Monday, June 8, 2009

Brian's Novel on Halong Bay

Our trip to Halong Bay begins even before we arrived to board our ship; honestly it started in the lobby of our own hotel. We were greeted in the lobby by a very nice gentleman with very good English language skills. He and An quickly became fast friends and was a wealth of information about the area around our hotel and in general as we traveled from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Not to be out done we were matched with a driver with the skills of Mario Andretti and his spacious pace car. While our guide would explain the country side our driver would expertly pass busses, trucks, and cars at high rates of speed (usually 80 kmh and above) with a nonchalant look as if this was simply practice for something more challenging to come. The road down was very deceiving as it looked very flat but was full of bumps, and apparently our pace car of a van was outfitted with the motor of a Porsche but the shocks of a farm tractor. Somehow An managed to grab a bit of sleep as she sat sleeping on my lap with her head bouncing all over my chest.

On the way to Halong Bay we stopped for about 30 minutes at a school/shop where young adults in the trade skills would make and then sell their wares. There was a variety of everything; bowl, plates, sculptures, clothes, musical instruments, toys, and a big selection of jewelry. An was upset when we made her leave the musical instrument section but was quickly placated when grandpa showed her a cat. This is the same man who would scold me for petting dogs and such in Mexico and Jamaica. An had a good time with the cat, and for the cat's part it was amazingly patient even when she would heft it around on her chest. After purchasing a couple of paintings and a bottle of water it was time to climb back in our pace car and make for the finish line.

As we came into Halong City, which is where we would disembark, the humidity was stifling. Our driver pulled into a small stall which looked like an area for herding cattle and let us out. They must have unions in Vietnam because as 3 young gentlemen helped us on to a smaller boat for shuttle 5 much older men sat on the stalled area and "supervised" from afar. Our guide went along with us and after all the passengers were loaded we shuttled out to the junk.

I must pause and explain how the shuttle docks; the driver will take off at full speed and drive pretty much straight at the intended target and 2 seconds before the impact the driver hits full reverse not unlike a cab ride in New York or Chicago. Because of this the shuttle is well equipped with 4-5 old tires at the front of the boat in order to cover any areas of impact. Once we bounce off whatever we are docking the engine is then slammed to half and left there so that the boat will stay in place (who needs ropes? ).

Anyhow we boarded our junk and prepared to head out. After putting our bags in our room we were sat down and served a five course lunch. The food was really good and An was able to get in and really make a good mess trying everything. Right after lunch we got underway and the scenery was amazing, it was not the tooth like sea spires I had expected but a collection of so many small islands that from a distance it looked like a mountain range. Our guide told us the bay contained 11,900 individual islands, most of which had resisted erosion and remained in similar condition to what they have been for centuries past. The boat pulled into a open collection of islands along with several other junk boats and our guide informed us that we were to go ashore and look at one of the bigger caves that had been discovered in one of the islands. The cave was amazing and in fact not one but 3 separate caves growing in size as we left one and went to the next. One of the most interesting things in the caves was the lighting; it was floor level movie theater style which meant the wires had to be run through the thick walls and not overhead style like most caves in the U.S. On our way out I once again retained the title of the "world's Most Terrible Dad" as An and I noisily passed the ice cream vendor on the way out of the caves. But from the sounds behind us as we descended I am sure I have a lot of competition for my title. When we got back to the boat we steamed off for about a half an hour and they we anchored and were told that we would be here for a while and swimming time was available. Because I am part Welch and as such am subject to the fair-skinned Welch gene I told Wendi I would not be going swimming in the salt water. That lasted for 2 minutes until An saw the other people on the boat frolicking in the water and made us very aware she would not miss out. I wouldn't call what we did so much swimming as much as maybe gymnastics on a life vest. Since the ship did not have a child size vest I had to don a vest and let the monkey known as An try to flip and rotate me like a gyroscope.

After swimming it was close to dinner time and time for An to test her limits with daddy. After finding out that daddy does have limits she started to get sad and began to have a meltdown. Thankfully our guide was nearby and translated what she was saying: "I want to go home, I want to go back". Unfortunately we couldn't tell her we were going back the next day in case she would take it as we would take her back to her foster family. After about a half hour of crying we sat down and had dinner. As she ate some the tears dried up and her mood became better but she was still very tired. After dinner though she got a second wind and we stayed up till 9pm finishing dinner, watching the sun go down, and watching some others on the boat try to catch Pi(small squid). When we went to bed she went right to sleep. Dad and mom were not as lucky as the bed was a flat rock slab handed down from Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Because of her meltdown and sadness we left it up to An as to where she slept and she chose to put me in between her and Wendi sleeping on the outside left. For a good portion of the night she kept herself turned toward me. Unfortunately that did not last and just as I had finally nodded off I awoke to Wendi yelling at me "she's fallen! Go get her!” An had rolled off the bed and still half asleep had not yet registered what had happened. Quickly we got her back in the center of the bed and I slept on her outside.

The morning came with An in a much better mood, and at 7am Vietnam time we had a 5 course breakfast. About an hour after breakfast we anchored off of an island and boarded the shuttle boat for a trip into a small lagoon area inside of the island. We had to go in at low tide because as the guide explained the water would raise so much during high tide that only swimming underwater could you access the same area. It was a very pretty place and could easily hide a small flotilla of speed boats immediately making me think of all the pirates and buccaneers who must have hidden out in several of the nearly 12,000 islands in the bay. After we got back there was more swimming time but we passed this time. However some of the other passengers took time jumping off of the roof and into the water(2 story or so fall). This high diving impressed An to no end and was a complete puzzle to her. We pulled anchor and headed back to Halong Harbor where once again we had another 5 course meal before departing to shore to meet up with Mario and the pace car.

On the way back, in between the white-knuckles our driver gave her, Mom decided she and dad would head for a one day trip to Sapa, a place in the north of Vietnam. So arrangements were made and when we got back to Hanoi we had dinner, came back to the hotel and mom and dad left for their trip. They left Sunday evening and should be back Tuesday morning(Vietnam days +13hours from Idaho). The train ride is 10 hours each way so if nothing else mom's Sapa post should be interesting.

As for us we weathered the night very well having a bed that is space age compared to the slab of slate we had on the boat. After having a good breakfast(a buffet is just as good as 5 courses) we were off to go and get An's health check and passport. The visit to the SOS medical clinic (yes the same one from the earlier post and same doctor luckily enough) took about 90 minutes but 70 of those minutes were waiting on people and paperwork. Tomorrow we go for her Visa which should take about 2 hours; 15 min up front of signing and then an hour and 45 minutes that we either wait in the office or go and walk around and return later. We will be choosing the later. God I love paperwork....


Jess and Joe said...

Great post! It sounds like an interesting trip. I hope someone got a few pictures of Brian and An swimming together!

Annette said...

Thanks for such a descriptive post Brian! That was great.

Duda Family said...

Great description! We need photos too! :) Glad you were able to make it and hope yor parents have a fabulous time in Sapa!

Carol said...

Thanks for the wonderful description! I wanted to go there so much on our trip, but, was just too sick. I'll have to wait until we take Josiah back for a visit.

Eva said...

Great novel :) I love following your adventure.

LawMommy said...

We had Lana telling us the "I want to go home" thing as well. (I also got (or so it was translated to me, "YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER!" over and over and over again.) It's hard to hear those things...really hard.

I just wanted to tell you, with two years + hindsight - it gets easier. At four, they have real memories and real language and they know they are leaving someone behind. I think it's great she's bonding with daddy (Lana bonded with my husband first as well.)