Halong Bay and Cat Ba

Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Hello from Cat Ba Island. A beautiful place on Halong Bay,  for which I bought a package tour at Sinh Travel on 52 Hang Bac Street in Hanoi for $53 which included pick up from my Guesthouse, mini-bus for the 3 hour trip to Halong Bay, 3 lunches, 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners (2 nights and 3 days), one overnight on the boat, overnight hotel in Cat Ba, trip back to Halong city, enroute some caves and hikes and back in Hanoi at 4 p.m. on the 3rd day. The travel tour group was called Vietnam Open Tour and our guide was Thuan Vu, a great guy.  Had heard a horror story from an Australian couple I met at the bia Hoi (draught Beer) place at the end of my street in hanoi. They paid for a tour but got one that was totallysubstandard and I hear it can happen. Fortunately this was one first class First we loaded onto our boat along with thousands! of others coming like we were or going off, onto the boat which cruised out the bay, amongst lots of other boats doing the same thing! and then docked so we could explore some caves: Ghien Cung Grotto, Dau Go Cave, Sung Sot Cave and onto a beach for some hiking.  Whereever we stopped there were 'ladies' rowing in boats full of chips, cookies, beer, water and all saying the same thing "you want to buy something from me?" very plaintively.  The last straw was 3 of them at 6:30 the next morning outside our boat yellling the same thing and peering into our windows. One of the others on my boat went for an early morning swim off the boat and a lady in a boat immediately rowed over to him asking him to buy something! Don't know where she expected him to store it for the swim back to the boat. This happened outside my window. I had a wonderful room with a double bed, nice bathroom, 2nd deck. Went kayaking for 2 hours the second day to Sun Sot Cave and it was very nice  Good group - one Canadian young woman, Crystal,  from NS had been teaching in Korea for 3 years; one couple and daughter and one young couple from Australia, extended family of 6 from Malaysia, a Vietnamese man and a Californian man both of whom were a little different.  Ended up staying 2 extra nights now in Cat Ba with the Australian family and we all moved from Sunflower 1 guesthouse to Guesthoue Tien Tang as felt I needed a little down time and will catch another mini bus back to Hanoi day after tomorrow. Also the Hanoi traffic really gets to me with the scooters and beeping all the time. ON my last day in Hanoi met up with a young Australian women, Debi, and we walked around for the day and went for dinner and may meet up again in Sapa, where I go to when I get back to Hanoi. Crystal may be there as well.
I have a marvellous room in Tien Tang Guesthouse overlooking Cat Ba, two double beds, high ceilings, sat tv, air con (but don't need it!, very nice) all for $7 US per night.. The first hotel room, which was included with our package, was ok except at 7 a.m. a loudspeaker next door in a sports facility went on full blast with the start of their celebrations for opening of Tourism season and today outside my window they are building stages for a dragon boat festival, orginally began in 1959 in honour of Ho Chi Minh or 'Uncle Ho' as he is affectionately called...
The only negative thing that has happened here has been 2 disputes with service providers over price. I have heard it happens and here it has been almost shouting matches. First with the motocycle driver who took me to get an advance on my Visa (No ATMs here!) and I got the hotel people to find a good driver and then negotiate a price for me. When it came time to pay he wanted more, and I said 'No' and walked away. This was yetserday.  Today I picked up laundry for which yesterday I was quoted, I thought, 18,000 dong ($1.50) for about 1 kilo. Today I picked it up and he swore up and down he said 'eighty thousand' and started yelling "do I take him for a fool," in front of his wife, mother and a bunch of friends. I started yelling back that I guess I heard 18,000 and that I thought 80,000 was way too much ($5.00!) and it is extortion but I thought I am not going to argue in front of all these people. He was an idiot and had earlier been so sweet, speaking in English to me (hardly anyone can). Earlier today i got a massage, for which I was quoted $5 on the street yesterday after being soliticed by being handed a business card, and today she quoted $10 and I said, "no, yesterday I was quoted $5" and she said 'ok'. Just like that. There is no rhyme nor reason but they will try it on. Some people have found Vietnam to be too much of this and there is a LOT of hassling, buy from me etc. and when you stop at a cafe to look at menu, they come right away and want you to sit down. All I want to do is look at the menu and see if they have what I want. Then they stand by your table to take your order, do not leave you for a few minutes, just stand and be impatient. Once they have delivered your food, forget it, theywon't ask if you want anything else, or even the bill. They make themselves scare. The other thing is paying -shops NEVER have change for the smallest bill - it's like they want you to get fed up and leave without the change as they always take their time, going in the back, opening their wallet, asking other people if they have change. Spoke to a couple yesterday while we were both waiting for change and they thought it was a ploy to get us to leave without our change. 
A 1.5 litre  bottle of water can cost anywhere between 15,000 dong to today I paid 5000 dong ($1.00 to $.30). 
Tomorrow the Australians and I will be picked up for  amini bus back to Hanoi, via some hiking and lunch in Halong Bay city. although beautiful I have been hassled here more than other places as above description and so this place gives me the creeps a little bit... glad theyare here too.
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