The chatters and shrieks of ten year olds flow from the windows of my bus as we roll through the Vietnamese countryside. The floor is stacked several boxes high with ceramic tiles and a kitchen sink is blocking the isle, so anyone wishing to pass must shrewdly shuffle around the corners or jump over the beast. I can’t decide if it’s a school bus or a hardware store delivery van. We just stopped to pick up more passengers and a thirty something lady slipped into the seat next to me, placing her hand on my leg. Awkward.
While I am debating whether to casually move my leg over or wiggle it a little, she looks down, acknowledging the position, raises her hand and replaces it, now grasping my knee. She clearly wants it here…maybe its my new $8 Ferrari brand jeans? Irresistible. Oh, and did I mention someone just started playing the Titanic soundtrack? Thank you Vietnam, my heart will go on.
How did I become part of this bus circus anyway? It all started with my Halong Bay trip. After an excruciating van ride packed to the brim with tourists locals and luggage, a few run ins with rude tour operators and a hilariously awkward evening on a boat with two Chinese couples, five German guys and a very young Vietnamese girl coupled with an old fat Dutch man (sex tourism anyone?) I found myself wandering around Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay.
Me and a fellow German were shuffled around the island for a day hiking through a national park and wandering around town. When it was time for us to get back on our junk boat for the night the tour guide put us on an unmarked van which dropped us at the harbor where we were instructed to wait for said school bus turned Home Depot delivery truck.
After driving for an hour through the countryside, dropping the school children at their respective homes and delivering the building materials, the German guy and I were the only people remaining on the bus. Much to my surprise we actually made it to the harbor where we waited another hour with a collection of tour guides and boat captains, the German feeding them rum shots all the while, shooting the breeze and waiting for our boat to arrive.
Once again, much to my surprise, a boat emerged from the foggy bay to pick up the two lone tourists waiting at the harbor. The name of the boat was Halong Bay Party Cruiser, which I must admit, did live up to its name. My new tour guide—this time a more amiable and energetic character—kicked off the evening with a Backstreet Boys karaoke debut along with some sort of tai chi flailing arms dance moves. It was stellar. After that the four dollar bottles of vodka started rolling and we sang the night away. This country never ceases to amaze me.