We had finally secured our cruise for Halong Bay. The streets of Hanoi were lined with travel centres and vacation bookers, each stocked with dozens of glossy books detailing the majestic splendour of their particular line of megafancy boats. We were wracked with indecision because of the mix of information we had been seeing on the internet. For every positive review of a company we found, we found just as many assuring us that the cruise line was corrupt and horrific. We read tales of rats and cockroaches, of soiled linens and terrible food, of overpriced drinks and actual capsizings. We wanted to travel Halong Bay in moderately priced style, but it seemed like we would need to be willing to pay heavily if we wanted to guarantee both our safety and reduce the likelihood of live scorpions in our staterooms.
Once we had finally settled, we set off, stowing most of our excess gear in Hanoi. We were to be on open water, at one with the sea, lost amidst ancient floating mountains and deep within unseen mists. In a single bag we packed only the essentials: some clothes, a few books. Sunglasses and bathing suits. Cameras. Our spirit of adventure.
Also, roughly 2 litres of bargain vodka stowed within empty water bottles. We had read that the drink prices once you were marooned at sea became too much for our tight-wad budget, and the uncorking fees would run nearly 4 times the actual price of the liquor we purchased. We were acting like rowdy teenagers heading to prom, but we felt we needed to be prepared.