Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ha Long is a piece of string?

That depends on the scrupulousness of the travel agent you book your tour of Vietnam's tactically voted Wonder of the World with, and how stubborn you are to fight through their deliberately ambiguous sales pitch and outright lies about 'VIP' boats and 'superior' bungalows before they admit that everyone just gets handed the same length of tatty old string frayed at the edges and with a couple of frustrating knots that they've tried loosening with scissors, but that just made it look worse.

If you enter the tour company's office prepared to deal with their bullshit, and don't get indignant when the tour guides advise you that you shouldn't leave any valuables in your boat cabin because the crew routinely breaks into rooms to look for anything salvageable, you'll probably have a great time in Ha Long Bay. Once you've accepted that you're going to be scammed, the satisfaction lies in minimising the collateral damage.

Ha Long Bay - Day One

Davey Warburton's locker

These days, I'm normally too independent, stingy and antisocial (probably in that order) to book package tours rather than getting around on my own schedule and not being forced to endure bundled activities I have no interest in (floating markets in Thailand, butterfly farms in Malaysia), but the consensus was that doing Ha Long Bay DIY would be more expensive and a lot more annoying than signing up to one of the easy peasy lemon polka dot bikini tours offered by every Hanoi hotel and travel agent purloining the name and branding of more successful travel agents because this is Vietnam and they can do that.

There are a few different tours to choose from, and I chose the one towards the budget end of the spectrum. If you're aged between 18 and 28 and you visited Ha Long Bay in the last few years on a backpacking tour of South East Asia, this is probably the one you took too. It wasn't as bad as some of the overly cynical reviews suggested, and even met my slightly-more-demanding-than-last-year standards - great scenery, good food, optional activities and mixed company that could be opted out of by heading back to my ace floating room. It was almost like a proper cruise, except I'm not middle-aged enough for that yet.

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