Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam
So in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it suggests going to Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay because it is “every bit as beautiful as its more famous neighbor”. So we booked a 3 day, 2 night cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay on a “junk”, or a mini cruise-ship, using a well-reviewed tour company and were picked up by their tour bus at our hotel on Wednesday morning.
And here’s where the story gets weird.
We are on the tour bus with several other super interesting passengers from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. We are all bonding and excited to spend a few days getting to know each other. The couple from Germany had actually spent a few months in Tanzania back in the 70s and were eager to chat with us to compare our climbs up Kilimanjaro.
Then we arrive at the harbor, and Andrew and I notice that our guide has a sheet of paper with all our names on it, and that our names are separated from everyone else’s names. Hmm. Then we head to the little boat that will take us to our cruise ship, and an arm goes up to prevent Andrew and I from joining the others. We are directed to a different small boat and informed that we are on a different ship than the others, and that we are the only people on our boat. The only people on a 6 cabin, 12 passenger ship.
At this point we can still see the others, and they board a smaller, 4 cabin ship. Our ships are with the same company. They embark at the same time. They sail next to each other and go to the same places and do the same activities. We meet the others on a beach later that day and they tell us they were told that we are on a separate boat because we booked a 3 star cruise, and they booked a 4 star cruise. We could not figure out a single difference between our cruises except that their guide spoke better English than ours. Our guide knew only a handful of words. He always said that everything would be in “some 40 minutes”…we think that was the largest number he knew.
Then again, he knew the term “second honeymoon”, because that is what he and the rest of our 6 person crew kept saying as we laughed at the fact that we had the whole boat to ourselves. The amount of attention they gave us was a bit overwhelming…the second we finished the food on a plate it was whisked away. They even carved the word “honeymoon” into a watermelon and put it on our table.
Anyway, the experience was strange. The excursions to a cave, a pearl farm, and a floating village were a bit contrived and felt more tailored towards older tourists than towards “young backpackers”, as I shall call us. We also participated in “cooking class” during which all we did was fill and roll up spring rolls. You know when something is really weird, and that makes it kind of fun? That’s what this whole thing was. The bay itself was beautiful, though there was a sad amount of trash in the water. In summary, we didn’t get what we expected, but we still had a lovely, albeit somewhat awkward, time.
Next stop, Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park!