I say my goodbyes to the hotel staff while practically running out of the door. Get me on that bus. Hauling my great blue suitcase onto the bus, I found myself a seat by the window and sighed in relief. Sorry Ha Long bay but obviously our timing to meet was just not that great. Winter time is certainly sleeping time and wandering around in the cold, foggy mist was beginning to have a negative effect on my brain cells, as my options for entertainment came down to sleeping or eating. I chose both in equal measures.
So, huddled in the corner of my window seat – the only passenger so far – we round the corner to pick up a herd of other travellers, who I noted were looking slightly dishevelled and furious. They could not wait to get on the bus. Strange, I thought. Why are they so desperate to get on? The Vietnamese bus driver was either having an off day or permanently has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. He fumed, beeped the horn and got off the bus, huffing and puffing. Communication break down ensues, with the passengers frantically trying to get on the bus and the driver taking his time to open the door – probably relishing in their frustration – until I pulled the leaver and let them on. Mass pushing and shoving over, all passengers were aboard and strangely all were sighing with relief. I could feel the irritation and frustration lingering in the air, and it turn out the toxic atmosphere was certainly justifiable, as I were to find out.
It turn out that some of these amazing 1-2 day cruises around Ha Long bay are not all what they seem. ‘What? False advertisement? Never!’ I hear you say, but the truth is in the pudding. Or the dishevelled, angry faces of those travellers who had been duped.
‘Did you do the cruise?’ Asks one English girl. I tell her no, to which she quickly goes into an angry account of their experience. ‘Good, it was shit! They lied to us and told us that it would be All Inclusive. We would get to go kayaking, fishing, that all the drinks were free. None of it was inclusive. None. Not even the drinks were free, even though that is what we paid for’. I could hear people throwing in the odd comments ‘And I paid for a single room…Like hell did I get it’ shouts a young, very cute Swedish guy. ‘Yeah, we were practically sleeping on deck’, cries another. ‘Oh and there was no hot water and no heating. The boat was falling apart and the food was awful’. The English girl finishes her – very justifiable – rant. Ah, so that’s what’s with the glum faces. She shows me the brochure of the ‘dream cruise’ and I can only look at her in amazement. Amazement that the brochure is so bloody beautiful and seemingly legit. Every page showed delicious food, beautiful decking and gorgeous interior, red bows on the chairs like something out of a wedding reception. I too would have been pulled in by the romantic, classy ‘sell’ of it all. No wonder they practically fell onto the bus, dying to get back to the game of ‘crossing the road’ in Hanoi.
A silence falls upon the bus as we make the journey back. I can see through the front window where the driver is sat and watch as two lanes miraculously turns into six. How efficient and time saving, I think angrily as I hold onto both the seat and my breath, watching as cars, lorries, buses and mopeds weave in and out of the lanes, coming within inches of each other. Three hours into the journey we are carted off one bus and onto another as the one we were on now has to go to a wedding (?). The next bus we sat like cattle, practically on each others laps with the lack of room and the whole ‘lets try and squeeze a few more passengers on, even though there is no room whatsoever’ attitude of the bus company.
Finally I make it back to the hotel to haul myself up five flights of stairs and greet my travel buddy with relief. A quick dump of the luggage and we are out, back onto the chaotic bustling streets of the old quarter. I actually feel content to be back, feeling the energy of the people vibrating through my soul. Noodles steaming in front of me and a beer in one hand we cheers to the craziness of it all.