Category Archives: rant

Vietnam Pt12: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of the big draws to Vietnam, for all types of tourist, from the cheapo backpackers through to rich Russians on private boats.

Ha Long Bay

There are an unbelievable amount of options to choose from, and a thousand different places to book them all. Each shop works with different boats, and trip suppliers. What confused me from the start was that the agent would show you a boat, tell you that you’ll be on that boat, and then tell you it leaves everyday – for a 2 day trip. It’s all just awful, and the corruption and bullshit is worse than anywhere, even Bangkok.

The crewSo after wandering around trying different agents for a while we picked a guy we kinda liked, and booked as a group – there were about 7 of us in total – to get a big discount. Although I have come to suspect that a big discount is not a discount at all, they’re simply selling you a cheaper package, possibly at a higher than usual price. There’s no way to know where this money is going, or that you’re getting what you paid for.

BusySo we get picked up, along with a whole load more backpackers for the bus down to Ha Long town, and meet some cool guys on the trip (which would have been so much worse without them) and assume we must be on the same boat – we’ve paid about the same and are doing the same length trip. We arrive at the Port, and are left standing in the bus park for at least an hour, after a little while our new friends are called away and put on one boat, and a bit longer after that we are taken to our new home. It’s not amazing, to say the least. The rooms are all doubles, so I’m sharing with Nico again, and the facilities are pretty standard cheap Asian. However, we weren’t expecting luxury (even if the pictures were a lot nicer!) Upstairs is the dining room, and on the roof a sun deck with some broken loungers and umbrellas.

cavesThe weather wasn’t great, so the sights were a little spoilt, but the caves were very cool, although that was an extra charge we hadn’t been told about. Not as spectacular as some of the caves I’d visited previously, but still worth a look. I also enjoyed the Kayaking, although a guide around the village would have been appreciated, we were just pointed in the direction of some cool rocky bits, and left to it.

The ViewsThere was also a lot of travel time, sitting on a slow boat heading out to the part of the bay that is so nice. Surprisingly we didn’t see any of the nice sail boats that are always used in the adverts for Ha Long Bay. I can only assume they start closer and spend the nights in the nicer parts of the National Park.

The best part was playing drinking games in the cabin in the evening, and then after a sneaky bribe to their captain the boys from the bus joined us for a bit of a party. More drinking games and some drum n bass kept us going pretty late until their captain insisted on returning to their anchorage. Speaking to the boys it seemed as though they’d done the same as us that day, and their boat was pretty much the same as far as standards.

Our troubles really began on the second day when we realised that quite a few things had been stolen. A pair of real Nike trainers and several amounts of cash had been taken from bags on deck. There were only a few crew members and the travel company rep on board during the thefts, so we tried to insist that the crew compartments were searched, but with no luck. The crew mostly hid away and the captain was belligerent in his refusal. On speaking with the rep, he explained that the crew and boat are hired, basically on a first come first serve basis, using whichever boat is ready at the time, so they have no responsibility for the actions of the crew, or if the boat is horrible.

It makes me think that the whole area is run as a total scam, overcharging for ‘upgrades’ that mean nothing and treating guests like cash machines. The customer service was terrible, the food was disappointing and overall the trip was a waste.

However on route back we bumped into some people that had gone out for the three day trip, who told us they had had no troubles at all, and that the food and service was excellent. They had paid a lot more than us, but in hindsight it may have been worth it just to get a meal that didn’t leave me hungry.

Booking Ha Long Bay is a minefield, I’d suggest booking through an agent at home, but you’d likely end up spending four or five times as much money and potentially ending up with the same thing. At least that way you can complain and get a refund. With the local agents you have no chance of that happening.

Cave

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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How NOT To Get A Chinese Visa In Hanoi

I planned my tour through Vietnam to include plenty of time in Hanoi to allow me to apply for my Chinese visa – this didn’t work out so well.

The main piece of advice I can give you if you are looking to apply is book your outbound transport. It’s so simple, but I know that it’s the last thing you want to do. Whether it’s the cheapest short haul flight out you can find, or the actual flight you want to take. Book it before you go to the embassy.

