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Cat Man

 

All aboard, back to Yen Bai. Last night, I managed to get as drunk as I've been for several years. I drank 8 or 9 beers, 5 or 6 whiskey's, at least 7 tequila's and shared two bottles of Hanoi vodka, and yet there was no vomiting, and no hang-over to speak of; no consequences, no lesson learned. Just keep on trucking. We take a public bus from Hanoi back to Yen Bai. The guy on the bus is a fucking dick - he tries to rip us off, charging us 100,000 instead of 60,000dong. Trung steps in, telling him this will simply not do. I tell Trung to inform the guy he can go fuck himself if he thinks we're putting up with shit like this - he won't take the money I offer him, so I just throw the notes in his direction. 

Slowly, through Trung's translation, things become clear. It seems that last weekend, two white men took a bus from Hanoi. They were charged, and agreed to pay, 100,000 back to Yen Bai. The bus boy describes one as hairy, the other as red-headed. He points to Craig and Gregg. Even though this is a different bus, with different drivers, the legend of two hapless westerners and their capacity to pay over the odds has spread. The bus boy's logic is, if they paid 100,000 last week, then we should all pay 100,000 this week. It's an interesting position to take - the fucker openly charges locals the correct price, and yet still expects us to bend over and accept the shafting, like it's just the way it should be, like the price is set according to how much you can squeeze out of white folk. 

The arguing goes on for some time. At one point, we are told we have to get off the bus and catch another. Trung does not give in, and eventually we get passage for 70,000. We arrive back to the hotel on a Sunday, and keep it very, very simple - smoke some joints, and get some sleep. 

Monday. We pick up all of our things - we're leaving Yen Bai, our base camp for the last three weeks, for good. I stand before my Vietnamese flag pole, head bowed, paying my final respects. I'd love to take you with me, but you know it just wouldn't work out. The flag can come - the nine foot pole will have to stay. We take a bus to Ha Long City. Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage site, and popular tourist destination. It's made up of just under 2000 islands, almost all uninhabited. 

Along the way to Ha Long city, we stop for a rest at a large pottery barn, packed full of a variety of handmade ornaments. We wander around, and get chatting to several of the pretty young Vietnamese women who work there. One wants to know if I'm prepared to come back to Vietnam one day and marry her - I tell her I'll be keeping my options open, but that I wouldn't rule it out. Back on the bus, the music is getting me down - a C.D of Vietnamese covers of western songs, most by Celine Dion, which is playing on repeat. After hearing "All by Myself" for the third time, I can't take anymore, and request a change. No else has any C.D's, so I route around in my rucksack, and find my "Welcome" Bollywood soundtrack. It's a much better choice. 

We arrive in Ha Long City. We have dinner, and then head out. I'm tired, and struggling with the vibe of the place. There's something dirty and unclean about it all - compared to the natural beauty of Sapa, and the hustle of Hanoi, this place seems dead; a grey void of bars and clubs, all put there specifically to appeal to tourists. There's no charm or class to it - it comes across like a dumb, fat whore; uninterested, unclean, unwilling to converse - it knows it's there for your money, and it won't pretend to be anything else. Just stick it in and come and go as fast as you can. 

We play pool depressingly badly in the first bar we stop at. After that, it's hard to lift the mood. We walk along the seafront, and stop at another place. Inside, it's virtually empty, accept for the heavy hammer-blows of techno baseline pumping out of the speakers. A Vietnamese man appears out of nowhere and dirty dances up to Craig. We leave immediately. 

A few yards down the road, we stop again. This time, there is no Blue-Oyster vibe, so we have a few drinks. I'm really struggling again. I'm on a big comedown after the highs of Sapa. I look at Craig, ordering B52's again. I take my fucking hat off to the guy - no matter how desperate the situation, he seems able to banish all negativity and drink his way through it. Respect, my friend, I wish I had your stout Scottish spirit. 
After a couple of beers, I give in and down a few with Craig and Gregg. They get talking to a group sitting near the bar, and we get recommended a club further down the road. 

Things can surely only get better, so we decide to head that way. We cross the street, and enter a plush-looking building. Then, as we move inside, my heart sinks again. The club interior is okay - electric blue and silver, clean, not in the least bit seedy. But that's just where the problems start. I wouldn't mind a bit of seedy, a little bit of grime and filth. I believe in things earthy and green, and this place is all machine; shiny, metallic, surgical and cold. The next problem - it's empty. True, we have pitched up on a Monday night, but a good venue would make allowances. Instead, the music is all about Saturday night - hard, intense dance, blasted out at such high volume the whole room appears to rattle and shake. How about chilling it out a little there, chief? Turn it down a notch, let the people speak, warm up, then throw on the cheese and watch the disco inferno. These fuckers have no clue. 

It gets much, much worse. We are shown to a table by one of the many Barbie-girl hostesses. They're dressed in short blue dressers, kinda like air stewardesses, heavily made-up and superficial. All around us, on a raised section, there are dozens and dozens of security personal, standing like statues, watching our every move. For the first time, I really feel like I'm in a communist country. This place is un-fucking believable - it's more like a concentration camp than a club, a stamping ground for fascists and sadists, wielding their clunking iron fists and steel-eyed stares. 

We get served a tray of beers. Most people make it onto the dance floor. I just can't bring myself to do it. I'm expecting us to get put down like a revolution for trying to have a bit of fun. It's as though the Boys in Brazil relocated to Ha Long city. Any minute now, a set of blue-eyed, blond quintuplets will goose step out with stun guns - we'll be trust up and thrown into black vans, and taken away for reprogramming. 

