I pull myself out of bed around 5:30am. Sun has just started to backlight the island humps of Ha Long Bay. A few too many drinks with McBurger last night and I’m a little groggy.
I get to the middle deck and Tour Guide dude is there. He tells me he was up until 3 playing cards. The only other person stirring on the boat is, of course, Bruce. MacKay isn’t going to be doing the kayaks this morning (I’m sure this has nothing to do with our kayak fail back in San Ignacio..) and Drisdelle isn’t up yet so my worst fear is that I end up with Bruce for sunrise kayaking. Ol Brucey is ok in very small doses but I will lose it if I have to be stuck close-quarters in a kayak with him for an hour without even having a coffee first.
“You doing the kayaking this morning Brucey?”, “Nope nope. That’s for you young folks. I’m just here to see the sunrise, Scotty.” This is the best news in days.
Drisdelle comes around deck just in time to grab the tender out to the kayak spot. “Haven’t we already missed sunrise?”, indeed the sun is basically up now and any sort of sunrise majesty has already passed.
We get dropped at a floating dock with a little convenience shop, some small fishing-type boats, and a bunch of kayaks. Everyone pairs up and they start doling out the yaks. Guide dude explains, “This cave over here is very beautiful, but you can not go in that cave. You will be fined if you go in that cave. You must go out around that bend and you will see a cave. Go through the cave and come back.”
Drisdelle and I hit the water and, despite our hangovers, go into a unison paddle that shoots us smoothly along the water’s surface. We’re not trying too hard but we actually rocket passed everyone and are well on our way to the cave. There isn’t any rosey sunrise colors, but the morning lightning is still nice.
We zoom through the cave and are on our way back. Almost to the bend again and we still haven’t seen any other kayakers. That’s weird, we’re not going that fast. Round the bend and apparently we are going that fast.
One thing that is quite striking is the amount of garbage in the bay. I don’t think the pictures really capture it but the whole time we are kayaking we are basically skimming through garbage and a slick film on top of the water. It’s disgusting. I guess that will happen pulling hundreds of boats in here everyday with that littering attitude that is so unfortunately prevalent here. So much junk just getting tossed overboard. It’s a shame.
We get back to the dock and de-kayak. While we wait for everyone else to get back a boat of 5 cops pulls up to the float. They talk to the shop guy who goes and gets a little book. They take the book, nod, and drive off inspecting it. That was weird.
Tender back to the main boat and it is breakfast time. Bruce is there to welcome everybody back aboard personally and make quacking sounds while high fiving people back to the boat. We raise MacKay and join the girls at the table.
“Lurpak!”, Ella grabs the butter with surprising excitement, “Oh, this is the best butter.” I’ve never seen someone go bonkers over butter before, “Oh no this isn’t the salted one. The salted one is the best, believe me”, “I believe you, Butter Master.”
After Breakfast our next stop is to an oyster farm. The tender pulls back up to the boat to take us to a small cluster of floats near a large area of buoyed off rows of oysters. On the dock is a woman in red who greets us with a smile and a wave. She is our tour guide. Her name is Moon.
Moon tells us how they cultivate 3 different types of oysters here. They are different sizes and each takes a number of years to create a single pearl, 4 years for one, 6 for a black pearl, and 8 for another type. That’s a long investment. For the first 17 months there is nothing inside. There are 1 million oysters on the farm, “Yes, very wealthy. If it was me I would have many boyfriends. But I’m not. I’m single and I don’t know why.” This unexpected delivery has us rolling.
Moon takes us into a room with a number of workbenches. There are people here with thin instruments like dental tools and a little clamp to hold an oyster. “Here they implant the oyster. Artificially”.
Ahhhh ok, so to increase the odds of creating a pearl the oysters are artificially implanted. Moon describes how they make a slice in the ovary or testicles of the oyster and implant an anti-bacterial membrane (wait.. oysters have testicles?). They close them back up and put them in the ocean. After a month they check to see how many are still living. There is a 30% chance that a pearl will be created but only a 10% chance that it will be round. The oysters that don’t produce pearls are still used for cosmetics and powder, and one dead oyster can produce up to 20 of the membranes used for artificial implants into the others. This whole oyster operation is actually much more interesting than I thought it would be. But it looks dreadfully boring to sit and artificially implant oysters all day.
