Fresh off the train from Sa Pa, a few hours later I would find myself on a bus headed towards Halong Bay. By this point, not only was I still nursing that cold I picked up at the beginning of my back-to-back sightseeing tour, but I was also exhausted from a rough night on the train. These are the unglamorous days of travel you sometimes hear rumors about. It wasn’t an ideal way to see both places (and I don’t advise trying it), but I was strapped for time and had a plane to catch. Before the bus even left Hanoi, I found myself hogging two seats in the hopes that no one would decide to join me and I could get some sleep. My plan worked, and by the time we made it to the docks in Halong city, I was feeling a little less sleepy and excited to experience my last Vietnamese adventure.
As everyone from the bus waited for the boat to arrive, I just happened to see Tessa, Yannick, Oliver and Melanie from my group in Sa Pa. I knew there was a chance I’d see them, since we had all discussed our next travel plans, so I went over and said a quick hello before we were scattered once again in our respective groups. When my boat finally arrived and we got on board for lunch and check in, I was once again on my own with a new group of people I would be literally stuck with for the next day.
After a quick lunch, we were all given keys to our rooms, and being the only single girl there, I was blessed with a double all to myself. While it was nice not to have to deal with someone I didn’t know tramping in and out, another empty room on a tour of empty rooms was really beginning to get old. While I’m all for traveling alone, (everyone should do it once) sometimes I found myself wishing I had someone to share my trip with. Since this was my last adventure in Vietnam, and I had already made so many wonderful new friends, something about being alone out in Halong Bay made this trip feel like the end.
Now that I’m done with the depressing section of the post, let’s get back to the real reason I’m typing this: Halong Bay. Included in my boat tour was a trip to a famous cave nearby where I ran into Melanie and Yannick, and a depressing kayak adventure that found me sharing a two person kayak with our tour guide, who conveniently picked the smallest paddle imaginable and took the backseat, leaving me to do all the work… this whole single person thing sucked out on the water.
While we were out kayaking, we also went for a swim on a small beach, and I have to tell you all something incredibly disappointing… Halong Bay is filthy… and I’m not talking small lake filthy, but rather so full of trash that the whole beautiful scenery thing was kind of squashed by how horrible we sometimes treat the wonderful places this planet has to offer. When we got back to the boat, I took a good long shower to rinse the filth off of my body before dinner. We all had romantic notions about being able to swim in the bay whenever we wanted during this trip, but all of us agreed over dinner that we were disappointed that not only was jumping off the boat to go for a swim not an option, but that we wouldn’t want to swim in the water anyway.
After dinner we had very few options for entertainment, one of which was squid fishing. For some reason we all found ourselves huddled at the back of the boat with three rods dangling over the edge. We desperately wanted to catch a squid. “Wouldn’t it be cool to tell everyone at home I had caught a squid?” we told ourselves as we tried in vain to get one to attach itself to the hook. Soon the group began to dissipate as the reality of squid fishing sunk in and everyone became bored. It was now time for the only other option a boat brings after the sun has gone down. Drinking.
We all sat together on the top deck and shared stories over beer, being that it was the cheapest alcohol available, and marveled at all the other boats in the bay. It was barely 10 pm at this point, as soon we would all give in and head to bed earlier than we had imagined.
In the morning we were given a small amount of time to wake up and get everything out of our rooms. It was early and nothing was planned for our day. We ate breakfast and went to the top deck to waste some time with photographing the scenery and napping in the cloudy daylight. It was hard not to be bored, and despite being stuck on a boat together, most of us were over talking and ready to be on land where life came with options and fun things to do.
By the time lunch came around, we had been doing this stupid seat shuffle at every meal. If our tour guide noticed that couples weren’t seated together, he made either me, or the other person on the boat without a friend, move to accommodate them. At breakfast he made me move to accommodate a couple who didn’t mind eating apart, and after they tried to explain this to our guide to no avail, we all gave in and moved to make him go away. This time I had had enough, and I snapped. I didn’t understand why I had to move from the chair I had been in for the last 30 minutes when we could just pull up another chair for the girl who wasn’t by her boyfriends side. This couldn’t be done, of course, because there wouldn’t be enough food.
I was really getting tired of this guy and for being singled out for being single, and while I’m not proud of myself for what I did, I refused to move and got my way. The girlfriend in this scenario didn’t even end up eating lunch because she wasn’t feeling well, but this fact still didn’t make me feel any better about myself. I wasn’t going to admit I was wrong to anyone on the boat (I’m stubborn that way), and I couldn’t wait to get back to Hanoi to get my embarrassment over with.
So there I found myself, at the end of a trip to one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting, feeling guilty and disappointed. I was tired from being woken up so early in the morning, and still sick given that my cold or upper respiratory thing had only begun a few days earlier, feeling like a trip to Halong Bay was by far the worst way to end my time in Vietnam. I’m not advocating for anyone to miss visiting Halong Bay, but for me the hype wasn’t worth it. If I could go back in time, I’d make Sa Pa the end of my trip, and only spend 1 day out on the water in Halong Bay.