Saturday, November 22, 2008

Incredible and Unforgettable Vietnam

Sorry for not updating for the longest time, but I’ve been too busy with papers and final coming up soon. This entry is going to be mostly about Vietnam, but quick overview of Malaysia:

I went to Kek Lok Si Temple in temple for the first day. It was a beautiful place, but much of it was under construction especially the pagoda. Then at night, I went to some clubs and bars at night. The next day, we went to Kuala Lumpur by coach, it took 5 hours in a very nice luxury coach. We stayed at the awesome Mandarin Oriental for cheap, and at the hotel I went to their infinity pool, Jacuzzi, and saunas everyday. Basically, the first day in KL, we went to an indoor amusement park, a very nice bar on the 30th floor of a hotel, and then attempted to go to a club, but the club was too expensive. Then the next day, we went to the Batu caves, which a monkey with a baby jumped on me and stole my ice cream! Then we went to Chinatown where I had some fun bartering for a watch; I bought a fake Carrera watch for about 4 US dollars and some Hugo Boss Cologne. On the last day, we went to a bird sanctuary, where most of us where bitten by tons of mosquitoes, and at night we went to an awesome club where there were dancers on top of the bars. I danced the night away and returned to our hotel. The next day we took a luxury coach back to Penang. Malaysia was fun, but nothing amazing. However, I did have tons of Chinese food in Malaysia, which made me really happy. I love fried rice.

What was amazing though was Vietnam. Of all the port I have been too, Vietnam has been number one in terms of experience. It was an adventure to say the least. So here is what went down:

Basically, the first day we flew to Hanoi from Saigon. There was strong turbulence when the plane was landing, which freaked me out to the point that I let out a small scream; flying makes me nervous. At the airport we met our tour guide, Thanh; he had a Vietnamese-British accent to his English. Our first stop was a water puppet show; it was actually more exciting that I thought it would be; the puppets moved very fluidly in the water and the music that accompanied the show matched the movements of the puppets. Afterwards, we had a very nice Vietnamese dinner at a restaurant where the restaurant owner came up to us and said we were a happy bunch and wanted our picture on his website; we were his “preferred” customers. We then returned to our small boutique hotel in Hanoi where we stayed the night.

The next day, the 15 of us boarded an empty 40 seater bus and drove three and half hours to Halong Bay. Immediately, at Halong Bay, we boarded our Chinese style junk names Huy Hoang. The junk was amazing. It had a tanning deck, a sitting and eating deck, and a cabin deck. I had my own cabin. The first day we sailed around Halong bay in our junk enjoying the spectacular views. We visited the “Amazing” Cave, which was dark and cool on the inside. Then at dusk, we kayaked in Halong bay, and actually kayaked under a cave into a calming inlet.

At night, a bunch of people got drunk; it was actually pretty funny to watch. I heard the tour guide and some guys in our group were jokingly hitting each other. Also, I heard the tour guide jokingly attempted to kiss one of the girls.

The next day was when the real adventure began. We sailed for about an hour in Halong Bay. I felt like I was a pirate in the Caribbean sitting in the front of the boat with my legs out. The boat moved up and down as it sailed, and my feet came close to touching the water a couple of times. We arrive to Cat Ba Island, and had a rustic bicycle ride though the countryside. At that point, I was really enjoying myself; as I bicycled, I saw a pack of goats, a family of puppies, and several kids who gave us high fives as we bicycled through their village. We then stopped and hiked though the forest to a cave where the Vietnamese used to hide in during the Civil and Vietnam War. During the hike, however, this one girl kept on complaining on how dirty and tired she was. On top of that she was in a dress lol. I was annoyed with her at that point, but I didn’t want to cause any drama so I just let her be. During the hike, we encountered a field of yellow butterflies, went over a creek on a skimpy branch, and went down a slippery route where I slipped a couple of times.

