The next morning we started early when the mini bus came and picked us up to take us to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is Vietnam's top tourist attraction, and is on the UNESCO list of stunning natural areas.
We knew that Halong Bay was going to be horribly touristy but felt that it was a "must" in Vietnam. We had booked a 3 day trip. The bus was full of aspiring youngsters with twinkles in their eyes. That twinkle would soon disappear. The bus was just as uncomfortable as it looked, and after 3 hours we arrived to another tourist-trap. This place was yet another place where thousands of tourists are dropped off to buy seriously overpriced souvenirs. 1,5 hours later, we arrived to a chaotic ferry dock where there were 10 white people pr vietnamese.
After buzzing around like headless chickens for half an hour we were shuffled on to our boat, which would later get the nickname "Drama-boat». There were about 20 people in our group, most of them in their late teens or early 20s. Among them were 5 young british lads on a boys-trip, a British drunk couple , a Scottish/dutch couple and some nice American girls. From early on in the trip it became clear that there were strong negative forces on board. Already when we arrived at our first stop the complaining started. It was based on the fact that everyone had to leave their bags on the boat as the rooms were not ready for check-in, and some people in the group, especially the British couple, were paranoid and would not leave them on the boat for fear of a criminal boat-crew. This seemed to us quite irrational because we were on a boat and we were going back to it. But they managed to get several others with them in the complaining- symphony. At this point we decided to distance ourselves from the rest of the group because we wanted to make the most of our trip. We were not included in the complaining-choir.
The first stop was at a small island with a big cave. This cave was discovered a few years earlier by a local who had wounded a monkey so he followed it, and stumbled into this cave. We had to walk a short distance up the mountain until we arrived to the garish cave. The paranoid British couple had both brought their giant backpacks up to the cave while all the other bags were on the boat. They looked pretty stupid as they waddled up the mountain edge. The cave was only mediocre, at least compared to other caves we have seen elsewhere in the world.
Maybe we are just too well accustomed when it comes to caves. I guess you can say that we are cave-people!! This cave was inside a limestone mountain and the whole thing was lit up with blue, red and green lights to make it look more attractive for the tourist hordes. We had a guide with us, but in the familiar Vietnam-style, it was impossible to understand a word of what he was saying. What little I did understand was relatively uninteresting as it was only subjective interpretations of cave formations looking like to goats or boobs. We were underwhelmed but we did not complain, which is more than what can be said for the rest of the group. When we got back to the boat our guide wanted to register us and asked everyone for their passports. That was the start of the next drama as the British couple flatly refused to give them away. They were convinced that the guide was going to steal their passports and sell them, and they were joined by several other passengers in this conspiracy theory. The guide (Mr.Fly) looked like he wanted to commit suicide at this point. We sat on the outdoor deck while the boat went to the next stop where we were going kayaking..
While I and Torunn tried to enjoy the sight of the amazing limestone cliffs that surrounded us, many other people in our group was busy being negative. Driving around Halong Bay in a boat is like sailing in a fjord surrounded by scenic cliffs which provide a dramatic landscape. It looks like they've popped right out of the sea in one day! Some people come here only to do rock climbing in these steep cliffs. This is extreme mountaineering where they do not use ropes so they plunge into the water if things go wrong. We jumped in a kayak and paddled away from the rest of the group, which at that time was a relief.
It was fun to paddle between rocks in narrow passages and through caves in the mountains. We even saw a big red bottom, belonging to a baboon.
After that experience we sat on the boat the rest of the evening. At one point the guide came up to us and made a half-hearted attempt to engage in a "cooking-lesson" which was at an incredibly basic level. We were well acquainted with the rest of the group and found that most were pretty nice. The British couple stood for most of the trouble. And it was going to get worse. We decided not to drink alcohol on the boat as the prices were ridiculously high, and it was not allowed to bring alcohol onto the boat without paying.
When I talked to the negative British couple (let's call them Cher & Sony from now on) it became clear to us that they were both alcoholics and into partying (incl drugs). In fact, the first thing they did in the morning before the bus arrived at 7 was to drink half a liter of pure vodka. This was necessary because they had bought a 2-liter bottle of vodka that they would smuggle aboard in a 1,5 liter water bottle. There were not very intelligent so it was pretty obvious to everyone, including the crew, that it was more than just sprite in their glasses which they were sipping constantly . They smelled of vodka and their glasses smelled of vodka. And they were very drunk.
The crew tried to charge them but they flatly refused and made a big fuzz out of it. The more I talked to them, the more clear it became how disturbed they were. "Sony" informed me that the first thing he did when he walked into his room was to tear up the planks to hide his valuables. He was convinced that someone would break into his room and steal all his drugs (I am assuming it was drugs)
"Cher" was so pissing drunk that she could not move without falling over. Around dinnertime they created another huge drama when they found out that someone had taken their camera. Everyone on the boat tried to help and support them, but they continued to behave hysterically. "Cher" sat down at the dinner table and salivated/cried so much that her whole plate of fries was like a small lake.
After much ado, they found out that the camera actually was safely in their room (a sober person had to go with them to find it).
After a social evening we went to bed in our cabin around 11pm. Around 1 am we heard intense knocking at our door. Seconds later a fist was rammed through our window and glass sprayed over all our stuff and onto the floor! .We were totally shocked! Outside the window "Sony" was standing with an expressionless face. Torunn told him off but he turned and walked away without saying a word. A minute later Mr Fly came running with tears in his eyes. He said: “This is the wost day in my life, this is the wost group I ever guide, horrible people”. He had a swollen, bloody lip, after he had been punched in the face. The morning after we talked with the English boys at the breakfast table, and heard what had happened. "Sony" had pushed "Cher" around like a rag doll in the arms of a gorilla. One of the boys asked him to stop doing that since she was already barely able to stand upright. "Sony" had then tried to beat him, but missed.
Then the English teenager got an adrenaline rush that drove him to hit "Sony" in the face about 8 times. Mr Fly got between them, and got a hit on his lip. Why the drunkard smashed our window, we dont know even to this day, but he never said sorry.
After this episode we understandably had no desire to have any further contact with these weirdos. Fortunately they disappeared when we got to the next island, and we never saw them again after that. We learned later that they blamed all the problems that had occurred on the boat on everyone else. After the first night on the boat we were going to stay on the island "Cat Ba» the next night.
There we had a little walk in the woods (with too many tourists) after which we went to one of the cheapest and most dilapidated hotels on the island. We became good friends with the Scottish / Dutch couple , and we got our mood up by drinking beer on a small beach in the sunset. Cat Ba was quite OK, but we'd really prefer to be on the boat another night, as there was too little time on the boat during the 3 days in Halong Bay.
On the ride back to the mainland we got another chance to enjoy the beautiful UNESCO-protected area. This time, together with a new group that was full of positive people. The trip back to Hanoi was a rather long affair where we yet again were forced to stop at a souvenir-shop for 3 quarters of an hour! Tragically enough it does not matter that no one in the group wants to buy souvenirs, they stop there anyway for the guide to get his commission. When we finally got back to Hanoi, we were stuck in a traffic-jam for 1 hour, but luckily we were back just in time for the most important: Happy Hour with free beer!