Like every Vietnamese adventure, it begins with a hostage situation. In this case it was to be a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to our "port" of departure. There were a number of people that were looking forward to the ride through the countryside as they were new here. We knew what we were in for. The bus, as usual, is a Japanese bus built for Japanese sized people. A Westerner must consider amputation of his/her lower extremities to fit his/her body into the seat. Since we were the first to be picked up (right on time!) we had our choice of seats.
We grabbed the singles, with me at the door seat. Leg room!! After nearly four hours of bouncing down the road, dodging cars, trucks and buses, constant horn tooting, potholes large and small, and one stop at a made-for-tourist combination bus stop and Vietnamese handicraft store, we finally made it to the port which actually looked like a small airline terminal. Through the usual chaos, we and the bags made it to our boat, which turned out to be the A Class Opera. The queen of the fleet. We didn't get a room upgrade, we got a boat upgrade! We are happy campers!
The boat has 21 rooms but there are only 30 of us on the boat and a crew of 17. Our cabin was small but was equipped with a queen bed, nice window, good A/C and fully equipped bath with shower. Perfect for one night. Almost immediately we had a huge lunch with Asian dishes which was very yummy. Our dinner partners were totally random and turned out to be four Brits. The rest of the guests were a smattering of Germans, Norwegians, Spanish, French and a few Australians tossed in. A few young, a few our age, the rest in between. In the meantime we are heading out of port to the star attraction, the scenery.
Ha Long is an incredibly beautiful place that is in the process of being loved to death. There had to have been 300 boats of all sizes in an area that you could comfortably put 50 boats without destroying the ambiance. During the day, because of all the day-boats that come out from the hotels, it is like an ant hill. Many people have complained over the years about the amount of trash that is floating in the water. I can report that we saw almost no trash at all. We did, however, see at least three government boats out sweeping the water so maybe word is getting to the Vietnamese about this issue.
Our first stop of the afternoon was a fish farm
. As you have read, we are expert fish farmers due to our Mekong experience, so we stayed on the boat. As it turned out, we had the boat entirely to ourselves. The remaining crew turns off all of the power and takes a siesta while the touristas are touristing. We were the envy of the rest of the crowd when they returned. Our second stop of the afternoon was a hike to the top of one of the karsts. OK. Somewhere in between was a "sundowner" party. By that time the day-boats were starting to depart for home so the seas were getting less crowded and the beauty quotient was rising rapidly. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of three we saw on this trip, and by sunset it is easy to see why. (Sadly, the government is building a new port facility to handle even more boats). After another excellent dinner it was time for our last event of the day, karaoke or squid fishing. I never knew how interested I could be in squid fishing. The Viets obviously don't know that karaoke died in the west years ago . . . . We were told by some of the young singles on the barge that the karaoke bars we see on the streets are just places to hook up and meet prostitutes. It didn't seem like there were too many of those on board, and Dayna was next to me like stink on poop so my research on that subject will have to wait for another time. We went to bed, sober and together.
Today we begin our last great adventure of the trip, a two day, one night trip to Ha Long Bay. Last night, as you may remember, our travel planner gave us a call and gave us a free upgrade for this trip. We thought we were going to get a room upgrade. Not the case but more about that later.