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Southeast Asia

Halong Bay, Vietnam |

Halong City

We have been taking "tourist buses" just about every time we traveled in Vietnam. You are generally picked up from an area around where your hotel is and dropped in an area where you can easily find a hotel. They actually drop you off at a very specific hotel and strongly, strongly suggest you stay there, but it has been easy enough to find something to our liking in the area. You do have to suffer though stops at the "International Tourist Traditional Handy Craft Stop" and meals at isolated restaurants that charge way too much for vegetable soup (read: instant noodles with carrot slices). However, in my opinion the most expensive (and most frustrating) travel can be trying to negotiate from a bus station to a hotel. In the end the extra cost of the tourist ticket can pay off.

With Halong Bay the price of a tourist bus ticket is super expensive because agency wants you to take their tour. Why pay $9 each way for a ticket when you can do a whole tour for $35! We refuse to take a tour because tours are horrible at the best of times and we had no idea how to pick a trustworthy agency. The public bus cost was about $2.00. After navigating our way to the bus station we began the "everyone swarm us and try to pull us towards your bus and make us pay a really high price for our ticket" game as there is no ticket both or posted prices. That would be too easy. We try to go directly to a bus to ask the
driver and passengers where the bus is going and how much it costs. I was in
the process of completing the aforementioned task and found myself
wedged between two buses. A little man with his arms extended a la let me give you a hug stood in my way. He proceeded to push me back to get me on to his bus. A swift karate chop and a good old fashion schoolyard push later and the little man was out of my way
with a puzzled look on his face and everyone else was laughing. Really,
if you forcibly confine me you will totally win my business buddy. I don't think he meant any harm because we have seen Vietnamese people push each
other at times. None-the-less, I don't adapt to cultural norms involving violent bodily contact very well. At this point we were saved by a young woman who told us her bus was going to Halong City for the correct price.

Halong City itself appears overdeveloped. We got mobbed by hoteliers with all sorts of "best deals." Brandon went to a 5 star hotel and told them it was our honeymoon to see what kind of deal they might give us. $75 isn't bad for 5 stars, but still a little out of our budget. Plus they told us their hot tub wasn't working at the time.

The next day we bought a boat tour of the bay to see the caves and to
go to Cat Ba Island for $10.00 from our hotel. Getting onto the boat was a bit of an issue. The hotel puts you on two motorbikes to take you to the pier. You tell the hotel guy to make sure the drivers know that we are not
to pay for the ride as it is included in the tour. Again, please tell
the poor driver you will pay him. When we arrive at the dock of course
the drivers are looking for money from us.

After we managed to get on the boat the bay was beautiful but it was very foggy. The fog did give the bay a mysterious and at times eerie feel. I
could not get over the number of hawks gliding around the area. You
might see a single hawk or a pair of hawks at home but at any time
there were 5-6 hawks gliding in the bay that would swoop down and grab fish 20 meters away from us.

The caves we visited are spectacular natural wonders. They are massive and have all kinds of crazy stalactites, stalagmites. The colored lights are a tad hokey, still neat to visit.

Cat Ba Island
Our boat tour ended at Cat Ba Island. The ride from the port we arrived across Cat Ba island was just about the best part of the trip! The island looks prehistoric with thick foliage and tree leaves that look to be as big a person.We spent 2 nights on Cat Ba island and had the good fortune to meet up with a great Swedish couple. I have to repeat a situation they found themselves in because it shows the the random craziness of Vietnam. The couple did not think they were being provided with what was promised in their tour package. When they confronted their tour guide about correcting the situation the guide freaked out. He hit the girl and proceeded to try to throw a potted plant at her even though the guy was doing the talking. All the couple was trying to do was figure out what could be done about their concerns. That goes to show how far western style problem solving skills go!

We did piggyback on a hike "though the National Park" organized by the Swedish couple's tour group. There is an entry fee for the National Park that the tour agency advertises as included in the fee for the overall tour and they took us on a hike outside the national park where there was no fee. It was a really great hike and I'm sure inside the national park wouldn't have been different. It is easy for me to say that because we didn't pay the "National Park Fee." :)

In the evenings a group of us who kept running into each other all over the country met up for some Bia Hoi. Bia Hoi is fresh beer without preservatives that is about 20 cents a glass. It is actually pretty good beer. The only catch is trying to find a keg that looks clean enough to be something you want to drink out of! There were many good times had over a round (or two) of Bia Hoi.

We took a hydrofoil from Cat Ba to Hai Phung and caught a bus from
there back to Hanoi.

Locations Visited: Ha Noi, Ha Long, Cat Ba

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