After biking back to the boat, the boat stopped at a beach where we were able to get off the ship and swim. It was an amazing swim since the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay surrounded us. Moreover, it was the first time I’ve ever swam in an ocean, and I loved it, but at the same time, I was scared of deep water. After an amazing Vietnamese lunch on the beach, we swam some more, and we made it our goal to swim like five hundred feet to another beach. To our surprise, the water was waist high most of the way, but at the same time, the bottom of the ocean had sharp rocks, and I cut myself on the bottom of my feet and on the side of the stomach; they were minor scratches. After going back to the ship, we were able to jump off from the top of the junk, which was too exciting. A bunch of us did flips, dives, and cannonballs. I personally tried to do a flip, but ended up landing on my stomach, which was too painful.

We then kayaked again, but this time I kayaked around a floating village, which was an interesting experience. I wonder how these people survive on these floating villages. I have heard that these people are here because they cannot afford any housing on land, so they move to Halong Bay.

Our last stop on the junk was Monkey Island. We assumed that the boat would be able to dock on Monkey Island, but our tour guide told us because the shore was too shallow, we would have to swim about 100-200 feet to the shore, and most of us did that. We encountered some strong ocean currents during the swim, but we were able to make it. We did not stay long on Monkey Island since it was getting to dark. We only saw one monkey, and that monkey almost attacked the smallest girl in our girl; she let out a loud shrill. However, most of us did hike up a very steep rocky slope to attempt to reach the top. This is where I got more than 12 mosquito bites because I was shirtless. It was a treacherous and dangerous hike to say the least; we had to use a rope. The most intense part of the trip happened as we attempted to swim back to the ship from Monkey Island at night. Most people had no trouble making back to the ship if they swam hard enough, but the smallest girl in our ship was not able to make it back by herself, and the ocean current were pulling her into the ocean! I told her to grab onto me and another guy pushed her. At first we swam hard, but we did not move anywhere. Then, I swam as hard as I could as if I were back on my high school swim team. Finally, we were able to reach the ship. I heard the girl was crying afterwards because she actually contemplated with the thought of giving up swimming since it was impossible for her to make it by herself. Also, a couple of people told me that I drifted very close to the propellers of the ship, which made the “little” girl and some people on the ship scared for me. After hearing that I was almost maimed, I was shocked and felt uncomfortable for the next couple of hours. However, the drifting might have just been due to the ocean currents.

However, I was over it once we arrive on Cat Ba Island and checked into our hotels. During the night, I got two massages. Both massages were inappropriate to say the least. The first massage place was recommended to us by a hotel worker. He said he gave us special place because we are American. The girls that massaged us were dressed in skimpy skirts and in high heels. I entered the massage parlor nervously and discovered that our massages were in dim private rooms with showers and beds in to. I left my underwear on even though she told me to take it off. She gave me an okay massage, which was painful at some points to be honest. I think she understood I did not want any “extra services” so she did not offer. My friend, however, was offered a “happy ending,” which he refused. I then went to more legitimate place at a hotel to get a 7 US dollar massage. This place had actual massage beds. During my massage though, the masseuse pointed to my private and said “Massa?” I was shocked and immediately refused, but I had a laugh out of it afterwards.

I went to bed, and the next day I woke up with the biggest bump on my eyelid. It was from a mosquito bite. My eyes were smaller than usual, and I looked more Asian than I ever did in my life. We boarded another junk and sailed back to the mainland, but the ship did make a five minute stop where some of up jumped off the ship again. When I climbed back to the ship, I cut the bottom of my toe open, so I wrapped it up with a band-aid, and it has been fine ever since. At the airport in Hanoi, we said good bye to our tour guide, and I think he was about to cry because he said he had the greatest time with us. Before leaving, he said a proverb that was very powerful and touching: “What is the most beautiful flower in the world? It is the tulip.” The tulip is interpreted to two lips, a smile.

My last day in Vietnam, I walked around in Saigon, nothing much.

Even though I was destroyed by Halong Bay with cuts, bruises, and mosquito bites, it was a spectacular adventure that has defined my Semester at Sea experience. I will definitely go back to “Long Dragon” Bay in the future.

Until Next Time,
Alan Shih at Sea

P.S. I will update on China and Japan in the next week or so

1 comment:

mary said...

Alan, I think we had the same tour guide in Vietnam. His name is Thanh, right? Would you describe him as being a little on the lanky side? Because I totally know him...he emails me still. Whoa, small world if that was the case! I also went to the puppet show in Vietnam, too...I'm totally gonna email him about that. :)