Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going Against The Guide Book

(PICTURE: Fresh seafood.)

As I wrote yesterday, Huyen, Veronica and I organized our Halong Bay trip ourselves. Every Vietnam guide book you read will tell you NOT to do this. It says explicitly that this will cost you more money. Well, turns out they're right...only because we got suckered!

Our timing that day had been perfect. We arrived at the bus station a minute before our bus took off. We then took a taxi from the bus station to the port and got on our shared boat a minute before the boat was ready to leave. The only problem with such luck is that we were starving and didn't have a chance to fart around for a half an hour and grab food. We asked the ship captain if we could buy food on the boat and he said we'd stop somewhere in the bay for lunch.

We ended up stopping at a floating fish market where we choose our own fish. This was great except that the fish farm had a monopoly on lunch spots in the bay. All of the fish were exponentially more expensive than any other fish I've ever eaten in Vietnam. We finally decided on the smallest, cheapest fish which weighed 1.8 kg and cost us a whopping 500,000 Dong ($30). There was a really funny moment -- and I'm kicking myself for not getting it on video -- when the market worker asked us if we wanted the fish he had scooped up in a net. We said yes and to confirm he said, "Die?". We nodded and he yelled, "DIE!!!" and clobbered the fish with a stick.

(PICTURE: Huyen on the floating fish market.)

While we were getting back on the boat the captain bought some vegetables from a woman on a row boat and fifteen minutes later we had a huge delicious meal. Fifteen minutes after that the ship captain gave us the bill for the veggies, "service" and rice: 190,000. Yeah, it was my most expensive meal in 'Nam.

The other problem with not booking through a travel agent was that we had to organize our own ride home. This wouldn't have been a problem if we didn't miss the last bus back to Hanoi by five minutes. So much for the great timing we had had all day! We then spent an hour on the side of the road until a van came along. The van was headed to Hanoi and had enough seats for two of us. Veronica and Huyen got seats...and I sat on a stool on the floor of aisle. I was pretty sure I was going to die if the van driver hit the brakes hard. Luckily he didn't know what braking was and drove like a madman. Eventually a seat opened up and I took it. My legs were cramped by the seat in front of me but somehow I managed to fall asleep. Twenty minutes later I was awoken by Huyen who had just had a bout with car sickness. Long story short, it was a long ride home and next time I'm going through a travel agent.