Evening in Ha Long Bay

Time for a drink!  Happy hour doesn’t start for a bit but we’ve got a bottle of vodka stashed in Drisdelle’s bag and picked up a few cans of Sprite for mix on the island.  On our way back to our room we notice a woman in a small boat paddling towards us.  “Sir?  You want beer?  Whiskey?”  As she pulls up next to us I can see coolers full of beer, bottles of liquor sliding around, snacks, cigarettes, you name it she’s got it.

Now buying beer from the locals was explicitly forbidden when our pushy tour guide gave us the rules of the sea earlier in the day but it sounded like she was willing to sell us beer cheaper than the bar and I didn’t see any of our crew around so I said fuck it, let’s grab four beers.  She rowed up next to us, I grabbed the side of her boat and she started pulling out a few Hanoi Beers.  No, no, no!  Not Hanoi, anything else?  She puts them back and pulls out three cold Saigon Greens and one warm one, I hand her the equivalent of about two bucks.  And then…


Busted by no one other than the ship’s captain himself.  He grabs my beers out of my hands and starts giving me the business while my dealer rows away without a word.  I feel like I’ve been caught with my hand in the cookie jar but I try to play it cool.  Murphy and Drisdelle are snickering and taking pictures.  “Can’t I just pay the tariff?”  He looks surprised and says okay, he’s going to add $4 to our bar bill and walks away but I’ve got a feeling he’s keeping an eye on me now, I’m a troublemaker.  These 50 cent beers just turned into $1.50 beers.  We creep into our cabin, I’m still trying to be cool but really I’ve got my tail between my legs.

While the boys bust my balls we crack open our Sprites and the bottle of vodka.  We can’t just walk around with Sprites because they’ll charge us the $1 tariff and if they smell vodka they might search our room so we fill our water bottles with a stiff mix of Sprite and vodka, head up to the top of the boat.  This is pretty much a Grade 9 junior high field trip, and we’re the bad kids pissing off the teachers and possibly ruining it for everyone else.


Even after we were busted, once the ship’s crew had disappeared from sight our beer hook-up returned and tried to sell us more stuff.  No thanks lady.


Now in the brochure it apparently said we’d be getting a “cooking class”.  At about six o’clock we were supposed to meet in the dining room.  At the center was a table with rice paper, carrots, cucumbers, a bit of meat and some sauce.  We were each given a pair of plastic gloves and invited to throw everything into the rice paper.  Okay, cooking class done!  Once again Murphy insisted the brochure looked way more baller, with big woks and flames and shit.  We ordered up some Ha Long Bay Special cocktails, a green concoction that sort of looked like the water surrounding our rig and may have tasted weaker.  No more of those.

After dinner people stuck around for a bit but by 7:30 or so pretty much the entire boat had dispersed back to their rooms.  6 am kayaking didn’t seem like a great reason to call it early, at least to us.  Fortunately the three U of Melb exchange students we’d met at lunch – Ella, McKenna and Abby – were sipping mojitos, so we also got some mojitos, then once we depleted their supply of mojito ingredients we all got a mix of cocktails, and soon we were all feeling pretty good, telling stories, joking around, talking about living in Australia, good times.  “Happy Hour” was timeboxed from 6:30 to 8:30 so we were ramping it up as 8:30 approached, slamming back Black & Cokes at a rate of about one every 6 or 7 minutes, or at least Murphy and I were, Drisdelle was struggling to keep up and typically had two or three drinks piled up behind the one he was working on.

Another activity on our itinerary was karaoke, and there was a karaoke machine up at the front of the dining room.  We explained the rules of “Karaoke Roulette” or “Mystery Karaoke” to the girls – we choose a song for one or more of them and they have to sing it, then we flip it.  Initially they were very reluctant but as the drinks ramped up and everyone else disappeared they were in.

Bruce stopped by for a little bit but was surprisingly subdued, only making a handful of comments about partying with other boats before quacking and heading to sleep.

“Let’s Xerxes this shit.” – Jonathan Murphy, with one of the finest Achaemenid Dynasty references I’ve heard

Unfortunately the karaoke never happened, the staff all kind of disappeared and it was just the six of us.  The girls started winding down with beers, Drisdelle crashed out, and after the girls followed suit Murphy and I just grabbed some beers and went topside to watch the other boats and see what was going on.  It was pretty quiet, no real partying going on, could hear some music from across the harbour but nothing out of control.

There didn’t seem to be anyone moving down below but after we finished our last topside beer we decided to head down to the dining room to check.  Some of the staff had moved a couple of the tables and had bedspreads laid out on the floor, dead asleep.  As we stepped on the boards near the bar they creaked and the woman who’d been bringing us drinks earlier lept up and ran over to us, wiping the sleep out of her eyes.  And holding a stuffed animal.  She stared bleary-eyed at us while we were slackjawed by how cute the situation was.  “What’s that?”  “This is my boyfriend.”  “What’s his name?”  “Nam.  He sleeps with me every night.”  “Oh my god.  Can we take a picture?”


She grabbed us a final two beers, we returned topside, sipped them then crashed out.  But not before stumbling into every chair, door and window on the way down to our room and almost certainly waking up at least half of the boat.


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