Boat to Bus to Train

Friday, 26-12-2014. Day 128.

Three Days on Ha long Bay. Part Three.

We spent three days floating around Ha Long Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage site) on a junk with Sam's childhood friend and her family. It's an adventure we like to call ...

Ha Long We Gonna Be On This Boat?

Our cruise was scheduled to end back at the dock around Noon, so we only had a half-day on the Garden Bay 1. Again, breakfast was served at 7:30 a.m. A quick word on the food. It was okay, but nothing special. We'd asked a few times for a Vietnamese breakfast the day before, but they served us a Western-style meal again, so that was a little disappointing.

After breakfast we were told it was time to pack up our rooms because the crew had to prepare them for the next round of guests. It would have been nice to have known this a little sooner (like the night before), but whatever.

Off to the Pearl Farm

The first excursion of the day was a visit to a pearl farm. I'm guessing that it was the one we'd gone by two days before on our way to the floating fishing village, but I can't be sure because I didn't go. I covered off on the pearl thing when we visited China, so I didn't need to do it in Vietnam. Jackie wanted to go, though, so she went with Samantha and got to crack open one of the oysters and found a pearl inside.

A pearl farm.

A pearl farm.

We had a short amount of time before our second excursion, and this was about the time that Peter and the ship's director (not sure what his title was, I will call him the director) learned I had broken my toe. They were very concerned, and wanted to take me to the hospital. I declined, saying that we didn't have time to get to a clinic, be examined, and still make our train to Ho Chi Minh City that evening. There wasn't much one could do for a broken little toe anyway.

An Island Hike

And then it was time for the next and last off-boat excursion of the trip. Peter told us we'd be going for a hike on an island with monkeys.

"Excuse me, did you say monkeys?"

"Yes, there are so many monkeys on the island we call it Monkey Island."

He said it like it was some sort of selling point, but after our previous monkey experience, we passed on that side trip. Besides, I was in no shape to go hiking. So we stayed on the boat and took a few photos.

Ti Top Island (named by Ho Chin Minh in honor of cosmonaut George Titop) in the distance.

Ti Top Island (named by Ho Chin Minh in honor of cosmonaut George Titop) in the distance.

After the away team returned from Monkey Island, Peter and the director came up to me and again tried to convince me to go to the hospital, telling me it would be a quick stop. I didn't really believe a stop in any hospital would be quick, so I declined again. I told them if I needed a hospital, I'd go in Ho Chi Minh City. They asked if their medical officer could look at my injuries, and I agreed to that.

We went down to one of the now-vacated cabins and the boat's medical officer (who was also the masseuse and the assistant chef) looked at my toe, wiggled it, and said. "Yes, broken." Then she cleaned the cuts on my right foot and gave me some iodine and antibacterial ointment for the road, which was nice. The ship's director wrote up a report about what happened that he wanted me to sign, which I did.

Then it was time to leave, but not before the director apologized to all the guests for running a ship with an inexperienced crew. It was a strange moment, and all the guests looked around at each other, a little confused. Then it was back onto the shuttle boat for a quick ride back to shore.

As we waited for our bus to Hanoi to arrive, the ship's director came up with another piece of paper for me to sign. This one was similar to the first one, but it left out the bit about the broken toe. He didn't want to get in trouble because of a broken bone. I shrugged and signed this new version of the events. I didn't want the guy to get into any trouble over this; the incident wasn't anybody's fault, really, and it wasn't like I got an amputated thumb or anything.

45 minutes later, our bus pulled up and we all got on and headed back toward Hanoi. The trip, including another stop at the Disabled Artisans Village (or whatever it's called) took six hours. Yes, that's right. Four hours to get to Ha Long Bay by bus and six hours to get back, mainly due to inclement weather and heavy, intense traffic. Our bus made a lot of passing attempts during the ride, some of which were near hits with motorbikes and other buses on the narrow roads. We were really happy when we arrived incident-free and got off the bus at Hanoi Station.

Hanoi Station

We were about to spend the next 32 hours in a small 4-berth cabin on the Reunification Express. It was one of our most memorable moments of 2014. But we had three hours before we could get on the train, and we had planned to spend them in the Hanoi Station waiting room. It was pretty grimy, but we were all set to tough it out. And then we went to use the toilet.

There's no smell with this picture, which is too bad, and no sound, so you can't hear the man behind the door to the squat toilet grunting.

There's no smell with this picture, which is too bad, and no sound, so you can't hear the man behind the door to the squat toilet grunting.

Instead, we left and went to wait in the restaurant at the nearby Mango Hotel. And we weren't the only ones—the place was filled with waiting train passengers killing time until their trains left. So here's a hot tip. If you're ever in Hanoi waiting for a train, go down the street, just past the motorbike parking lot, and have a few beers and some grub at the Mango Hotel restaurant. The food's not great, but the bathrooms are cleaner. And if you're quick, you can jump on one of the power outlets for a quick charge.

We sat at the restaurant for about an hour and a half breathing in clouds of second-hand smoke until it was time to walk back to Hanoi Station. We arrived at the platform just after 9:00 p.m. and boarded the Reunification Express.

Notable Statistics:

  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 1 (16 cumulative)
  • Pearls seen: unknown
  • Monkeys seen: unknown
  • Hours in a bus: 6

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

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