Diane Benton

Diane Benton

Diane Benton, who grew up roaming the world, and Jerry van Heeringen, who started later in life, now live for the adventure of being travelers as a couple. Local food is a given and working hard to blend in too. (OK, so it’s not as if Jerry at 6-5 can truly blend in…). Mastering a few phrases in the local language is usually at the top of their list too. Bonjour, Madame? Still, that’s not to say that travel mishaps don’t happen. But, hey, isn’t that part of the adventure?
Diane Benton

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HI Travel Tales friends Diane Benton and Jerry van Heeringen recently traveled for several weeks throughout Asia, hopping a cruise ship for part of that journey. They experienced a cruise ship boarding near miss, two days in a row, no less. Not what you normally plan on,…but it does make for some great stories.


Our cruise ship boarding near miss No. 1

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (Thursday): While walking around Hanoi the night before, we passed a tour company offering round trip rides to Ha Long Bay (where our ship was) for only $22. She spoke some English and told us since we were just going one way it would only be $6 each, a lot cheaper than the $150 we paid the taxi to get to Hanoi the day before, so we jumped on the deal.

Jerry find is very hard to resist touching the hanging hats in Halong Bay in between our cruise ship boarding adventure.

Jerry at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam. Are those hats? (Photo by Diane Benton)

The next morning after a breakfast of fried rice and pho soup we waited for the bus. This was not starting well since it finally arrived an hour late (about 9 a.m.). We got on this rickety bus full of locals and backpackers around 9 a.m. I soon realized we would never make it back to our ship on time. So much for good deals. The stress was killing us. Every time we stopped and I saw a taxi I jumped off the bus to ask for a ride, but no one spoke English. Then, obviously annoyed by this tourist lady, the driver stopped letting me get off and kept saying Ha Long Bay by 12:30! We were skeptical.

The last tender to the ship for boarding was at 1:15, and at 1 p.m. we were still 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Ha Long Bay. And THEN the bus turned to take a road going to the island in the other direction instead. Enough was enough. Jerry (6-foot-5 and imposing even in this country) jumped up and yelled to the driver to let us off the bus NOW!

The driver quickly obliged. So there we were in the middle of nowhere. As luck would have it, there was a taxi on the corner (driver was taking a nap), so we pounded on his window and said “Ha Long Bay.” He spoke no English so he took us to the Ha Long Hotel. So I did the only thing I could think of: I pointed to my water bottle and said to take us to the water so he took us to the Ha Long Café! In a panic I took out my iPad and scrolled until I found a photo of our ship that I took when we were in Alaska. That did it. We got to the port just as the last tender was getting ready to push off and jumped on the little boat to our ship. One cruise ship boarding near miss was just too close for comfort! No way could it happen again, right? Wrong.

Cruise ship boarding near miss No. 2

Chan May Port, Vietnam (Friday): Got off the ship and haggled for a driver and car along with two other couples we’d met on the ship. We asked the driver to take us to Danang so we could take photos for our neighbor who had been stationed there during the Vietnam War. We first stopped at the outdoor Han Market where we had a great time perusing all of the totally unfamiliar fruit and veggies. Then we drove up the mountain to the giant white “Lady Buddha,” and then to the famous China Beach where we dipped our toes in the South China Sea. We then asked the driver to take us to the ancient town of Hoi An.

Looking for our ship in Chan May.

After lunch, we walked around town and proceeded to lose track of one couple with us. In a bit of a panic, we four all looked for them for an hour, but then decided we had to drive back or we’d miss the ship. This driver made the 90-minute drive in an hour (!!). And when as we approached the port where the ship was, the taxi blew right through the port authority without stopping or slowing! All of the guards in their green military uniforms chased us down on scooters!

The driver pulled right up to the ship’s gangplank and screeched to a stop. We jumped out and ran onto the ship. We felt like we were in a James Bond movie. Hope the driver managed the port authority guards because we didn’t wait! A second later we heard the captain announce that the “last four” (eeek, that would be us!) had boarded, and they were raising the gangplank to depart! A second day of two skin-of-your-teeth arrivals!

Danang boats in Chan May.

HITT Tip from Diane Benton: Being polite and respectful of people and their local customs is the first step to opening the door to communication even if you don’t speak the language. For example, learn a small local courtesy and you will ingratiate yourself to any person you don’t share a language with. Or ask people what the correct way is to say a word. When we did this, people who might normally ignore us seemed to really appreciate that we were interested enough to ask.

Map of Vietnam

In the map below, pins mark the exact location of all the sites mentioned in our articles on Vietnam. Zoom in or out on the map using the controls. Switch easily from map to satellite view. Click on each pin to pull up a tooltip with the name and any additional information.

Ha Long Bay

Chan May Port