In Which I Embrace My Anxieties

The overnight train pulled into Hanoi at 430 AM and I climbed out in search of the hotel where I was to spend the next few hours. The travel agent booked it as the only real option near the train station given the scenario, but I just didn’t have a good feeling about the place, and as I stepped into the dated room with its faded wallpaper and worn furniture, I had a sense that this was a room that probably had bed bugs. I don’t know this for a fact, because I never saw a bed bug, but if I had had another alternative I would have gone elsewhere. So with my options limited, I piled my bags into the bathroom, where I hoped the tile floor would be a safer option if bugs were present, and rather than use any of the furniture in the rest of the room, I showered and then sat on the toilet for an hour and blogged.

At 630 I escaped to the restaurant downstairs, and was happy when my shuttle pulled in on schedule at 715.

My destination for the day is Halong Bay, where I will spend the next 24 hours or so on a small ship, at sea amongst the massive rocky promontories jutting up from the ocean floor.

But first I had to get there. After a four hour drive in the aforementioned shuttle bus (top speed: 45 mph), our group found this derelict tender waiting for us, an ominous figure out of a South Asian stereotype.

I boarded with a sense of dread, and we were taken out to one of many boats moored in the harbor. Lines were tossed and the tender was soon affixed to the stern of a larger ship that was somewhat less timeworn than its smaller mate.

As I unlocked my cabin, I couldn’t help but think that this was one of those boats that you hear about in the news. You know the type – the ones that periodically sink killing everybody on board, while the rest of us hear about it and declare, “didn’t they know those boats sink all the time?”

And now here I was on one of “those boats.” Exploring my quarters I noticed that they have a mallet hanging from a nail next to the window. I imagine that this is so we can attempt an escape when our boat starts sinking. I lift the mallet and consider its heft. I don’t like it – it isn’t substantial enough. I tap the window with a fingernail, and the glass feels thin, which helps me to feel better about the inadequate mallet.

We begin motoring out into the bay while the twelve of us on board eat lunch. I am the only American. There are a number of Aussies and Kiwis, as well as a couple from Spain. I have grown accustomed to being in the minority amongst English-speakers here. I had a similar experience in Indonesia – they just don’t get a lot of American tourists.

As we sailed out, we were joined by a fleet of of similarly designed craft, but the crowd slowly dissipated as we all went our own directions. After lunch my fellow passengers and I milled around atop the boat under an unclouded sky and gaped out at the amazing seascape around us, trying to get that rare photograph that might do justice to the scene.

Eventually we dropped anchor and visited a pearl farm. This really wasn’t my thing, and mostly made me feel bad for the oysters. I also wondered (but didn’t ask) – after they harvest the pearls do they eat the oyster meat?

During this stop, we also went kayaking. There are no pictures from kayaking because I decided water was bad for my camera. I was paired up with a healthcare administrator from Sydney, and we made great time getting around, although I discovered that I’m not a very good navigator. Incidentally, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m an active traveler – which is one of many reasons I think I preferred kayaking to pearls.

The best part of the afternoon involved a stop in a sheltered cove to watch the sunset.

The group of us stood at the rail for a while watching the sun make her way down in the sky, all wanting to catch that singular moment. Then the guide informed us that we could go swimming, so the lot of us put on our suits and jumped in. There was a substantial current, but it was still a fantastic swim.

And we all missed the sunset. But we still enjoyed the company.

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