Following on from my last post where I talked about how the Vietnamese have perfected the art of giving you the very bare minimum for your hard earned cash, it was unsurprising that a few corners would be cut during our 2 day boat trip around – Ha Long Bay..
Amazingly, the low expectations I had set for this excursion were surpassed, setting the bar for boat trips at a now ludicrously low height.. The deception started almost immediately from our hotel manager when he began to discuss the tour in great detail with us, proudly presenting us with a laminated itinerary of the “luxury” tour in a leather wallet for the “very best price of $45 per person”..
To be fair, it sounded like a pretty good deal, all meals would be included and we would spend a night on the boat where there would be; evening entertainment, the opportunity to go fishing, visiting all of the islands around Ha Long Bay, cliff diving and much more.
We all agreed, but after trying to explain to the manager that our money was upstairs and we wanted a shower first – he immediately became angry, assuming that his long rehearsed sales pitch was in vain, and began throwing a tantrum at us demanding money, otherwise he would refuse to book us in, you really couldn’t make it up… The bus left at 8am in the morning and I had handed in my laundry an hour previously, after explaining that I didn’t want to spent two days in the final pair of pants I had on me and an odd sock, I was told that if I wanted the “express service” for my clothes to be ready, in the unbelievably “short” time of 12 whole hours, I would have to pay extra for this “lightning fast” treatment…
I was now getting a bit pissed off with his attitude, aside from the principle of not wanting to financially support someone so rude, he was now also holding me to ransom, as all my stuff was now apparently “with the laundry” and it was either pay up or spend two days turning my pants inside out. Begrudgingly, I paid up for my washing and we handed over our $45 for our tour, it was at this point, once our cash was in hand that he decided to reveal that hidden deep within the small print, is an “additional 20% VAT charge” and further demanded an extra $5 per person.
We were all by this point worn out, and simply to stop having to deal with him we gave him the cash and headed out for dinner… The morning came around and my laundry was “ready for collection”, all the rushing around having last minute showers were a complete waste of time as we spent well over an hour in the reception waiting for our bus, having to deal with the managers psychopathic child who had manufactured a fake gun out of a couple of straws and was now firing “head shots” in our direction.
Eventually, we were approached by our tour guide, who would take us to our “luxury air conditioned bus”, where we would be able to relax and calm the mind body and soul in preparation for our “luxury cruise”.. The reality however was slightly different, we would be making the 4 hour trip to the port in a 5000 year old, rusted relic of a minibus that was packed with around 15 other miserable looking tourists who were also still trying to deal with the realisation they had been mugged off by their salesperson as well.
Fortunately, me and Valeria both had a proper seat, whereas 4 others from the final hotel pulled the short straw and had to sit trapped in a makeshift fold-out seat that was now filling up the aisle. Clearly there was no suspension in the van, and hitting every bump along the way was severely bruising my kidneys, to top it off – the air conditioning was blowing out more hot air than the gob of our hotel manager, so after 5 minutes of being baked alive, one of the German guests on board gave in and opened the window receiving some valuable oxygen, only to be told to “close it” soon after by the driver.
4 hours later and after a 20 minute “pit stop” at the worlds most expensive service station, we arrived at the port – you could see as everyone lugged their bags off the bus that many had simply lost the will to live, the mood was low and the excitement of finally reaching our destination was overshadowed by the fact everyone was now; dripping in sweat, had a numb arse or as we would all experience, on the receiving end of a verbal assault by our tour guide…
“Where’s your fucking entry ticket” the tour guide shouted at a pasty Scottish chap who was now looking incredibly pale. “Look here, you didn’t buy fuckin entry ticket” he continued, waving his invoice in his face..
At this point the ginger chap was now realising that the “discounted tour” he had booked was missing everything aside from an overpriced 4 hour bus ride to the port.
“Well I didn’t fucking know, how much is entry fee?” , “call the hotel and find out” he protested, “you pay for my phone, why do I pay for your call?”came the reply..
The argument continued for another 5 minutes until the Scottish chap relented and handed over some extra cash as the boat was now ready to board, hilariously – as the guide went off to purchase the ticket, in true gangsta style , he quipped; “You are getting the worst Trip Advisor review ever” , which I when I quite literally started pissing myself.
Clearly not a shred of shit was given by the tour guide, and the threat of calling him out on Trip Advisor I found particularly hilarious. Our first stop of our “luxury tour” was to visit the Da Gao Cave, which was made famous in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”, unfortunately – due to the 4 hour brain numbing bus ride, I had used up all the battery on my phone reading about Kim Kardashian, so my first priority was to use one of the plug sockets on board so I could take some pictures, a reasonable request I thought..?
Nervously, I went up to out tour guide who was still in a bad mood from his previous argument with the ginger Scottish chap, trying hard to be as polite as possible, I asked;
“Hi..erm, I need to charge my phone, do you know where a plug socket is?”
He looked at me confused – like I had just insulted his mother, before a painfully awkward silence ensued, presumably – he was mentally preparing a highly articulated answer as to why this would not be possible, eventually – his lips began to move, our eyes met, before he delivered the most epic response that threw me off guard;
I stood there confused, knowing full well that despite the boat looking like it had been built before electricity had been invented, clearly this was bullshit – I pressed him further;
“Can I go to the room, there is a plug there?” I pleaded .. “No” “So there is definitely n…….” “No”
It was like pulling teeth, so I made my way back up to the “dining room” to regale my fellow passenger with my experience with the most miserable man on the planet, when I noticed to my horror, in plain view of everyone, 3 unused plugs behind the bar, and to rub salt in my wounds, an extension cable – clearly there was enough power flowing though the boat to light up Harrods at Christmas time.
