An Englishman, a German and an Israeli...
Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
92Trip End Jan 01, 2014
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Where I stayed
Sunflower Two Hotel Cat Ba
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Read my review - 3/5 stars
We set off full of optimism on Tuesday morning for our trip to one of the "natural wonders of the world", Halong Bay. Somehow, the Vietnamese managed to ruin this experience with contemptible behavior. After Ninh Binh-gate, we were towards the end of our tether with the country, so when the minibus arrived on time our mood lifted somewhat. We had also paid for the "delux" version of the two night, three day visit to Halong Bay so were expecting pseudo-VIP treatment throughout. The reality was somewhat different as several nationalities were crammed into a minibus which was driven surprisingly slowly by Nam standards from Hanoi to Halong Bay, arriving around four hours after we had left the capital.
The scene at the port was one of insanity and, as with all "organised" tours in Vietnam, one got the impression that all the key protagonists were doing their job for the first ever time, when in fact they repeat the same role several times a week
We were however soon off the boat as we took the short journey from Halong Bay City (think Benidorm, but weirder) to a cave maybe a kilometre away. The cave itself was stunning but there were so many tourists inside that it was almost impossible to enjoy. The usual vast tourist numbers had been swelled hugely by the fact that we were there during the very long Vietnamese national holiday (the reasons for which was never properly explained to us) and it was a slow trudge through a tackily light wonder of nature, all the while being barged by Vietnamese who have been taught neither patience nor manners
We had been joined by two Poles (of course, making for an excellently combustible historical group) and a Vietnamese family in Cat Ba and the Poles soon latched onto the horrible atmosphere between guests and crew, which was exacerbated by a dinner eaten in silence, with the odd glare between the two groups as the crew again ate like kings whilst we were the beggars at the feast. Any Twist style requests for more food were met with Dickensian strength rebuttals and it was turning into a thoroughly unpleasant experience. We had all agreed to drink nothing further unless drink prices were reduced - a deal which Shelley and I successfully brokered, but only on the proviso that we have at least 20 beers between the 8 tourists on board
Life in our large and well presented cabin was to present the next challenge as moving the suitcase from the bed caused the migration of a small population of beetles. Shelley was unsettled by this but I persuaded her all would be OK if she just went to sleep but worse was to follow when, just before lights out, a huge cockroach ran across the headboard of our bed. She was now screaming and my solution was to summon the effects of the countless cans of beer I had drained throughout the day to sympathetically pass out, only to be woken up throughout the night by screams at every slight noise in the cabin. Matters deteriorated even further when I was awoken at 5am pouring with sweat to find that the Ac had been turned off
Things went from bad to worse as we pulled up from our 50 metre voyage to Cat Ba Island, where we would all spend the second night of our trip, as four policeman were awaiting the arrival of our boat and the crew were refusing to hand over Ely's passport. It did not look promising as the crew babbled away in Vietnamese with their side of the story whilst no one explained to us what was happening - we had at least all remained to stay together and support Ely until matters were resolved (true progress). However, soon enough an interpreter who spoke excellent English was summoned and the police quickly surmised it was a tour complaint rather than police matter, and peace finally came to the West Bank (of Cat Ba) - ha ha. There was still time for the crew to threaten to come onto the island to cut Ely's throat and stab the rest of us before we were able to wash our hands of a thoroughly unpleasant time..
The only designated activity once on the again Jurassic Park esque, and very large, Cat Ba Island was climbing one of its many peaks, something which I achieved but only at the expense of about a week's worth of fluid in the oppressive heat of a jungle. Once this was completed we were transferred to the thoroughly pleasant Sunflower Hotel and fed before being left to our own devices. We reunited with the league of nations from the initial bus trip down, initially soaking up the sun on one of Cat Ba's many beaches before drinking the night away until 2am in a bar which had probably never previously hosted an English/Scottish/Dutch/Chilean/Israeli contingent...
Good times tend to come with an associated physical price tag and our group who had shared such a good night only hours earlier barely had the energy to look each other in the eye or say hello when we saw each other again at 730am. The boat trip back to Halong City and subsequent bus trip back to Hanoi were both painless enough but the overall sentiment of all who had taken the trip (including those not on our boat) was that the Vietnamese had managed to turn what should have been a fabulous experience into a nightmare by treating people with unprovoked hostility. As per the previous sign off, it is a stunning country but one which is ruined by most interactions with the natives (particularly, ironically, those engaged directly in the service industry whilst those in the countryside are fantastically innocent). So it was that our last act before boarding a bus to thankfully take us out of this country was to spend an hour in a tour office with the two Israelis complaining bitterly about our treatment on something we had paid good money for...