We only spent a night in Hue as we were just stopping off on our way through to Hanoi. Hue is a large town with the Perfume river running through - again markets, shops, bars etc. We were tired and needed to get a good nights sleep so headed back to our hotel, which rated very high on trip advisor. Trip Advisor is my bible here and I am reluctant to stay in any place that hasn't got a good review score the problem is that many staff will put their own reviews on so the place will appear good on advisor but isn't so great. The hotel in Hue was ok but our room was damp although we were too tired to do anything about it and besides the staff were so nice I think if we had mentioned it they would have been mortified and I certainly didn't want to upset them - they were far to nice and would move the earth to make your stay comfortable.
We caught the train to Hanoi - yes we actually made it on time - but the train was late. We were on a sleeper train with a room to ourselves so we sat and watched Top Gear on the Ipad which was an hour well spent. I love Top Gear and despite what ive heard lately about Jeremy Clarkson - he is still brilliant in my eyes!
We arrived in Hanoi at 430am - and it was chilly. Immediately as ususal we are approached by about 20 taxi drivers all begging for your business to take you to a hotel. I had researched hard for this next bit of the trip but there was hardly any information on the internet to get us to Monkey Island which is a small Island off of Cat Ba Island within Ha Long Bay. I read up about getting the bus to Ha Long bay and then finding a boat to take us to the Island but it wasn't as simple as that. Having looked at everything the following happened at the bottom of this blog. (im putting it on here in hope that someone else might find it to make their trip easier).
As we walked through the back streets near the harbour we came across something I was hoping we wouldn't see, a meat market. There were live ducks sat on the ground feet bound together as were chickens. Live fish flapping on the pavement as they await to go onto the wooden block to be chopped with a hacking blade from the woman cutting them up. Being vegetarian I can't get my head round this, its just something I could never do, same as some meat eaters they couldn't do the killing but they can eat it. Each to their own though - but I can't change my mind on this im sure there must be a better way.
We got a taxi to the hydrofoil and then we were off cutting through the water as if we were a hot knife in butter. So far all had gone well, we caught the train on time, we woke up on time, we got off on the right stop, our taxi driver didn't con us, we got onto the ferry all was going so well - too well! CRASH!! "What the hell was that?" I shouted to Maggie who was sat up front with the biggest window infront of her. "We just went over a boat and there were people on it!!" I jumped out of my seat - wondering if to put on the life jacket - we were still moving - at the same speed. I was waiting for the boat to tip and wondering if Maggie had got it right or was kidding me. I heard a lot of shouting so I got up to go to the top deck where the staff were gathering "SIT DOWN" was shouted to me.
Going off on a tangent now - I watched a programme once about how people do what they are told when they dont particulary know anyone else or they follow what the general concensus is- they studied this when a large group of people were killed in a fire despite the alarms going off etc. The example they used was they tricked people into thinking they were applying for a role in a play (I think that was the scenario). They were all sat in a large room like a class room with chairs and desks. They started the fire alarm and the people began to talk amongst themselves but no one moved, then they put smoke under the door into the classroom. Bearing in mind no one knew in the classroom that this was a trick they still didn't move. One man began to panic and tell everyone that maybe they should get out and leave the room. There were conversations about no one coming in to get/warn them etc but only one man in the group left. They said the group may not have survived. Funny how people just sit there and wait for someone to tell them what they should do.
Did I sit down - no! I pushed past them to get to the top of the deck to see if I could see ANYTHING.....a broken boat...people in the water....a concerned captains face who has seen a big hole in his boat. Nothing - no boat, no people - but huge panic on the captains face. Lots of radios and mobile phone calls around me from the staff - "SIT DOWN LADY - SIT DOWN" I still wasnt comfortable with this so stayed up deck. I could see that we were now reversing this after a good five minutes after the crash. I still couldn't see anything, we hadn't sunk and I went downstairs to update everyone. We then went forward back on track of our journey - speaking to the staff didn't help - they either didn't understand the English or they didn't want to talk about it. I was told the week before how unimportant taking a life is in Vietnam and I couldn't quite fathom that - surely they wouldn't just sail over a boat with people in and leave them to drown? No Coastguard here though and from what I witnessed no one cared. It was horrible - and I still don't know if anyone died.
When we arrived at Monkey Island I spoke to the Manager, she spoke excellent English, she repeated to me about how low life is thought of and yes people may have died - it happens a lot she said. I thought about researching it on the internet - maybe it would be in their local paper - but then what could I do.
