Our 3 day trip with Ethnic Travel
20.11.2013 - 23.11.2013
While sitting for our bus to pick us up, a couple of shoeshiners came over and started trying to mend the holes in Chris' Vans. Seeing as they were beginning to look a bit desperate, he decided to let them and before you knew it, they had lent him a pair of flip flops for him to wear while they were fixed and they were busy with the glue and the thread. They did a pretty good job, apart from they used brown thread on his blue Vans. They also re-soled the heel for him. They scrubbed them clean before suggesting this work should have costed £12 but didn't seem too fussed when we only have them £3. Clearly we still overpaid, but a shoeshine alone is supposed to be £1. Let's see if it makes them last!
Our 4 hour journey to Halong Bay involved a pukey Christopher who had had a bit of a funny tummy since yesterday and our driver being pulled over by the police and fined for infringing goodness knows which one of their nonexistent traffic laws. According to our guide it was for crossing the white line, which everyone had to do to pass us while we were stopped. He was fined 500k, which is about £15, which is a lot of money in Vietnam!
We boarded our very nice junk boat with 11 other people in our group and began our journey through the gorgeous limestone towers, which make up the stunning scenery. We travelled for about 2 hours before reaching a floating village where we got onto a 4 man rowing boat and were given a tour around, during which, it was a little chilly and Chris announced that he'd forgotten what it felt like to be cold, even though it was not as cold as the day we spent in england at the end of October. After that, we travelled for another hour before stopping for the night.
The following day, we rose at 7am and headed out straight away on the kayaks and spent an hour exploring the caves and the rocks around where we had spent the night. Before breakfast, we returned to the boat and took a quick swim, jumping off of the boat. The air was quite cold, but the water was warm. As we ate breakfast, the boat headed back towards Halong Bay, where we took a minibus through various towns for 90 minutes in order to board a boat to Bai Tu Long Bay. As we got closer to the dock in Halong Bay, there were so many more boats than we had seen on the whole of our trip.
Bai Tu Long Bay is a lesser visited bay, which is very similar to Halong Bay. As we headed out, some of the clouds began to break and the sun shone through onto the rocks, making it even more stunning than it already was. We stopped en route for 40 minutes to explore the rocks on the kayaks again before continuing on to Quan Lan island where we spent the night.
We stayed in a guesthouse and helped prepare and make the spring rolls for dinner.
The following morning, Chris and I got up at 5.30am to go to the fish market at the top of our street. The boats had not long arrived and were unloading their fish. Some of the locals were desperate to show us their catch and one really wanted us to take pictures of what he'd caught, which was really sweet. Although they get groups of tourists staying in their island every night, they probably don't get too many head down to the market at dawn.
After breakfast, there was the option of a bike ride in the mud and rain or a tuk tuk ride along the same route. With the memories of our bike ride last week in the mud and rain in Laos still clear in our minds, we opted for the tuk tuk ride to the beach. The beach was a gorgeous white sand beach which I would imagine on a hot sunny day would be like paradise.
At 11, we started sailing back to Bai Tu Long Bay, in order to take the minibus to Hanoi. We arrived back on shore at 1.30pm and had a long 6 hour drive back to Hanoi through quite along stretch of roadworks.
If you get the chance to go to Halong Bay, I would completely recommend Ethnic Travel for a mid-range budget trip as they travel further out of the bay, so there were no other boats around us at night. They also own their junk boats, so you will get what you pay for. Just take a cushion as the bench seats get a bit numb! That's my one critiscm of Ethnic Travel.
The following day, we visited Hao Lo prison, which was used for both political prisoners and American POWs during the 20th century. Naturally it looked pretty grim, but there were some images used for the media by the Vietnamese which portrayed prison life as being a very pleasant and enjoyable experience.
At midday we took a taxi to the airport in order to catch a flight to Danang. We knew it should have been about $15-18, so approximately 350,000 VND. Our metre was showing 352k when we arrived, but for some unknown reason, our taxi driver only charged us 300k. We had to keep checking the 200k note we'd received as change to make sure we hadn't miscounted the zeros and it was in fact only 20k. It's strange being in a country where as a tourist, you are there to be ripped off and then have a taxi driver voluntarily under charge you!
The other end in Danang, the 50k taxi was not available for less than 150k. Eventually we managed to get one for 40k from outside the airport. There must have been nearly 100 taxis hidden round the corner waiting for their tourist....