Vietnam ~ Halong Bay – 2013
I headed to Vietnam over the last Christmas holiday…which meant I was spending another Christmas away from my family and friends, which naturally sucks – but that’s not what this post is about…don’t get me wrong, obviously I love Santa and Jesus as much as the next guy…actually if only this was about them…at least I would have someone to blame.
Instead the blame lies with a catalog of errors and unfortunate situations – the first of which occurred on the festive date of the 25th of December; as my travel buddy was told, at the airport, that they wouldn’t be allowing him to fly, (YES. ON CHRISTMAS DAY, AT THE FUCKING AIRPORT – I ASSUME THE GRINCH WAS ON DUTY!), so consequently I would have to leave on my own…I suppose I was a little shell shocked at the whole episode as all I could muster to say was “well this is funny – but obviously not funny, funny…do you know what I mean? We’ll laugh at this later…like fifty years later…but still…this is…funny.” over and over and over again. For some reason it didn’t provide any comfort to my thwarted friend.
Not entirely surprising.
When I got on the plane I was already pissed off. I hadn’t able to find a free WIFI spot in the airport; I had wanted to send some season’s greetings to my loved ones back home…but no dice – unfortunately matters went from bad to worse when I found out who I was sat next to; to my left was a Vietnamese couple who were loved up to an obnoxious degree and were displaying that in my full view, I was happy for them (no I wasn’t but I don’t want to be mean) but it got a bit annoying when their respective elbows kept knocking into me whilst they were in the throws of passion.
“Errr, excuse me – can you…yeah, I’m here…can you…”
“Erm, okay then. Never mind.”
(Elbow in the face)
In an attempt to counteract this situation I simply slid my earphones in (classic trick), and shuffled as far away from them as possible…it was then that I felt a knock on my right shoulder – I looked up and was greeted by an insanely hairy and sweaty middle-eastern man who stared down at me – “HULLO – YES, GET OUT!” he announced brashly,he then proceeded to literally pull me out of my – sorry – his seat, leaving a sweaty snail trail all over my arm. Except it wasn’t his seat! And I took unadulterated joy in watching his face drop as I proudly displayed my ticket and pointed to where he should be, I tried not to look so smug, I didn’t want to be wearing “HAHAHAHA I TOLD YOU, YOU IDIOT!” in quite so obvious a fashion – but I don’t think I hid it well, I have a real problem with smirking…it’s a disease. Anyway, he eventually sat down, and huffed and puffed in my general direction as if it was all somehow my fault…I ignored him and tried to wipe his sweat from my arm on the seat material behind me.
But something tore me away from my task…as to my HORROR I spun around to see the sweaty man pulling off his tank top to reveal his carpeted skin layer underneath, he then folded it and used it as a make shift flannel to scrape off the wretched grease and dirt on his body – making sure not to neglect the section under his man boobs, and the crevices of his armpits…I was nearly sick…and we hadn’t even started flying yet…the smell was horrendous…but he didn’t give one solitary shit – he just sat there, allowing the aroma of men’s changing rooms and sulfur to flood the whole cabin…I shuffled as far away as I could from his stench force field, only to be kicked in the shins by the excitably amorous couple to my left.
Seriously, worst flight ever.
Oh and the proceeding couple of hours after the flight were not much better, it took a crazy amount of time to get my on arrival visa…whilst in the line I noticed that I had put down the incorrect passport number, a 7 instead of a 9, something like that – so I spent the whole time waiting having what felt like a minor heart attack. Once it was my turn they glared at the error, but let me through anyway. By that time though, my arranged taxi pick up had fucked off, so I was forced to go with some random guy who claimed he knew the way. Oddly he drove for quite literally thirty seconds and then hopped out “BUI-BYE!” as another person hopped in and took the wheel, “HELLOW!” I thought it was somewhat bizarre, but my immense exhaustion meant it just went way over my head…but then it happened again; “BUI-BYE!” – “HELLOW!” and again…“BUI-BYE!” – “HELLOW!” What the fuck was going on here?! I mean, perhaps they all lived on route and this was some way in which they could all get home, perhaps it was a little system they had, or they were going to share the money, or perhaps this is just how they do things in Vietnam?
