TRAVELLING IN HA LONG BAY
We sweated our way down to a shitty Hanoi travel agents. It was the kind of travel agents one only finds in Hanoi, complete with a gorgeous Clip Art logo. We were there because we wanted to see Ha Long Bay, obviously, but didn’t want to spend any money. People assure me that you can have a lovely time in Ha Long Bay if you’re happy to spend money; in South East Asia, you generally face the consequences of your decisions if you’re too frugal with your cash. We were reeled in by this particular tour because it was half the price of its better-known, main contender, whose clientele consists of the kind of ‘fuckboys’ you actually go to Vietnam to avoid – you go halfway round the world and they’re still fucking there. These are, of course, the invariably big boys that probably treat travelling as a pilgrimage of happy endings and full moon parties. At uni, they’ll probably land on their feet as a club rep for Pryzm, guiding their young disciples to the promised land of VKs and titties. Maybe they’ll also become a staple name on The Tab’s prestigious ‘BNOC’ feature, which is like winning the Nobel Prize of uni… Anything’s possible if you work hard.
In the cheaper travel agents, the big welsh bloke’s sales tactic was a two-pronged attack: a base of gratuitous mocking, complemented by a flurry of misogynistic remarks. If you grew up in Salisbury – or any rural armpit – you become an accomplished handler of such situations. In this situation, you just nod along and feel quietly guilty for not challenging the bigger boys’ intolerant views. In the end, we didn’t like the idea of paying double the price just to be made to shotgun beers all day on a boat with a bunch of twats, so we went for the welshman’s lucky dip, budget option.
I can’t honestly recommend this train crash of a tour enough. The tour guide, if he’s still out there, is called Zoom, and I was really pleasantly surprised to discover that someone like this a) – exists and b) – can make a living as the custodian for the lives of tourists on a small, water-borne vessel. Sharply dressed in a jazzy little number, Zoom arrived late and broke the ice by shouting jokes at us in a jarring mix of Vietnamese and English. Later on in the evening, after getting nice and pissed as the sun set over Ha Long Bay, Zoom sat on the edge of the boat, swaying, whilst his eyes rolled back into themselves with a look of ecstasy. I’m not sure that he wasn’t pinging.
After making sure we all put our beersies down to somersault off the top of the boat into the bay’s suspiciously warm waters, Zoom sat us all down in a circle and produced a briefcase. Instead of the itinerary which I assumed was inside, the briefcase housed Zoom’s paraphernalia. The first item was a large, hand-crafted bamboo bong, and the second was an excitingly unorthodox sex toy which had a large, pulsating rubber tongue atop a chunky vibrator. With a cheeky look emerging behind his clouded eyes, Zoom went about his official business of a systematic assault on all of his passengers: he would cheekily kiss the gyrating rubber tongue against his target’s neck from behind, wait until they turned around and then offer them the bong by way of initiation. After carrying out his boozy assault with military precision, a big bunch of his cronies moored up and boarded our boat with cheap Vietnamese voddy and ciggies for all to share.
There’s one particular image which stands out as having permanently branded my memory. At night, a mate and I tried to throw our room key from Zoom’s boat across to the mutineers’ vessel (for a laugh), and obviously it fell in the water. We stood and watched gormlessly as it gurgled into the stinky depths. Pissed and feeling like naughty schoolboys, we went in to the boat’s kitchen/dining room/bong area to find Zoom and ask for a spare key. We found him, sweaty, stripped down to his underpants, sprawled on his back on top of the table, very much asleep and confused. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but he did eventually manage to tuck his stiffy away and find us another key. What a strange life.
The scenery at Ha Long Bay is wicked cool, but our strange little tour guide stole the show with his subtle wit and raw sex appeal. Each night I watched his pissed-up soliloquy unfold… Sat on the railing of the top deck, puffing on his bong and sipping voddy(/cleaning fluid) from the bottle, his eyes whitened as the sky oranged behind him. I like to think he’s still out there now. You should go and find him.