Moon takes us over to an aquarium with a number of oysters in it. “Is anyone feeling lucky?”, I see what’s happening here. Without hesitation I step right up, “Yep, I’m super lucky”, being facetious, “Atta boy, Scotty”, thanks Bruce. I step up to the aquarium and Moon hands me some tongs to pick an oyster. “If you pick an oyster and there’s no pearl you have to be my boyfriend”, “Ohhhhhhhh”. I reach in and just grab the closest one to me. My bet is that every single one contains a pearl and that this act gets played out every tour.
I hold up the oyster to the crowd, Moon has a concerned look on her face, “Are you sure this one has a pearl?”, “I’m 30% sure, yes”, “Good one, Scotty”, fucking Bruce. Moon opens it up and displays it to the crowd. Her dental tools peruse the sinewy innards, “No pearl!” Well… that’s surprising. Drisdelle pipes up, “Hope you like living on a barge for the rest of your life”, “Ok Moon let’s get out of here and make some babies.”
Moon digs a little more and produces a small pearl. Ohh you trickster. She examines the pearl. “Only 10 percent of pearls are handsome. This pearl is medium handsome. Like him”, this generates a good amount of laughter from the crowd. Moon burn, ouch. “Oh she’s got you there, Scotty”, fucking Bruce! I haven’t even met a lot of these people and now Bruce’s inside joke with himself has them all believing that my name is Scotty.
Moon then takes us to the pearl shop to end the tour. We make a quick round of the pricey wares but quickly dart upstairs for a post-oyster beer.
We tender back to the boat and the tour is almost complete. Only thing left is to ferry us back to the buses. Oh and we have to close our bar tab. MacKay goes to inquire. “Ahhh boys I’m gonna need some cash”, “How’d we do?”, “Our bill is 200 bucks”, “200 bucks! American”, “Fraid so”, “Holy shit!”. So yeah, we managed to rack up a bill over 200 ameribucks last night. A few too many black and cokes post happy hour it turns out. We were double parking Drisdelle like crazy, but damn that is a crazy bar tab to get in Vietnam.
Knowing the end is near Bruce recruits a staff member to grab a picture with “Scotty and the boys”. We line up and snap a beauty. “This is to identify the bodies afterwards”, fucking Bruce. He means well.
We also get a family photo op with our new dinner table friends. Good group of girls, that was fun rambling at the table over drinks last night
We go up to the top deck. An Italian guy named Leonardo is up there having a beer. We’d chatted with him on and off throughout the tour. Leo is wearing super short camo shorts a tank top and a camo Vietnam hat. He’s from outside Rome. He shows us a video of him finding a bong by the kitchen on the boat. Leo is going to hang on some islands for a few days and then he’s off to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. We give him the low down.
We chill on the top deck and take in our last views of Ha Long Bay. Incredibly gorgeous place, I’m really glad we took the time to come out here. A German guy takes his shirt off and hands Drisdelle his camera, “Please will you take a picture? I want to send it back to the office!” Haha, you bastard.
Here are a few more pics from the way back
We say our goodbyes to the girls who board another boat to Cat Bi. They’ve still got to the end of the day. I think they’re going on a bike ride or something. We exchange some instagram info wish them well on their travels.
We drop anchor and tender back to the mainland to wait for another shit bus. Can’t sleep on the shit bus back. We stop at another rest stop half way. This one is quadruple the size of the other disabled persons stop we had on the way here. They force you to go through the gift shops and pick you up on the other side too.
Back in Hanoi the guide is wondering which hotel we want to get dropped off at. We tell him whichever one comes first, we can just find one in the area. We don’t want to spend an hour going around the old quarter. That’s when T-Money calls up haha. The guide hands the phone to MacKay. “Nah Tony that’s ok. Nah we’re good. Thanks anyways Tony. No thanks. We’re fine, Tony. Thanks.” Basically T-Money’s hotel was booked for the night but he has another, blah blah blah. We’ll just hit the streets and find something.
The first stop is Leo’s and we decide to just bail there too. The funny thing is the bus never stops moving. So we’re being funneled off and are basically jumping off into traffic. MacKay grabs my bag because it’s on top of the pile and hops off. Near spill, not too bad. Drisdelle grabs his bag and lands somewhere near the sidewalk. I grab MacKay’s bag and whooot… the bus doors are closed. Everyone starts laughing. “Shit, guess I’ll be staying at your place, Gavin.”
I convince the driver that there’s one more and he opens the door. Bus is going decently fast now. I time my jump in between parked tuk tuks. It sticks. I wave goodbye to the bus and backtrack to find the boys. Time to find a place to crash and see what Hanoi is really all about!