A mild distraction came though in the form of “lunch”, which again, had been hyped up on the “luxury iternary” we were presented with during the sales pitch, so we all took our places at the dining table in anticipation for the gastronomic delights we were going to be presented with; Lobster?, Caviar? Coq Au Vin? Unfortunately – before I had a chance to see what it was, my senses were taking a fairly brutal battering by a rather pungent smell that had started to fill up the cabin, it was at this point that we were presented with a whole fish; eyeballs still intact, that had a parsley leaf poking out the top for “presentation” – the chefs attempts at trying to “polish a turd”, clearly needed more effort, as this was simply not enough to distract me from the god-awful pile of shit that was put in-front of me.
Annoying, with my phone out of battery, it was impossible to google, “how to block your nose effectively with a napkin”, so instead – I used my black t-shirt as a makeshift gas mask, making a rather impressive Darth Vader lookalike in the process. Unsurprisingly, I passed up the opportunity to taste this monstrosity to the culinary arts, as a result – every other dish that they brought out from then on, was being tainted by the smell of hell that was lingering around the cabin longer than a post-curry fart.
Needless to say, I spent the next 6 hours hungry.. The boat was now pulling into Da Gao Cave and I was feeling weak, the prospect of having to walk up a steep hill and look around a hole in the side of the hill was not ideal, fortunately – I managed to find a 2 day old peanut in my back pocket of my shorts which boosted my morale slightly, so off the boat we went, to start the “tour”… Frustratingly, I don’t actually have many pictures of my time exploring the cave, and the pictures I do have – look like they have been taken with a potato, so forgive me for my useless “journalism”..,
What I will say is that if you find yourself around that area, it is definitely worth a visit – the cave itself is pretty impressive, my personal highlight however – was throwing a coin into the natural “wishing well” at the end of the trip, where I can now exclusively reveal that my request from the heavens was, ” Please never let the chef in the kitchen of our boat trip, ever come into contact with food again” …
Unfortunately, there seemed to be a delay in receipt of my request – as dinner on the boat tasted like shit as well.. We returned to the boat looking like a tramps networking event, everyone on the bus had not showered since the morning, and after the sweatiest bus ride ever, on a bus that had been fitted with an air-con system that was clearly not fit for purpose, on top of having to trek up a big hill to see a cave, it’s fair to say – we now smelt almost as bad as the aquatic monstrosity that were served up for lunch.
We had all been on the boat now for several hours, and were all desperate to get into our rooms, the needless and fairly pointless delay was typical of the service being offered on the boat.
Every request was “too difficult”, it was more painful to watch than Captain Hook giving a prostate exam, just how useless the boats staff were, and when they finally did get around to doing it, they put so many unessecary obstacles in front of what should just be a fairly simple task, that I spent the vast majority of time, just sat there – looking bewildered and cringing behind my fingers.
I could literally write a book the size of the Bible talking about the situations that we experienced in the next few hours, but here are a few of my favourites;
1) Christina drinks herbal tea – so asked for some hot water for her tea bag? Simple right? Well, it took 45 minutes from the time of asking, after the chef and the tour guide refused twice, until Christina offered to pay for it when her beaker eventually arrived half full.
2) All the electricity in the rooms had been switched off, the air-con was deliberately unplugged, the power for the rooms turned on in the evening for a couple of hours and closed again before the morning.
3) The “evenings entertainment” was a personal favourite – we were given a pack of cards, unbelievably – with a few missing.
4) The swimming around Ha Long Bay was where all the other boats had parked, this meant that when we got out of the water – we were all covered in a brown layer of oil, or more worryingly the contents of the surrounding boats toilets.
5) No fishing excursion, or visiting Monkey Island.
6) Having to check-out of the room at 8am despite having 6 hours left on the boat and being frequently hassled by staff members, screaming “CHECK OOOOUT” through the window, when we are packing our things away.
7) Breakfast was a bigger joke than a Michael Mcintyre comedy evening at the Apollo – no teas / coffees included, for the main event we were given a cold pizza shaped, egg “omelette” – that had been carefully cut into 20 pieces, giving us a very generous “slice” each, it looked so depressing that even the chickens giving birth must have been prescribed Xanax knowing what the fruits of their labour would be turned into.
As I said, I could go on, but the fact of the matter is, despite seeing some cool things and being in the most beautiful surroundings, all of this was just ruined by the “tour” we were on, the staff and all the corner cutting – it was like buying a Ferrari and then finding out that the wheels were made of frozen mango pulp.
There was one huge positive though – as the evening started, we found ourselves right in the middle of a thunderstorm, drinking beer as the rain crashed down in the low fog of Ha Long Bay, with the lightning striking around us, it was a pretty cool experience and one that I would have happily paid allot more for in-itself. (See below)
I can’t remember the name of the boat tour, as I would love to read the Trip Advisor review left by the ginger chap who was being bullied by our tour guide, but I suppose you get what you pay for and at only $45 it’s not the end of the world – however, the value I have gained from laughing at all the situations we experienced looking back, makes it all worthwhile…