My beer is empty, so I ask how much another will cost. I'm fairly taken aback by the response - 50,000dong. I pass this information on, and soon all come to their senses. We ask for the bill. We get another shock - it seems I have miss-read the bar menu. Beers are actually 80,000d, a fucking extortionate price that none of us can quite believe. The average price for a bottle of beer is 10,000 or 15,000. The most we've paid anywhere is around 25,000. These miserable Nazi fucks are asking for more than three times that. In English money, it works out as 2.58 per beer. 

Everyone agrees this club is the worst place we've been in Vietnam. I'm first out the door, enthusiastic for the first time this evening - enthusiastic to get the fuck out. Craig and Gregg follow behind, and everyone else heads home. As we walk down the street, moto taxi's hover. They cruise by, whispering "Boom-boom? You want to go to Madam Boom-Boom?" 

It's an intriguing prospect. I wonder who exactly this Madam Boom-Boom is. I've never heard a name put to such a proposal before. She must be famous around these parts. Maybe she's the only whore in town - a worn out, crustaceous old hag, who once held a gypsy charm. Years ago, she swooned into the bay, long, dark hair flowing like silk in the wind, eyes bright and piecing, dancing with mischief. She'd sit her customers down, hold their hands softly, and whisper of futures bright and prosperous. She'd sell them lucky heather, freshly plucked from the fields of her fatherland, and dance around fires on moonlit nights with gay bohemian abandon. 

Then, hard times were fallen upon. The heather ran out, and all the fortunes were told. Rent was due, and she was broke. She sat, heavy-hearted, eyes misted with tears, gazing into the mirror. She'd seen the look in local eyes as she swayed down the streets. She knew the thoughts in their heads. Reluctantly, she phoned up the Ha Long City Sun, and placed the advert; Madam Boom-Boom - Love You Ha Long Time. And so, a legend was born. 

We politely refuse the advances of the moto guys, but they keep circling, coming back to ask again, in case we change our minds. Gregg is adamant - he wants to let this guy know exactly how he feels about this "madame". He explains with harsh language that no means no, that he has no intention of taking up the offer, no matter how many times it's made. 

We stop for a bite to eat. I get a phone call from Kat, telling us that the guy from the hotel is furious because we haven't made it back for midnight. Nothing to do but shrug shoulders - we'll be along shortly. As we walk on, the bike is back again, once more whispering his dirty wares. We leave Craig to banter with him, and turn into our street. Once he's caught up, we knock on the door of our hotel, expecting an outpouring of furious anger. Instead, Mr Hotel seems only a little miffed. We baffle him with our attempts to apologise in Vietnamese - "Toi sin loi qua!" Again, we bring the noise on our way up the stairs, and then end the night the way it always ends - up in smoke, and in dreams. 

Tuesday. We check out of the hotel, and walk down to the pier to catch our boat to Cat Ba island, where we will be staying for our final week. Cat Ba is the most heavily populated of all of the islands in Ha Long Bay, and has a healthy tourist trade. In summer months, you can relax on the beach, or enter into adventurous activities such as snorkelling or Kayaking. The rain is pouring down, reminding us it is not summer, so all of the above is off the menu. 

Trung has excelled himself again, and coordinated the fuck out of Ha Long Bay. We have our own private boat to take us across the waters. First stop, the caves. We hop onto an island, and underground, into a deep, impressive network of caverns. Then, we arrive at Cat Ba. We load our bags onto a mini bus, and drive away. We wind up the mountain pass. Gregg is discussing what he would do if he had his own island, named Wanktopia, a disgusting haven for chronic masturbators and self-abusing deviants. Just then, I hear a noise, and turn around to see the bus doors swing open, and most of our bags go rolling down the hill. "Stop!" 

Luckily, no damage done. We retrieve the luggage. The driver tells us he forgot to lock the door. As Trung would say; Stupid. We check in to yet another hotel, a tall building on the waterfront in the main tourist drag of Cat Ba. I'm in room with Gregg on the 6th floor. We go on a mission looking for a dart board. In Sapa, Craig introduced us to a game called Killer, where you hit your number to build up lives, and then once you have enough, hit other people's to knock off theirs. We played two games, and I was champion of both. Trung knows a bar that has darts, but as we walk down to it, he stops and holds his head. The Green Mango, a venue Trung rates as the best on Cat Ba, is a pile of rubble, and undergoing renovation. We won't be put off, and after a bit of asking around, we find "The Flightless Bird", a kiwi bar. They have a dart board, so we settle in. Again, the Magic Man rules, and I win every game like a true darting assassin. 

In the evening, Trung takes us to a karaoke bar run by one of his friends. We get cut price drinks from the owner, a rotund gentleman who treats us well. At first, Trung is reluctant to drink, as he has a lot of work to do. We apply a little pressure, and he gives in. We get pretty drunk and take over the karaoke, as always bringing the house down. We're disappointed to find that there is nowhere else open, and so we have to return home. That night, Gregg, as usual, talks in his sleep. As always, what he says is totally random, and psychotic. At one point, as I lie there, I hear him turn over and loudly say: "Cat-man fucking-do." My thoughts exactly, friend. Cat-man fucking-do indeed.

Source: Travel Blogs

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Xin Chao Travel Halong Bay
We are happy to send you our impressions on our excellent trip to Halong Bay with your company. The organization and monitoring of our trip was impeccable, thanks to our friendly and excellent guide Minh not forgetting the super driver Dzung.

Mardy Scott (Australia)
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