Soon you will be able to lie down John, soon…just nod and smile at every new driver, nod and smile, nod and smile…
It got better once I was actually there, after a day or two my friend was able to reunite with me – and from the crazily busy streets of Hanoi we made plans to travel to see the natural beauty of Halong Bay. And we weren’t disappointed. It’s just an absolutely breathtaking sight…I mean I’ve pored over countless photos…but seeing it in front of me, it just felt…surreal…I’m sure everyone says that, it’s an overused word these days, after all the world isn’t a fucking Dali painting – but there’s really not much else to say. I almost forgot about my travel woes. Oh, by the way the airline was China Eastern – I believe that is the name anyway. Horrible, horrible, horrible airline. Treat them as you would a person who claims that licking used urinal cakes gives them super powers. In other words, stay well away.
What made Halong Bay even better was the fact that we were able to get a very good price for this mini-trip! Thanks largely to our chiseled good looks! Okay…that wasn’t it, it was because we had a Vietnamese friend who was able to haggle the cost down…but…one can dream. Anyway, we were on one of the better boats – I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place amongst the fellow guests; an exquisitely wealthy oil tycoon and his family, a French-Canadian gay couple who loved talking about different wines, and a Russian lady who hated any talk of vodka…then…well, us. Just two young guys. Thankfully they were all lovely people, who didn’t hold it against me that I didn’t own a country manor or a wine-tasting certificate, so I soon forgot about any initial awkwardness.
As the boat travelled further and further out, the surrounding area became more and more, otherworldly…I don’t know how else to put it…but the way that the various top heavy cliff islands protrude from the water, is something like a science fiction scene…so far removed from my homeland anyway, that is for sure. And at random intervals you can catch other unusual sights…we once saw an old fisherman confidently rowing his boat using his monkey like feet, how he managed such dexterity I will never know! But he did all of that whilst controlling his fishing rod casually with his hands at the same time. It was simply…amazing. Then one time we passed by an entire small village that floated out in the middle of the islands – such a simple way of life, but I couldn’t help but feel like in lots of ways it was a more honest and less complicated life than myself and my shipmates were used to…anyway, I spotted a wide screen television in one of the huts…so at least if times were tough you could throw on some Friends re-runs.
Had a bit of a strange run in on the first evening though. The boat had stopped and anchored far out in the middle of the islands, alongside a few others. Somebody saw this as a golden opportunity…as I stepped out of the shower and walked out of the bathroom there was a TAP-TAP-TAP at the window…my friend and I almost jumped out of our respective skins – but as we peered cautiously out from our window there was nothing to be seen…”bird?” we pondered – TAP-TAP-TAP! There it was again…
This time we opened the window to get a good look around – perhaps it was the Russian lady playing a prank or something, or – oh…that’s when we saw an old wrinkled lady huddled into a small boat below us – she was surrounded with a smorgasbord of food and drink at her feet. I still had no top off which seemed to bother me way more than it bothered her, I began to wonder how long she had been sitting there peering in…hmm…anyway, as I made a solid attempt to hide my gross nipples I tried to peruse all she had to offer, there were cookies, crisps, wine, various spirits…wow, I mean there was something for everyone! She really did have her head screwed on!
I believe after much deliberation we opted for a large bottle of vodka, coca cola, and oreos…the menu of champions! For some reason we had it in our heads that it would be a party boat…stupid I know…but the rest of the ship called it a night at 9:00pm. Once we passed out the money and she gave us the goods, she rowed off into the darkness…never to be seen again…well, until we saw her knocking at the next boat’s windows that is!
In the morning we enjoyed some kayaking, cycling, and more! There’s a lot to do there, for such a fleeting visit we certainly packed a lot in! I do want to see a lot more of south-east Asia at large, but Vietnam feels like a place I could return to in years to come. Possibly with better travel arrangements…but then…well, there wouldn’t be any funny stories would there? China Eastern it is!
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