Monkey Island is a very small island which has been turned into a resort with Bungalow huts which are right on the beach - they are truely beautiful. There is a large area as a restaurant/bar and play area. Staying here though you are prime for high prices $5 for chips (small portion) $5 for this $5 for that .....very expensive with a small menu.
We had a stroke of luck when one of the employees took us out on his friends boat for 2 quid each from memory into part of Ha Long to kayak through the limestone peaks. This was fantastic and a time when you just stop paddling and sit back admiring the view. Looking at floating houses (tin huts) resting on large polystyrine blocks and bamboo paths. Dogs on the small housing blocks barking at the boats going by. The quietness of large rocks reaching out of the sea. "VICKY, VICKY, CKY, CKY, CKY, cky ky" I hear as my name is shouted out echoing out around the peaks. We all start shouting random things listening to where our voices reach. There are crab pots underneath the water as many as the sea bed and passing some of the floating houses the stench of fish is too much but this is their living here. We were invited to go into a cave which we jumped at, a small boat ride ducking under the stalag - tites? or mites? They invited us to look at their accommodation they were building for their cave. Build and they will come - I remember thinking. I wonder if they will come though - they have called it Bamboo Island. The paths are made of carved bamboo, the railings which protect you from falling into the sea and the rocky ground underneath are made out of plumbing pipes painted black!! So not save - but you soon learn that health and safety doesn't exist in South East Asia!! The beds are concrete with a thin bamboo layer with a blanket ontop. I won't be staying there anytime soon.
Our journey back to Hanoi went well but took quite some time apart from our taxi driver who gave us the meter price, he hid some of the money under his leg and told us we hadn't given him enough despite we needed change. Chloe was sat in the front of the car and told me she could see it sticking out from his leg. I leant over and saw the money - I was cross and pointed to the money and he put his hands up as if he did't know what I was talking about. I leant further pointing and saw the shame on his face - I was shouting at him at this point and smacked his hand as if he was a bad behaved child (can't believe I did that!) he gave me the money back that we could see but he was sat on more we think because he wouldn't budge from his seat. We got the bulk of it back luckily.
We had an enjoyable stay in Hanoi -- there was so much to see and not enough time. We walked around the lake which had been decorated on the banks with floral displays, some rather odd and some quite facinating.
New Year Eve we spent in the main square by the lake where they had erected a large platform stage where there was a man singing and ladies dancing. The crowds were going mad!! Jumping up and down to the music thrusting their arms in the air - they didn't sing to the songs though - all English Songs - then Chloe said "Thats Lemar" Now I vaguely remember the name and there is no way I can repeat what Maggie said incase anyone is offended! Turns out it was Lemar. What was he doing singing in Hanoi New Years Eve - how odd! The group around us were really friendly wanting to hold our English hands and hug us. They warned us of the pick pocketers around and pointed out a group or trendy looking lads with the latest hair cuts - bad lads - thieves thats how they afford their clothes etc.
Come 1230am all was over - they were leaving - so unlike UK - this is when the party would start. Not in Hanoi - it was all over - time to go home - good night!
It was a good night too - and the last one we spent with Maggie and Ellen. The next day we were up early and at the airport ready to wave them back to the UK and we were getting ready for our trip to China. Worried about the lack of warm clothing we had and the weather reports of us going to Beijing which was a shivering 2 degrees. Fashion had gone out of the window what with me and Chloe wearing our Ski socks and our Merrill sandles with leggins on top.
I wondered if I would have a seat grabber on the plane behind me - but no - a new annoyance - the man infront of me spent most of the journey (4hrs) rolling his head around - Chloe managaged to film some of it - it made you feel abit dizzy. Otherwise it was a good flight.
We got off the plane and it was freezing!
How to get to Monkey Island.
1. Hanoi to Haphong (bus or taxi) we took taxi for 850 vnd - 1 1/2 hr at the most.
2. Ben Binh harbour Haphong - Cat Ba by hydrofoil - 150 vnd - 45 mins
3. Contact staff at Monkey Island to get a free boat to them.
The return trip was really difficult.
1. Boat to Cat Ba
2. Bus to another port on Cat Ba
3. Hydrofoil from Cat Ba to Haphong Ben Binh
I think from doing this it would have been easier to purchase a trip at HaLong Bay for the two nights, we didn't do this due to costs.
Sod that I thought - sit in my seat and then wait to drown if we sink....nope!