to make this trip with him. During the conversation I noticed a few bugs, almost beetle like, crawling on the opposite wall above Mr. Canada Biologist's bed. Dave did his best to kill them and I was satisfied. The train started off and was quite jerky but we all chalked it up to still being in the city. After more chatting (Mr. Canada Biologist had come the other way through SE Asia so we were asking advice), Dave settled down on the bottom bunk to draft the blog entries for Hanoi and I went up top above him to listen to an audio book (the Glass Castle, excellent read). After about 30 minutes I notice more bugs crawling on the wall. I jumped down and Dave helped kill them. Now Mr. Canada Biologist is watching us and remarks that the bugs are harmless, just small cockroaches. Trying to be brave, I smile, say I can do this, no problem, and go back up to lie down and listen to more book on ipod. I turn off the light and try to relax to go to sleep. 30 minutes later I open my eyes and there are now several larger cockroaches all scampering around the side wall next to my head. I leap down and feel nauseous (although to be fair this could be from the extremely jerky train and some of you reading this blog know how carsick I get). After sitting on the bottom bunk for a bit to calm down, Mr. Canada Biologist offers up some bug spray he has with him (we only have bug lotion, not spray). Dave accepts and sprays the whole top bunk. At this point I am tired, nauseous and can only imagine loads of cockroaches eating me all night long. I've worked myself into quite a tizzy. Being the wonderful husband that he is, Dave offers to switch with me and takes the top bunk and falls asleep right away, I can hear him snoring. I am lying on the bottom bunk listening to my book terrified to sleep. Besides, the train made stops every hour or so and when it came to a stop it lurched so much so Dave almost fell off at one point. And then we learned Mr. Canada Biologist had some sort of nighttime bathroom fetish where he got up and opened the door with a bang about 7 times throughout the night. Speaking of the bathroom, let's just say I would prefer the bathroom in the train from Xi'an to Beijing. Although this had a western toilet that was fairly clean, the window to the outside was wide open the entire night. By morning, the toilet, sink and all surface areas were covered with mosquitos. Guys may not appreciate this but imagine having to turn around, take off your pants and bare your bum to the schools of mosquitos. This was 6am and we only had 4 long hours to go until we finally arrived at the Hue station after 10:30am. I think from now on, we'll look at taking the bus or flying! 
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Comments

suj on

i am very proud of you amy! i would want to go back home after that many cockroaches. i've been known to do it before, right dave?

Libby on

First of all, I love Glass Castle. Second of all, isn't this also one of the places where they've been on the Amazing Race? And third of all, I am proud of you for surviving. It'll be a good story to tell... when you're sitting at home in your cozy house with a clean, bug-free bathroom.

Kim Nguyen on

I directed from your Twitter page (@PacificRimjob). Very interesting and educational dialog and photograph!

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