Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay... all in one straight shot
11.05.2008 - 16.05.2008
When we arrived in Hoi An at 6 am, the regular touts were there, ready and eager to take us to their hotels. These guys were more aggressive than others however, as they actually boarded the bus trying to get us to go with them. They seem to get crazier the further we get into Vietnam. After a bit of a struggle, we found a decent guesthouse and head out for the day. Hoi An is famous for its cloth shops. Over 200 different shops try to get you to come in and get clothes tailor made for cheap. We were starving from the bus ride and found it difficult to walk from our hotel to a restaurant without literally getting accosted by the different shop owners. Eventually we did find food however, I sampled one of Hoi An's specialties, Cao Lao. A noodle dish authentic only in Hoi An, it was delicious, along with the Lemon Juice (actually Lime, but they call it Lemon) for 1 USD total I was very satisfied. After lunch we decided to look in a few shops. This turned out to be our first mistake. 3 shops and 2 days later we had 13 dresses, 3 pants, 3 shirts and one belt. Oh yeah, and no money. I think the main reason I spent so much money was the first day was slightly overcast but the second day it just poured. So OBVIOUSLY, there was nothing to do except go in the cloth shops and spend money... that is my excuse anyway...
Hoi An Market
Attempting to escape the rain in Hoi An
Because we had spent so much time (and money) in Hoi An) we opted to skip Hue completely and booked ourselves bus tickets straight through to Hanoi (not before we mailed home all of our purchases however... my pack is so little, there is no way they would have fit even if I had wanted to carry them around...). Again, the bus was mostly uneventful, aside from the crazy drivers, but that is to be expected by now. 5:30 am brought us, tired, dirty and sore to Hanoi. Our plan was to see Halong Bay and then return to Hanoi for our flight out to Laos. In the travel agency we met a girl from the UK who was also looking into a trip to Halong Bay. Because the tour agent would not sell us a ticket for the trip leaving that morning the 3 of us decided instead to head out to Halong City ourselves and book a tour on our own.
This trip turned out to be very exciting. First, when we arrived at the bus station, everyone was yelling and we got pushed inside some random bus. Our saving grace was a boy who spoke decent English in front of us. He served as our translator and told us we were on the right bus to Halong City. We did have a brief dispute about fare once we were already on the bus, but eventually it all worked out alright. Since we were on a gov't bus, the driver was very determined to pick up as many passengers as possible. Apparently he got more money the more people he had? I don't know... What I do know was that half way through the drive we came up on another minibus to Halong City and the craziest (read insanely terrifying) game of car chase ensued. We actually ran through 2 different toll booths, and on one occasion the driver drove through a lane that was closed, having another guy jump out and move a large iron fence to plow through and pass the other bus. It was hysterical, albeit scary; watching the buses scream through the cities, with the guys hanging out yelling at people to get on there bus to Halong City. Needless to say, we arrived to our destination earlier than we had thought.
Driving in Vietnam at it's prime, We are trying to pass the other white gov't bus, with that big yellow truck in the on coming lane...
Again, trying to pass, while the guy is yelling out the door trying to get more passengers... A bit further, after blowing through a toll booth, we passed the other bus.
Once at the dock, we went about trying to get a tour. This turned out to be harder than we had anticipated. There was only one guy selling tours, and he was more expensive than had we just booked from Hanoi. Though slightly annoyed, we were able to eventually get him down to the price in Hanoi and got on a boat heading to Cat Ba Island.
On my moto en route to Halong bay
The all inclusive tour included a visit to a cave and stay over in a hotel at Cat Ba Island for the first night and a night on the boat with kayaking on the second day. The caves were cool, though a bit dramatized with colored lights, and I enjoyed the walk through. I don't know how they were formed (our English speaking guide spoke pretty poor English), but the caves were discovered less than 15 years ago, so they are still in pretty good condition.
After the caves, we docked and disembarked for Cat Ba Island. Looking to save money and gas, one minibus showed up to transport 15 passengers and all of there bags. It was so crazy squished, and the 30 km drive to our hotel was less than enjoyable.
When we finally did arrive at our hotel we found that it was the only hotel outside of the city. It was 2 km from anything, a bit of a drag if you want to do anything. Another added 'bonus' was that Cat Ba Island is run by a generator and therefore has no electricity between the hours of 5 am and 6:30 pm. This translated into no internet, and no messages back to home, yielding in apparent terror from the Beijing earthquake (which I don't really understand as I am in Vietnam and no where near Beijing... China is a huge country...). Anyways, the next day we trekked up a mountain... Literally. We actually climbed up rocks for a bit. Slightly ridiculous, but it resulted in a decent view of the Island (I would have been fine without it, but I didn't know that until AFTER I had completed the trek...).
After the trek, we returned to our hotel for lunch, a nap (me)/beach time (Brooke and Allie) and were picked up to be taken to the boat.
Nice to see some things never change and I am still a blanket hog
The van took us back to the same dock, but when the tour guy said, "I'm sorry, there is no more room on the boat," we were not so happy. The whole reason we had come on this tour in the first place was to sleep on a boat, and dang it, we were going to sleep on a boat. We calmly told the agent this, he went away talked on his phone and came back and said we could all (the 3 of us) share one bed. Again, we explained to the man, that while we knew it was not his fault that the boat was overbooked we were not going to pay full price to all share a bed. We said we would consider this option if we were refunded part of our tickets, since we had paid to each get our own beds on the boat. The magical thing about Vietnam and booking tours is that, all you have to do is say you want your money back, and, as if by magic, things appear. After we asked for a refund, magically 2 full rooms opened up and we were able to stay the night in our own beds (Allie actually had 2).
After the bed fiasco we immediately went out Kayaking. Brooke and I kayaked around a big island thing, which from far away looked smaller... it was fun though, and we returned to the boat, had dinner and played cards with some girls from the Netherlands, and France. Allover an enjoyable time. The next morning found us cruising back to Halong City where we had lunch and then returned to Hanoi. As a side note, our driver went SO SLOW! Well, maybe just normal speed, but having grown accustomed to crazy drivers, it made the trip seem to take forever... just a side note...