26 February 2010

Halong Bay : Finally A Real Vacation in Vietnam

Travelling and vacation are two different things. I mean, travelling is more like you are on the go, moving from one place to another, something that requires you to have a pair of strong legs and an abundance of energy. My idea of having a vacation, on the other hand, is this.

Welcome to Halong Bay!

After what appeared to be an unending minivan ride, we finally reached the Halong Bay port from where we were then deported off on a smaller boat to a bigger 'junk'.
Being at the port of Halong Bay was like being in the movie set of Pirates of The Carribeans. There are like hundreds of ships and junks of all sizes and decors.
There are just so many of them I wonder if the influx of tourists to Halong Bay is THAT sufficient to keep all the businesses running.
I bought the 2D1N tour package from the same tourism info booth that I bought my train ticket to Sapa. Well, there is an unspoken 'trick' when you get on a tour package to Halong Bay. While each junk would usually accommodate a number of tourists once at a time, you would be asked by the tour guide NOT TO REVEAL to the other tourists how much you have paid for the tour. “Can you do me a favor? What you paid was actually for a lower standard tour. But I made you lucky today by putting you in this supposedly more expensive tour. Please DON'T tell the others how much you paid, OK?OK?OK?”. Of course everybody on board KNEW it was all bullshit. While some of the tourists might have paid higher than the others (different agents/different outcomes of nego etc.), there were no such things as paying for a lower standard tour.
They actually welcome us on board with a half-glass of orange juice.
Little did I know it would be the only free drink that I’d ever get on boat. Gotta tell you that what you have paid for is not inclusive of drinks. You gotta pay for each drink that you ordered. Needless to say, the prices are ridiculously high.
But it is only wise that you bring your own drink into the boat. While you might be required to pay if you bring them out to the dining table, it is quite safe to tuck them somewhere inside your bag.
I mean, we gotta be smarter than they are, right? That’s why they are the tour operators and we are the tourists. They serve for the smarter. *cough cough
Lunch came quite so late for us.
It was so so but everybody was hungry so we downed just about everything on the table.
Being the only Asians on board, I shared this room with a Japanese guy who spoke very little English. I had to refrain from dragging him into too much conversation. I didn’t want to make him suffer by trying to understand what I was saying or asking. I got amused every time I caught him mumbling in Japanese though.
The tour began almost immediately after the lunch. Heading towards one of the nature wonders of Halong Bay, I had to keep up being visually distracted by this French guy sprawling half-naked within my eye-sight.
Getting up to the cave requires you to do a little bit of ascending adventure.
It can be tiresome but then it’s worth every bead of your sweat.
Listed as a UNESCO’s world heritage, it is just unmistakable. Having made it to the Top 27 finalists of the World’s New Seven Wonders of Nature (thanks YeinJee for the info), Halong Bay is simply mesmerizing.
Getting into the gigantic cave, there were so many interesting things to see.
The formation of stalactites and stalagmites that took thousands of years to take shapes up to their current forms, it was just so amazing to see how the nature took its course in a wondrous way.
The tour inside the cave is actually all about defining of shapes and forms.
While the tour guide said of this as being the face of a Buddha, I beg to differ.
I mean, doesn’t it look more like the face or Mr. Ho Chi Minh?
But then, it all really depends on how you define them according to your own judgment.
While we all came up with different definitions of the shapes and forms of the stalactites and stalagmites, we all unanimously agreed very much about this one here.
Pink Red in color, it really STOOD OUT. Pointing directly to a gaping hole, the nature really knows how to get dirty humorous in its natural course.
And of course, I couldn’t leave without taking a photo.
Out in the open later, the scenery offered at the viewing platform was simply a picture postcard.
The view was just spectacular I really wouldn't have minded staying there for months if they provided me with at least 3-star foods and everything. Ohh, most importantly, a 24-hour GOOD internet connection - not any of those superslow burukbands we have here in Malaysia! LOL!
Down to the jetty later, it was time for…………………………. Kayaking!
And kayaking means baring a lot of cellulite. LOL!
Being first timers, kayaking had proved to be not an easy task for me and the Japanese guy.
Kayaking can be both fun and tormenting. We had only been in the water for less than 15 minutes when muscle strains were beginning to grip vigorously around my biceps.
DO NOT ATTEMPT anything stupid camwhoring around with your camera. Dropping a paddle into the water could make you instantly poorer by at least USD20.
Ok. I did it anyway. :=p
I really thought 1 hour was too short for something as fun as kayaking. Instead, we ended up getting back to the base 15 minutes before it was over.
Getting back to the junk, it wouldn’t be long before the sky was darkening over Halong Bay.
Sitting idly on the rooftop late in the evening can be so relaxing.
Every now and then the serenity would crack with all kind of noises coming from other ships. I could hear people chattering away and karaoke-ing and partying from a distance. The relaxation that I felt THAT EVENING would linger in me for a very very long time.
I was considering buying an Oreo biscuit from this floating peddler here by asking of the price. Mistake. She would never leave me alone. She kept floating around the boat and shouting ‘Woiii! Wooiii!Wooooooooiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!’. Mind to tell you, it’s their way of saying ‘Hello!’ in Vietnam. Don’t get offended.
I spent most of the night having a long conversation with the other tourists. We shared our experiences and personal encounters in our trips in and outside Vietnam. Talking to people from a totally different culture and background can be so interesting. I got to learn of new things such as – Germans and Austrians actually speak the same language! I couldn’t help but asking whether Arnold Swazanegger call himself an Austrian or American and the ladies from Austria unanimously said ‘Austrian!’. Hmmmm. OK. Let them believe that. Well, you know you're a budget traveller when  ALL the others at the table have beer for a drink and you've got...
an empty glass! Hehe. With two ‘pro-looking’ photographers on-board, our topic of conversation had eventually gotten too stuck to photography and I had to signal out to them by yawning every now and then. I asked to be excused when I couldn’t content it anymore. Besides, it was getting too cold on the outside. My tropical skin couldn’t stand it any longer.
I woke up just in time for the break of dawn except that there was no sun to be seen around. The combination of thick clouds and the morning mist was overshadowing the sun almost to the point I couldn’t even tell the East from the West. But still, it was a beautiful morning in Halong Bay.
As the ship was cruising slowly off across the bay, it was just a perfect time to click my cameras away.
I couldn’t stop snapping photos. The good thing about being on a cruise is that you can just sit and relax and the fingers would automatically click on the camera because you don’t have to watch your steps or anything AT ALL.
It really was a surreal experience to watch the rocky limestone islets of different sizes and shapes looming up and away as if each of them had every reason to be where they were.
The ship was actually heading towards a jetty where some of us would get off the ship to stay another night at a hotel. Due to time restriction, I didn’t take it as part of my tour package this time. I would definitely want to do it some other time.
Returning to the port at the city of Halong Bay later, it was another photo shooting marathon.
You see, I took like 150 photos with this camera the whole morning alone – some of them could have been the best pictures that I took in my entire trip to Vietnam.
I even used my tripod- something that I don’t get to use quite that often.
And then… and then…. And then…. HUHUHUHUHUHUHUHUHUHUHU…. I can’t even bring myself to saying it. *sob sob
Even right at this moment, I still feel like crying. But then, everything happened for a reason. I gotta put my bet on that. :-(

