Hell Long Bay
When we arrived at “The Real” Kangaroo cafe we were informed that we would be on a different boat than what we had booked. When asked if different equalled nicer the hostess paused and then unconvincingly said she liked our new boat more. Off to a good start? On the plus side, our boat consisted of a small group, ourselves and a family from the states.
The ride out to Ha Long City turned out to be very informative. After giving us the usual scripted spiel, our guide gave us his thoughts and views on communist/capitalist Vietnam, how things were, how things are, and how things may be.
After stopping at a tourist trap rest area we arrived at our ship. Mixed in with 25-50 other Junk, the “White Dolphin” would be our home for the night. We were happy to find that it was a nice ship and not a diesel tug boat from the 50s. Our rooms were surprisingly roomy although they did smell like an outhouse.
We feasted on a seafood lunch then toured a small island that had a lookout some 200 steps up. From the top, you get a spectacular view of the thousand-plus surrounding islands. These islands appear to shoot up out of the water and take amazing shapes. Your imagination takes over as you look at them, much like it does putting shapes to cloud formations.
My personal favourites are the drowning PAC-MAN island and the crocodile moving his 3 story house. I can honestly say I saw these shapes without any alcohol in my blood.
After the climb, we rented kayaks which were both amazing and tragic. We paddled our way over to a cave and passed through. On the other side is an enclosed sanctuary. It is amazing. We floated in silence and soaked in the scenery. Around the time of cracking my second beer, my new camera tragically met its end as it fell into the bottom of the kayak and briefly sat in about an inch of salt water. For me, this was the beginning of the end of Ha Long Bay and perhaps Vietnam. More on that later.
On the way back we stopped to watch monkeys play and eat in the wild. Sadly no photos. When we arrived back at the kayak rental boat our sandals, which we were told to leave on the deck, were nowhere to be found. I spent the next 15 confusing minutes going back and forth between boats in search of our footwear. Thankfully they recovered. Upon returning to the boat we were told that there was a charge for beer that we had bought while kayaking…beer we had already paid for and consumed. Justin was charged for a bottle of vodka that he never opened on that trip. Now I don’t want to take away from the beauty of the area, it truly is a unique and gorgeous spot. However, you can see how these events started to add up.
We sat on the deck drinking Hanoi beer and watched the sun extinguish itself. It’s only a camera, its only Dong. Life is good.
Another ridiculous feast followed. We started to feel like all we were doing on the boat itself was eating so after dinner Justin got us some bamboo fishing rods. He had caught calamari in Thailand and New Zealand and said it was a lot of fun to watch the alien-like squid squirt ink when caught. We quickly caught a few and it was hilarious. They shoot sooooo much ink. So gross. So fun. Again, no pictures.
A couple of bottles of wine followed while lounging on the rooftop deck before we retired to our poo shacks for the night. When we checked in we noticed a few small cockroaches which we had become used to. When we returned to our rooms for the night that few became many and some were scurrying across the beds. That coupled with the fact that Erin had stepped on one earlier was enough for us to ask for a new room which of course they did not have.”Oh no, you never step on them” said our new American friend. “That attracts hundreds more and the eggs that are carried on their backs can live on your shoes and follow you home.” Awesome.
We spent a long time contemplating sleeping on the cold deck before moving our beds away from the wall, pushing them together, and dousing them with bug spray. We also slept fully clothed and with the lights on. I hadn’t slept with the lights on since I was 10 years old after watching Stephen King’s “IT”. Worst night ever.
Naturally, I was up as soon as the sun was. A rested and relaxed-looking Justin appeared around the time breakfast was being served. “How did you sleep?” he asked. “This boat is a hell hole in paradise” I replied after explaining my sleepless night.
We were going to start the day off with a swim but as we found the day prior, 500 + boats a day can really take its toll on the surrounding environment. The water was a sludge-like green in spots. It is several shades cleaner/darker than the antifreeze-coloured lake in Hanoi but still not a welcoming colour. It was far from the crystal blue water we read about in the 2002 review. As I sat disgruntled in the morning sun I could see the assholes jumping off the roof of the boat, splishing/splashing and having a gay old time. At that moment I loathed that reviewer. The next best refreshing thing was a shower but our outhouse bathroom and the boat’s “fresh” water supply were not appealing. Again, my experience is my experience. The place and area are GORGEOUS and a must-see if in that part of the world. We would later meet someone who was there at the same time as us. He said he had an amazing time on his boat. He also paid 4 x as much as what we did which only proves you get what you pay for.
After another grossly large meal, we docked at the “Amazing” Caves. The name does not miss lead as the caves are truly amazing. This cave is huge.
Shortly after the cave tour, we set sail for Ha Long city where we were bussed back to Hanoi. To recap, Ha Long bay is definitely amazing, the boat we were on was definitely an experience and made for a couple of nights of Hell Long Bay.