Halong Bay “Tour”

We wanted to visit the world-renowned Halong Bay, and to do so we would need to go book a tour. The city is scattered with travel agencies, mostly Sinh Cafes so we had no problems finding a tour. We heard that many Sinh Cafes are fake, so we had the sales lady show us a stamped letter of authenticity. We thought we were in the clear. Clearly, by the picture I am painting we were not. The next day we left for a 3-day 2-night trip to Halong Bay.

 Our minivan picked us up early from our hotel. VP and I hadn’t eaten our breakfast or had our coffee yet- not good. That would be the last time they did anything early throughout our ‘tour’. We joined 18 other passengers in a van. We were the only 2 from the U.S. The rest were from Denmark, Iran, Germany, France, Malaysia, and Japan, quite an eclectic group of countries. English was the common language. Filled to max capacity, and then some, our van made the 4-hour trip to the Bay. No possibility of sleep for the drive was so bumpy it would be described as disturbing at best.

We waited at the port for about an hour for our ‘junk boat’, a long wooden boat that sleeps about 20 passengers. The boat sailed into the bay. The view was incredible; green hills jutting out of the blue ocean. We were surrounded by beauty. The boat floated through a fishing village. The village was composed of about 20 boats floating peacefully. Adults, children and dogs lived afloat. There was even a school boat for the children! The ladies and children from the village came out in little canoe-like boats to sell us fruit. Come to think of it, I’m not sure where they would have gotten their fruit from. It was unbelievable.

We visited enormous caves filled with neon lights, and then docked out on Cat Ba Island where we were to spend our first night.


We waited at the dock for about an hour to be picked up by a new tour guide and brought to our hotel. The island was nice and we spent our evening in a little bar listening to Jack Johnson on the stereo. The next day we were given a tiny breakfast, and then we waited over an hour for another tourguide to pick us up. Once picked up we had to back track for about an hour to pick up some more people to fill our tour to capacity. Once full we went to Cat Ba’s National Park where we hiked up a mountain. On top of the mountain was an entirely rusted out 75 ft tall watchtower. At first Vince wouldn’t climb it but when he turned around to go down he was blocked by people and he knew he was in for the long haul. It was beautiful from up there.


After the hike we were transported to the dock, where we had to wait for a couple hours for our boat to come back; all the while being attacked by ladies at the dock wanting to sell us their goods. “10,000 Dong for water. It is 20,000 on Cat Ba. 10,000 beer? It is cold. Cigarettes?”

After the bulk of the daylight sun had passed we boarded our boat. Peace at last. We watched the sun set over Halong’s backdrop. By sundown we anchored. Several of us jumped a good 20 feet into the dark waters below. Exhilarating.. and surprisingly painful. I’ve never jumped from so high up, and certainly never into such uncertain jellyfish filled night-waters. We ate our alleged ‘seafood by sunset’ dinner, which was more like fishcakes in darkness. Vince observed more than a few mice scamper across the floor. The workers didn’t seem the least bit surprised. For the night our boat shared a generator with another boat. The exhaust from the overworked generator filled the night sky-– so much for fresh air. Still, we had a wonderful evening conversing on the moonlit roof deck with our new friends

When the evening ended, VP and I went down to our sleeping quarters. Though the lights in our quarters below were dim, we were able to see mouse poo on our beds. Gross. I closed the curtains and saw one of the little critters scurry out and down the bed. “A mouse! A mouse!” I yelled and jumped on the bed. It was just like out of a cartoon. Personally, I thought I would’ve handled myself better, but I just freaked out. We had a hand-charging flashlight. When you squeeze it, it makes a clicking sound, and illuminates the bulb. Vince pulled it out and began clicking away, searching all crevices for mice. He didn’t find any, but we decided it would be safest to sleep with the lights on, just in case. So we’re stuffed in a tiny, dirty cabin. No aircon, and windows closed to keep mice out. It was stuffy, and musky, and we lay stiff staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep, with the lights on. Eventually we did. At about 5 in the morning I woke up and turned out the lights. Not more than 10 seconds later I heard the clicking of Vince hand charging the flashlight..

 The next morning we woke up for a cold egg, some stale bread and a bit of jelly for breakfast. We went kayaking around the bay, which was great. As soon as we got back on the junk boat, dripping wet, our tour guide told us he needed our room key for immediate checkout. What he should’ve said is please take a shower, pack your things and checkout. Instead, when I refused to give him the room key before showering he just said to, “hurry up”. We irritably did, as our boat docked.

 Our tour guide had us gather all our bags and walk just out the port gates. He then informed us that we had an hour ‘free time’. Of course this was just more waiting with nothing to do. As he was finishing his sentence the unrelenting souvenir ladies squeezed their way into our group as began, “cigarettes, water, beer…” We waited. Our 4-hour ride back to Hanoi was bumpier than our ride in. Breathing irregularly, Vince was about to ask the driver to pull over so he could puke. Thankfully, we arrived. As we got out of the car the elder Iranian man was calling out, “Torture, torture!”

 It was a truly memorable tour. Though lesson learned- stay away from all Sinh City travel agencies, it’s just not worth trying to hunt out the real one (if a real one does even exist).


~ by The Piersas on October 22, 2008.

One Response to “Halong Bay “Tour””

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