Friday, July 13, 2012

Hạ Long and Hurricane Hannah

After talking about it for months we finally got to go to Hạ Long Bay!  I had Thursday off at VAIE, so I got Gene to take my class at the kindergarten so we could leave early... four of us on two bikes - Khánh and Lynh (another student from the church class), Lesley and me. We left mid-morning for the 2 hour ride to Hạ Long. It was a gorgeous day and the traffic wasn't too bad. The scenery always fascinates me, so I had my camera out again.

After an hour it was getting hotter and I was pleased to have a chance to stretch my legs when Khánh had to stop and buy some sunglasses from a roadside vendor. Lesley is wearing the typical Vietnamese facemask. I find it so hot here most of the time I hate to be breathing stuffy old air so I haven't adopted this custom.

Khánh wanted dust protection, not sunglasses, and these are the beauties he selected... high fashion!!
Along the way we stopped at a rail crossing. It was amazing to me how many bikes rode around the barriers to pass through even as the train was coming.

The carriages had no windows and it looked like the seats were wooden slats ... no frills travel.

There were many pineapple vendors on the side of the road. These pineapples are sweet and delicious, and you can buy them already peeled and cut up ready to eat (hanging in the yellow bags).

After a couple of hours we saw the coast...
... then we arrived in Hạ Long city.

Khánh had our bags tucked in the front of his bike between his legs... much more comfortable for Lesley and me, but no so comfortable for him, I'm sure!

We met up with Hannah at this restaurant on the Bay...
and had a delicious lunch. It was so nice to be cool!

Độ joined us... he was one of Hanna's Nam Phat church students too, and is working in Hạ Long now.

After lunch we found a hotel on the explanade with a couple of rooms with a view that weren't too expensive... there was a reason for that... I couldn't resist photographing the wiring behind the reception desk!!  It's high season here and the hotel we hoped to go to was fully booked.

But the rooms were bright and breezy (on the sixth floor) with expansive views of Hạ Long Bay...

It's a bit hard to see from so far away, but down there next to the jetty is a popular swimming beach, so we didn't wast any time changing into our swimmers and heading down there.... well Khánh and I went swimming... Lesley and Lynh had an icecream and sat in the shade and waited for us. The water was incredibly warm... almost too warm! And there were a lot of people, but we swam out to the back to clear water. It seems so strange to me to be enduring such a hot summer yet rarely getting to go for a swim. I have been thoroughly spoilt by living so close to the beach at home and being able to go swimming every day to cool off. It just isn't an option over here.

Later that evening we went for a walk and found this little place and had phở for dinner.

I watched this little boy with fascination as he slowly and meticulously ate his dinner with chopsticks. He managed to manouver slippery noodles like a veteran.

On the way back to the hotel we had a look at the night market... very colourful and full of souvenirs...

We didn't buy anything, but we had a look!

Next morning was a bright and early start... we were to meet Hannah at the wharf at 7am!!
As you can see it was already crowded even at that hour. See the man on the left in the red shirt? That's Tuấn, Hannah's friend and our tour guide. And the man in the hat?... He features later in this story...

We waited around for an hour for our boat to be ready. We found out later that the boat we had arranged to hire was now no longer available, so Tuấn was frantically phoning around trying to organise us another boat. Eventually he found one and it is owned by that guy in the hat.  The deal promised was our own boat for four hours cruising for 1.200.000dong ($60). We didn't want to visit the cave or have lunch, we just wanted to potter around and stop for a swim, so it was no frills. 

Waiting patiently...

To get to our boat we had to climb over another and jump on...

but once on board we were delighted - how pretty is this??

Fans downstairs, and sea breezes to cool us up on the top deck.


Very pleasant and very relaxing!

We cruised around following all the other day trippers for about an hour, then realised we were heading back to the wharf already! When asked, the crew informed us that since we didn't want to visit the cave our tour would be cut short accordingly and we weren't going to go anywhere else because of government regulations regarding the amount of diesel they could use per trip. We suggested they should just pull over for an hour while we had a swim, to be told that swimming was no longer allowed in the bay, and anyway, they had another charter waiting at the wharf!!! And to top that off, they demanded to be paid the full amount! Tuấn forked over 1.500.000dong  while we were still protesting, but by the time we docked, Hannah was demanding to speak to the owner.

He came on board red faced an very beligerant ready to 'sort us out' and bully us into compliance, but Hannah was having none of that. She insisted that he sit down and talk about it. She got Khánh to interpret and was completely unphased by his histrionics. He kept jumping up screaming and shouting expletives which Khánh translated as "He's not happy"... (that's got to be the understatement of the year!).  He wasn't going to budge and neither were we. He had people waiting, but we had paid for four hours and got one and a half hours, so we said we would sit on the boat for another hour unless he refunded 500.000dong. Several times during this fiasco Hannah asked Tuấn if this argument would cause trouble for him and he assured her it wouldn't, so she persisted in explaining to this rip-off merchant how detrimental his attitude was for Vietnam.... By now there was quite a crowd gathering and I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel, but every time he started shouting and tried to get up Hannah grabbed his arm and sat him back down and started over at the beginning again, calmly reiterating her case.
 recognise him??

After about half an hour there was a flurry of discussion in Vietnamese and he suddenly grabbed 500.000d and shoved it into Hannah's hand, whereapon she gave him a hug and patted him on the back like he was a little boy!  The crew were trying not to laugh and we immediately grabbed our things and disembarked. On her way past him, Lesley fanned him and smilingly suggested he should cool down!

We all trooped off rejoicing in a victory of right over wrong hailing Hannah as our hero. 

Then it was Bún Chả for lunch and a two hour ride home (with a couple of stops to buy pineapples and stretch our legs).  We got home in time for me to shower and get organised, ready to teach two classes tonight. What a life!!

The sad follow up to this story is that the only reason the guy capitulated was because Tuấn said he would give the money back to him later.  So reality is, we got ripped off by a yet another shonky tour boat operator in Hạ Long Bay after all.

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