Cheap cruises, big rocks, and questionable squid fishing tools
Squid fishing aside, our adventure wasn’t everything the brochure promised. Though perhaps that is our fault. Knowing we’d only have one day and night to take in the beauty of Halong Bay, we opted for the cheapest boat possible that still included charming amenities.
In America, we are told anybody can be president. In Vietnam, anyone can be a cruise boat operator.
The bus that arrived in the morning to shuttle us to Ha Long Bay was the first indication that we’d picked the wrong company to entrust with our memories. The guides, though friendly, treated all 14 of us in the cramped van like 7th-grade campers. They insisted we play games to get to know each other. This, so early in the morning, was painful. The chattiness and bad jokes continued for the 3-hour ride to the docks where our boat awaited.
Briefly, upon first sight of the ship, our spirits lifted. It looked just as it had in the brochure. A glorious white triple-decker beauty, shinning in the sunlight. We could see the fresh fruit piled on the tables, awaiting the mouths of weary travelers. Clean floors reflected the umbrellas set up around the lounge chairs, to keep guests from getting burned as they took numerous selfies in front of the historic rocks.
The guide from the can waved at us, “OK, let’s step back. Our boat will be here soon.”
Our actual boat docked next. Utilizing a style that mimicked an old pirate ship, the top of the deck featured a large wheel that only served as a prop for drunk tourists to take obnoxious photos. The actual engine and control room were elsewhere.
When we stumbled onto the boat, after hopping the gap between the dock to the deck, the floor gave way alarmingly. As we walked farther onto the vessel, it became clear that this was because a good amount of wood on the deck was rotted through in certain areas that were casually covered by wicker lounge chairs.
“Nothing to worry about!” The tour guide/operator informed us. “Let me get you the keys to your suite.”
We then went to find our suite.
The door to it would not open, no matter how many times we turned the key. We shoved harder. Still, it would not budge. Finally, with my boyfriend throwing his considerable weight against it, it freed itself from its frame. We looked at the room and immediately regretted opening the door so quickly and ruining the picture from the pamphlet that we’d imprinted into our heads.
There were no rose petals. Or floor space. The room was just big enough for a bed and a little walkway by the door and bathroom. There were windows, but they weren’t sealed completely and were shockingly close to the waves. A large crack ran across one pane as if something had tried to get in.
Or as if someone had tried to get out…
At that moment an almost invisible door near the end of the bed opened. Another guest poked their head in, saw us, and blushed. They said apologetically, “Oh, sorry, I thought this was the bathroom.” The door shut and we heard a locking sound. There was no lock on our side.
We wanted to stay in our room and rest for a bit. But the boat did not allow guests to turn on the AC until 9 to save electricity and keep us from hiding from the “activities” the company had so thoughtfully planned.
We ate food prepared by one of the ship’s operators. Mostly deep-fried dishes that made you question the freshness of the meat and produce. When the paltry meal was done, one of the men in charge came out and asked if we were full. He laughed when told that we were still hungry and informed us that if we could catch some squid he would cook them. He said it in a joking way. He knew we’d never bag a squid with the sticks and string they gave us.
It wasn’t all bad. There was quick swim in the ocean, though we did have to dodge the trash that had accumulated after years of tourists visits through the area. And I am not ashamed to admit that I spent way too long enjoying the meditative act of bobbing a lure in the water in an attempt to catch a squid.
It certainly beat the KTV that the guides kept trying to persuade us to partake in. The bay did not need our contribution. Enough guests on boats around us could be heard drunkenly singing My Heart Will Go Onwithout any sense of irony.
The cruise allowed us half a day to explore areas of Vietnam that were quieter, beautiful, and lushly green. It would have been peaceful if not for the friends of the guides who kept popping up at our rest stops and attempting to sell us expensive souvenirs. Who buys pearls while biking?
Although the snake alcohol was free for anyone who wanted some.
That night, while falling asleep to the gentle rocking of a boat that miraculously did stay afloat, I remembered that our Asia adventure was almost over. We had to take every experience as it came, before we moved back to America, where we couldn’t just go somewhere like Vietnam on a 3-hour plane ride.
Next time though, we won’t buy the cheapest cruise.
Source : Medium