Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Overrated Things about Vietnam - Back in Halong Bay

There are a couple that comes to mind. First, there's the Water Puppets Show being flocked by tourists. This cultural show has 4-5 shows a day, every single day, and every show is packed to the rafters. Show tickets cost 20,000 dong for the farther seats and 40,000 for the closer half of the audience seats. I got my ticket at around 2PM, after queueing for 15 minutes, and the earliest available time I could get was the 5:30 show, which was fine with me.

There were a thousand and one tourists excitedly waiting outside when I finally got back to the theater. As the show started, I learned that I could take photos of the actual show for a price, of course (15,000 dong for a camera, and 40,000 dong for a video cam). However, I didn't wanna queue again outside. It was freezing and I was tired from walking and waiting.

The seats were comfy but there was not much legroom, so it was kinda stuffy inside. To my left was a Brit who was excited, and to my right was a quiet Eastern European girl who took photos overtime, way before the actual show started. It was another packed show, and someone is obviously making a lot of money from the show.

Running for a little more than 1 hour and 30, the show consisted of vignettes of Vietnamese life, occuring on a spread of water, occupying 80 % of the stage. To its left shoulder is the group of musicians and their home-grown instruments, and a couple of singers. The stories were narrated in French, English and Vietnamese, but as the show started its full run, it was easy to grasp, as they weren't real continuing narratives, but as I said, vignettes of folk stories and legendary animals: men fishing, dragons fighting and flirting and giving birth to baby dragons, courtship among natives, etc. all occuring on water.

As the floating objects lose their novelty, the show starts to bore. Kung sa pelikula pa, it needs editing. The men infront of me were keen on leaving but it was almost impossible to do so, so you can just imagine how difficult it was to stay put. When the show finally ended, the puppeteers stood up from behind the curtin, and yeah, everyone clapped mainly for having successfully endured the show. Interesting, but I wouldn't pay it to watch it again. Or let's just say, not even if I get invited for a free show (much like watching Lloyd Webber's Cats).

The puppeteers take their bow after the show.

The other overrated thing about Vietnam? Ha Long Bay! Sure the limestone rises are beautiful, but I was more in awe of the little islands in Puerto Prinsesa's Honda Bay. The very slow cruise is very relaxing, but I would think it's a way better view from a helicopter ride than from the calm seas. If one has been to Ha Long Bay, I would not recommend a second visit. Go elsewhere. The desert sands of Mui Ne perhaps (from Dalat) or go Sapa trekking.

It only gets barely interesting as the tourists are forced to chat with each other, and it sure is an interesting way to meet people. I hated the Austrian couple who was with us. These annoying couple stayed in the same hotel where I am currently staying, and I took offense in her demeanor. She was pushy, ordering Teyet around. Wasn't Hitler's reign over eons ago??!!

She talked to the Tung Tram people like they were nincompoops. I hate people who talk down to others, and MY GOD, how uglier she looked. (As I am writing this, guess who just passed by my cafe? Yep!!! Lucky me, it's the Austrian couple from Hell; her voice booming like she owned the city. If only she were barely pleasant looking, it would have been a little bearable.)

From our drop off point, i AVOIDED those 2 like the plague . I just wished the earth would swallow them up, but then there's a good chance they would get regurgitated.

Now as for my 2nd Halong trip, our midway stop 2 hours from Hanoi, was a Ceramic shop where I bought a Lonely Planet Laos at just $10. Jeez, this book costs PhP1,600 at Powerbooks in Shangrila. Our cave visit was one called Surprising Cave (my first time, it was with Tien Cung Cave). I kept thinking if this one would turn out to be as dour as its nomenclature. It was way bigger than the Cave of Heavenly Light, and the hike turns out to be a ball-breaking, laborious one (and I am used to hiking); absolutely not for the unfit! Also, the stories and legends behind the latter (Tien Cung Cave) are far more interesting. Food was ok, but I cannot enjoy a meal when I share them with people I don't know. I tend to be self-conscious munching and masticating when with foreigners.

Should I reach out and ask the muted Korean couple for the sauteed vegetables? Would the Malay lady mind if I pierce my tofu with a fork rather than pick it up with a chopstick? These things concern me. Should i sip on my Pepsi while they munch on their omelette? Hehe.

My fond memories would be sitting on the cot at the upper deck, frosty wind blowing my hair. My face was turning red from the cold, and I felt numb. I relish that sensation. It was a welcome experience, reminding me that this was an experience that doesn't come by everyday. I alone and smug. My second Halong Bay visit!

The ride back home was drudging. We went back to the wharf a little later than expected because we had to wait for those who tried kayaking. I sat beside the Malaysian girl whose name I wasn't able to get. She was a pleasurable gabfest; very opinionated but very smart. We talked about KL and the other places to visit in her country (she recommended the seat of the opposition, Kota Terangganu, and even wrote down the plane that would take me there via Fireflyz.com or Maswings. This would cost me about 90 Ringgit one-way); their being a commonwealth and not needing any visa to travel to London or any parts of Europe; her travels all over the world, including Manila, the rotation and changing of Kings every 5 years; the new government program of "5 corridors", her disgust to the current PM’s son-in-law’s political meddling (he is Oxford-educated and is very opinionated). Hmm, sounds familiar. GMA had her "corridors" from her last State of the Nation address.

On the way to Halong, near Haiphong City, our van stopped at this pottery/souvenir shop for the toilet break. I bought myself a popsicle. I literally slobbed my way infront of the kids. Mybad! ;->

The wharf at Halong, aka Bai Chay Pier.

Our boat's dining area.

Up there is a dog, shouted the guide. Snap, snap! Looked more like a seal to me.

Live giant squids being sold at the seafood "market" where we were egged on to "buy one, very delicious". Not live, they aren't!

More sea creatures for sale.

"Gawd! I need a manicure!"

The perfect place to just out to the sea and be bored.

A temple up the hill.

Upon reaching the eponymomous "Surprising Cave"!

Somewhere in this photo is a couple of haughty eastern Europeans that needed to be dipped in a huge bowl of the nastiest chilliest pepper! ;->

That is one colourful erotic toy! Or is it happy to see us? Hahahaha! The guide says, it's a cannon!

From up the hill, this is the awesome view that greets you.

The shrub that I mentioned in "Hanoi- A Not Very Pleasant Return".

If "beautiful" isn't a word...

A long stop for those who wanted to go canoeing!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

No comments: