We get up early to try and see Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, but decide against it in the end. We grab breakfast, pack our things and get a taxi to the bus station. We find a taxi really easily and he agrees to use the meter straight away, which is a surprise. It is a small car, and I have to sit in the front as our luggage takes up some of the back seat. As we are driving along I notice that the fare is jumping up and our driver is being shifty. I notice his hand regularly going to the pocket in his door, where he seems to be pressing a button. Sure enough, when he presses his button, the meter jumps up. I don’t say anything, but when we arrive at the station we get the luggage out and I ask Ab’s to stand by the wall with all the bags. I open the Taxi drivers door and pull out a rag that is covering the button. I ask him what it is, he looks at the floor as stays quiet. I have a good rant at him, at high voice, about how he is a thief and that he rips off tourists. Another taxi driver approaches and they exchange words, I tell the other taxi driver that he probably has a special button as well. I give our taxi driver half the fare and we leave him laughing as he drives away.
Two guys come straight over asking where we are going. We say Halong Bay and they try to take our luggage. We say no, and sit down to have a cigarette. We attract a little crowd, with one guy trying to take my cigarette. Weird behaviour indeed.
Inside I ignore the touts and get ourselves two tickets. We get on the bus, which is small and cramped. Our luggage comes in with us. We take our seats and manage to put our luggage somewhere. Once the journey starts one of the touts, who are now on the bus, tell me, via sign language, that we have to pay 100,000Dong for each bag. Considering that a seat ticket is 60,000Dong I don’t understand his maths. A older German couple on the backseat say no, and put their luggage on their laps. We sit in the seats they have made available, and put our luggage on our laps too. The tout turns away and we all have a good laugh at the situation.
The bus driver drives very quickly, with the touts trying to pickup people along the way. At one point they jump out of the bus and are trying to drag a man into the bus. After a small struggle the guy turns and walks away. Very weird goings-on.
Eventually, after being flung everywhere we arrive at a junction near Halong Bay. The bus stops and we and our belongings are shown the door. Nice service! We try and find a taxi big enough for us and the German couple. Eventually, after fending off a hotel tout and motorbike taxis we get one. The German couple get dropped at their hotel, but all we see are big expensive hotels. We gesture to the non-English taxi driver to keep driving. Nothing looks too promising. We see the hotel tout on his motorbike and the taxi driver follows him. We reach the town and we start driving up through hills. We see some good looking hotels and ask the taxi driver to stop. The hotel tout stops too and says he has a hotel further along. I ask him how much it is, and he says thirty hundred Dong. Confused I ask him again, and he says ‘how much you spend?’. That’s enough for me, and we start walking away from him. He says the hotel in front is now his hotel – he is clearly just a tout. We walk away from him and find a lovely hotel for a great price. We later see him talking to the staff, but they seem to just ignore him.
The hotel is perhaps the nicest we have stayed in, and all for £5. After the weirdness of the day has settled we go out for a walk. It’s carnival time in Halong Bay, and it’s very lively. We find great Vietnamese food and stumble upon the night market. People are interested in saying hello to us, as we are just about the only westerners here. One girl even comes up and touches me and runs away laughing. The people here are much more friendly than in Hanoi.
We get back to the hotel and sit on the step, eating ice cream, watching a massive traffic jam trying to unfold in front of us.
What has been a very weird day ends very nicely.