Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quan Lan Island, Vietnam

(PICTURE: Don't let this nice picture deceive you...read below.)

For about a year, I had heard from many foreigners how great Quan Lan Island was. Quan Lan is a small island on the outskirts of Halong Bay which supposedly has the cleanest beaches in all of Vietnam. I had been aching to get there for a long time and thought, from what I had been told, that it was the perfect scenic place to propose to Huyen.

Well, reason #18,552 that I know Huyen and I are a perfect match is that we were able to have such a great time on the island which, having now been there, I can claim is THE WORST PLACE IN ALL OF VIETNAM!

Here's reason #1 that you should never go to Quan Lan Island: The people suck. Yes, all of the people. Every single person we met there was trying to scam us. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration -- 90% of everyone we met was dishonest. Here's a little anecdote:

On the bus ride from Hanoi to the port of departure to Quan Lan, Huyen overheard a girl talking on the phone about Quan Lan. Huyen struck up a conversation with this girl who told us that she worked for the government in Quan Lan. Huyen and I had left on Thursday night so that we could take the first boat to the island in the morning. We didn't have a place to stay so the girl said we should stay at her friend's guesthouse by the port. The guesthouse was a SHITHOLE and cost us probably twice what it should have.

(PICTURE: Don't be deceived -- this room had no hot water, no mosquito net, no towels, a light that wouldn't turn off all night and I'm pretty sure bed bugs.)

We arrainged to meet the girl the next morning to take the boat together. The girl was twenty five minutes late and eventually showed up without an apology. Despite her tardiness, I bought her breakfast. She didn't say thanks. The girl then told us that it was going to cost 100,000 VND to take the boat. Despite her thanklessness a minute earlier, I gave her 300,000 VND. Again, she didn't say thank you. Oh, and the boat tickets were stamped with a price of 80,000 VND (but in her defense, I think they were just old tickets).

When we got to the island, the fun really started. As soon as we got off the boat I saw two Army Officers. One of the guys locked eyes with me -- the only foreigner on the boat -- and darted towards me. He started to say something which amounted to me having to register and pay a "fee" for being on the island. The place to register was at the end of the dock. Huyen, the local government girl and I got into a tuk-tuk and told the officers we would stop at the office to register. The second Army guy came over and reiterated what the first guy had said. The local girl told us that she knew both guys. Wellllll, the tuk-tuk driver decided it wasn't important for me to register so he blew by the army office. The local girl said it was no problem and took us to her Aunt's guest house to stay (her Aunt later tried to scam us on the agreed upon price).

About thirty minutes after dropping off our bags, the local girl called Huyen. She said that the Army officers were really pissed off at us and that we'd have to pay a fine -- on top of the fee -- for not registering. She asked us to go back to the dock and talk to the army guys. Oh, and then she aid that in her haste to go talk to the army people she ran out of gas and asked us to pick her up some (I should say now that gas on this island is quite expensive since they have to bring it all by boat). Well, Huyen and I bought some gas for the girl, rented a motorbike for the day and headed back to the dock. As we drove we kept wondering how close to the dock the girl would be with her gas-less motorbike. Turns out she was at the dock already. Staying true to her character, she took the gas WITHOUT A THANKS!

Anyway, we now had to talk with the Army guys who, long story short, said they'd only charge me the fee and not the fine. What nice guys, huh? The fee only cost me 200,000 VND or roughly 200,000 VND more than I've ever had to pay to visit anywhere in Vietnam. The officers couldn't have been friendlier once I paid them the money. Gotta love corruption.

This was all within the first hour of being on the island. It wasn't an anomaly though -- people on this island just couldn't be trusted. So, if you're a random web surfer who just googled "Quan La" and came upon my blog, take my advice and don't. If this post isn't enough of a reason to persuade you, check back in tomorrow for another reason.

And random readers, if you decide to ignore my warning at least listen to this: If you see the girl next to Huyen in the picture below, don't trust her, her family or anyone she works with.