Back on the shore later, we were led to a restaurant where we were served with a variety of dishes for lunch(unfortunately, the pics were inside the stolen camera) before heading back to Hanoi. I must be so drained out I slept my whole journey through this time.
Back in Hanoi later, the whole city seemed to be very much in the celebration mood for the impending Lunar New Year. There were concerts everywhere.
There was at least one more thing that I wanted to go for to complete my trip to Vietnam – the Water Puppet Show.
Apparently, getting a first-class seat (front rows) is not about affordability but how long in advance you can buy the ticket. Believe me, they are easily snapped away. As much as I had wanted to get a first-class seat, I had to settle being a back-bencher.
*they don't accept dollars
But then, Water Puppet Show is something that is OK to go to, but still OK not to go to. Apart from the opening narration, everything is in Vietnamese. You’ll just need to enjoy the humors they are trying to show through the movements of the puppets and the funny vocals they use.
Coming out from the Water Puppet Show, it was almost midnight. But still, the streets of Hanoi were still very much alive.
I suddenly noticed that I had not eaten since my last lunch in Halong Bay. It would be my very last meal in Vietnam.
Errrr, not really. I had this for breakfast at the airport the next morning.
Back in the hotel just after midnight, I had to trust the receptionist in giving me a wake-up call at 5.30am the next morning and arranging for a taxi pick-up to the airport. Trusting him had been quite much of a risk because he couldn't say anything else than OK in English so there was not way of making sure that he understood whatever I was saying when all he kept doing was nodding and winking PLUS his irritatingly impassive expression. *taking breath. Ok, the blame was on the hotel management though. Not him. Please, please and please. You're dealing mouth to mouth with tourists so again....pleeeeeaseeeeee, put in somebody who can at least understand English, will ya?
Well, I actually found myself waking up long before he gave me the morning call. Later when I was at the airport, I had to keep up with some of the rudest airport officers I had ever had to deal with ever since I started travelling a few years ago. Seriously, Vietnamese people can be so friendly they are more then willing to kiss your ass IF they see money coming out from your pocket straight to theirs. I had wanted to believe that they got it from the years of colonization by the French but then, French people that I had met so far were not even that rude. In fact, I really thought this French guy here talked quite too much.
I was having a mixed feelings when it was time to leave Vietnam.
While this wonderful country had been so exciting to both explore and experience, part of me was quite relieved to be back to my own country.
Yuppp. There's nothing like home indeed.  


**~Pu-3~** said...

I just realized that this place was one of the places I really wanted to go to! :D My parents went there once, and I was shocked by the photos they taken. That time i couldnt believe such beautiful place exist!

kenwooi said...

lol-ed at the ho chi minh face figure.. haha.. ya i agree with you.. lol..

and it looks like a good vacation.. glad you enjoyed it.. always feel hard to leave a place after experiencing its lifestyle and culture.. =)


JIPP said...

Yupp, you couldn't be more right keenwooi. A short visit can make it quite hard to leave a place at times.
Pu3: It really is a beautiful place. You should go there. Vietnam is so blessed with beautiful places and Halong Bay is only one of them.

chegu carol said...

so, siapa lah yg ambil semua tu gambar jipp? i mean, since your camera was stolen, whose photos you took to upload in here?

JIPP said...

Carol, I was lucky I did one last photo transfer before I went to bed on the boat. Any photo after that was taken with my other camera. Unfortunately, I took most of my photos with the stolen one. :-(

Tony Nguyen said...

I think you had an enjoyable trip to Vietnam.There is also a lot of things that you can explore.Hope to see you again one day in Vietnam.
vietnam vacations

kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luck Carolyn said...

Thank you for sharing your amazing journey! Next times visit Vietnam, have a look at these Halong Bay cruises


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