Useful lesson of the day: If asked how your Vietnamese meal tastes, don’t say “yum-yum”. It sounds like the Vietnamese for “I’m horny”, which can confuse the waitress.
Halong Bay was the first UNESCO site and is a series of 3,000 islands rising steeply out of 17,000sq km of sea, and means Descending Dragon Bay.
We had a boat to ourselves overnight and a crew of 5. The wooden boat trundled out to sea, but rather than the seclusion we were expecting all the boats were confined to the same small area of water so it looked rather crowded. After a dodgy lunch prepared by the crew we settled down to do nothing for a couple of hours, which bored me rigid.
Finally we arrived at a floating village where we could hire kayaks and head off closer to the islands. In one, a small tunnel led to an inner lake which was all very pretty. Whilst the others went for a closer look at some rocks we nipped back to the ship and had a couple of cans of beer lowered down, then rejoined the others to gloat.
Once back on board a prawn dinner was served and the crew insisted on a rice wine toast. I’ve had rice wine before in Thailand back in 2004 and it gave me the worst hangover before or since, so it was with some trepidation that I joined in the “mot! hai! ba! yo!” and downed the first shot.
Immediately they refilled our classes and again with the “mot! hai! ba! yo! 2!”. Rice wine tastes like clear whiskey and is about the same potency. After the third I’d forgotten the pain that was to come and bought a whole bottle, at which point the captain invited Nicky and I to sit with him and share a much more traditional dinner with the crew, which included chewy pork strips and small white baby eggplant that had to be crunched open like an eyeball.
Seeing that we were friendly the 5 crew immediately challenged us to a shot drinking contest and more bottles magically appeared. At 6 shots we realised the chewy pork strips were pigs intestines. At 8 shots other tourists were getting worried. At 14 we had the first casualty leaning overboard. I clearly remember getting to 28 shots then absolutely nothing else. Everything else was pieced together from shouting overheard by the unfortunates that had gone to bed next to the bar whilst I stayed up with the crew. It seems I reached 34 shots before stopping for a couple of beers. I’m assuming there was some exaggeration going on as the last thing they heard was “Mot! Hai! Ba! Pow! 42!” followed by “That would be a REALLY bad idea”
Woke up with a headache and dodgy stomach. Must have been a bad prawn.