Day 1:

I found out from various forums what things I needed to fill out the forms, this is mostly the address and phone number of your hotel/hostel, your own details, passport, and plans for China. I found out which train I wanted to take in, and found out the name of a few hostels in the towns I was to spend the first few days. Some people have said it’s a good idea to have all these booked, which is easy enough with the hostels, as you’ll only be charged the 10% fee through the booking site. However, booking the train is a little trickier, they don’t tend to sell tickets for future travel, so good luck if you want to book that.

I also had a more general plan of my tour through China, which included a stop over in Hong Kong (when in Rome…) which counts as leaving the country as far as the visa is concerned, so I was applying for a double entry visa – same paperwork, just a different box to tick.

On arrival at the embassy I was given a big form by a grumpy security guard, so I filled it out as best I could. The guards will look over it once you are done, and will point out anything you missed, which may sound nice, but feels like getting told off by a strict teacher. You’ll also need to get photocopies of everything ever, there’s a place just around the corner, head right out the door and right again at the corner, and it’s on the right. Don’t listen to the taxi drivers at all. At one point I needed to check online for the hostel phone number, so asked where I could find Wi-Fi. After a few horrendous offers I decided to try a little walk, and about 200 meters away, opposite Lenin, is a coffee shop with an open network.

Once the form was filled in, and I answered all the questions I could, to the lady at the desk, I left with fingers crossed. I knew at this point I was very on the fence, as the lady had told me so. She said she would show it to her supervisor who could advise me whether it was worth applying officially. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of procedure, but I’m glad they did it for me, as it saved me paying for the application, which I’ve heard is an ordeal itself.

Day 2: 

No news is good news right?

Day 3:

Nope. I got a phone call that I could come and collect my passport from the office as they didn’t think it was worth putting through my application. They didn’t give any exact reasons other than ‘lack of evidence’ – not sure what they meant by this, but reading others experiences the only thing my application was really lacking was the transport out.

So if you’re thinking about applying, make sure you have everything, then double check it all.

In all honesty, I was actually a bit relieved when I was rejected, after about 5 months in Asia, I was starting to get tired of the similar landscapes, food and environment. Although it’s somewhere I really wanted to go, I know that, unlike places like Thailand which caters for the youth, China can be appreciated in much the same way at any period in your life, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. I hope that I will go one day, preferably soon, to explore the amazing sites, but for now I am happy to have adventured in South Africa instead.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Be A Good Traveler!

Yeah yeah, there’s no right or wrong way to travel…

But there is.

Being an intolerable hippy, complaining constantly that it’s too touristy, you’re doing it wrong. Go hide yourself in a the Brazilian jungle until your dreads reaches the forest floor from your tree house (and then complain that there’s no wi-fi)

Being a hopeless wuss and not being brave enough to try anything remotely adventurous unless there’s 20 safety ropes and a health and safety officer on stand-by, you’re doing it wrong, Go back home to your lovely safe middle class life, where crossing the road is the biggest risk of your day.

Being a lazy ignorant slob, spending all night in the bar and all day hungover on the beach, you’re doing it wrong. Just go to Ibiza next time, we don’t need to see your tiny outfits (girls and boys) and sunburn.

As I’ve traveled, I found the way I like to do things, and that is to see and experience as much as possible. Sometimes that’s an unguided moped tour along dirt roads in Laos, sometimes that means hitting a big commercial theme park in Vietnam, sometimes it’s deserted beach parties, and others it’s the infamous Koh Phangan Fullmoon party. But to experience is to live – it allows you to understand more about yourself, in that you know what you like, and what you don’t. So to complain about the tourists, or that the waiter is too slow with mojito number 7, or being too lazy/nervous to actually do anything means, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong.

Traveling is about getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, meeting new people and seeing new things. It’s not about cheap alcohol, tanning, and forgetting the name of that person from last night – you can get all of that on every high street in every western country in the world.

Next time save yourself the hours on the plane and just stay home.