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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

N Vietnam 2012 - Day 2, Part 3 - Halong Bay: Thien Cung Grotto

"If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music... and of aviation." - Tom Stoppard

***

N Vietnam 2012
Day 2 - 25th May - Halong Bay: Thien Cung Grotto
(Part 3)

We then went to one island to view a cave.

There were floodlights on some islands, but they are only used one day a year - during a festival.

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Island

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Pier

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"Ha Long Bay - Natural Wonder of the World"

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On the Thien Cung Grotto. "Thien Cung" translates as "Heaven Palace". It's probably 天宫 in Chinese characters.

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More effusive self-praise.

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"If any organizations or individual violate this regulation they will be punished according to the current law of the Vietnamese Socialist Republic"
Punishment is a moving target


There was very strange music playing as we mounted the stairs

The interior of the cave was lit with funky colours.

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Some might consider this vile, but I was alright with it.

The cave ceiling looks like the ocean floor because in the past the cave was flooded.

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Notice the guy with the monitor at the bottom

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Light streaming in: the cave had been discovered when a fisherman had run after a monkey (who scampered into the cave)

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I think this was one of the many fanciful anthropomorphic formations


Panorama

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Penguin Dustbin


Panorama 2

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Cave HQ. Besides a photo booth there's "desk of appraises" and "the ideas box"

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After a while I tired of the fanciful and contrived anthropomorphic formations, but this was mildly amusing: a breast and a phallus

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Outside the cave

On the way back down to the jetty, I bought a 7-up for 20,000 VND. I knew it was a ripoff, but it compared favourably to the tepid US$1.50 drinks on the ship. And it was cool too (even if not cold).

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I don't know why they were throwing rocks into the sea (from the boat on the right)

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Parking sign on island (???)

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UNESCO sign on window

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AST tours: "Affable, Safe, Trustworthy"

We then drove back. The rest stop was expectedly amusing.

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The back of a book. I hope their Vietnamese is better than their French.

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The French premium: 110,000 vs 80,000 for the same book - "The girl in the picture" (on Kim Phuc)

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Look at the altar and see the words "香烟" ("cigarette")

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"Alova Gold Cruises.com. we care about your trip"
The fact that they have to point that out...

There was a sign for some company with "Simona" in its name - but the Vietnamese translation didn't have this word at all.

A saw a sign reading "Tuan Anh" and got excited for a fraction of a second, before remembering that it was a very common name.

I saw a "No 1 Cafe". So it's not just an obscure comic strip that used to be in the Straits Times.

I was the last person to be dropped off (after promises to send each other photos via a self-designated coordinator - I still haven't gotten any), so I noticed that the others' hotels were in more lively areas. In contrast, around mine there were fewer signs in English, fewer hotels and fewer tourists. It was more 'authentic' though.

I went searching for something new for dinner. The hostel receptionist recommended a Pho Bo place, but I decided not to have Pho in Vietnam (since I could get good Pho in Singapore) and so expand my culinary horizons.

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Dinner place sign

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Dinner prep

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The stall

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Dinner: glutinous rice with pickled cucumber, Chinese sausage, braised egg, pepper, shredded pork and some black sauce/zap on top.

Another option was something that looked like panfried rice cake topped with shredded fish/shrimp (the yellow thing), but I wanted to try the meats.

Dinner cost 50,000 VND. Actually this was the most outrageous ripoff yet - possibly more expensive than the equivalent would cost in Singapore, but it was 8:30pm and it was raining, I was tired and aching etc. To benchmark, Pho Ga at a cafe (with table service and airconditioning) was 55,000 VND. Well done.

When I got back to my room I discovered they'd turned off the aircon because it was leaking. Eventually we got them to turn it on (albeit seemingly at a higher temperature), otherwise I might not have been able to sleep.


Southeast Asia enjoys a perfect confluence of factors, which makes it my most detested tourist destination:

- Hot
- Humid
- Dirty
- Language problems
- Under-developed infrastructure
- Poor presentation of touristic sights (e.g. audioguides, information panels, leaflets)
- People trying to swindle you everywhere

(note that all of these are negatives, but they do not all have the same weightage)

Putting together my database of destinations, I was able to isolate the various factors. For example, when I was in China it was neither hot nor humid, the tourist infrastructure was a bit better, the tourists sights were better presented, I had fewer language problems and people didn't try to swindle me nearly as often. Meanwhile South China had been hot and humid, but with fewer swindlers. The US doesn't have as much history, but what history it has is well-presented. And Japan scored highly in every category except language.

After reflection, my general list of things that annoy me is, in descending order, the humidity, the heat and then the swindlers. However, Vietnam was particularly outstanding in the last, so it was the single most aggravating factor about the country - far worse than any of the others (and possibly all of them combined).

The only advantage of Southeast Asia is that it's cheap, even if you're being swindled. Yet, as I have noted before, there are psychic costs to being swindled. It's not the dollar amount that pisses me off, but rather the fact that I'm being swindled.
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