Jul 16, 2009

The Sting

It was actually The Wah who got hit first.

"Argh!" he cried, throwing his arm up out of the warm waters of Ha Long Bay. "I've been stung, something's stung me on the arm!"

"Deep breaths, and we'll swim back to the boat quickly," I yelled back.

Then, bam! Lashings of fire raced up my left arm.

"It's got me too...argh!"

I raised my arm above the waterline, but could see no stingers or tentacles on me. The pain wasn't too bad then; just a strong burning feeling. I looked ahead.

The boat - the Bien Ngoc 08 - was still about 20 metres from where we where, treading water and trying to see into the thick green around us for anymore signs of the little bastard/s that had got us. But directly in front of us was a young woman, on her small flat wooden boat, with a traditional conical hat shielding her face from the late afternoon sun, and her oar outstretched.

"Jellyfish!" she cried, slapping the oar down onto the water next to her.

The Wah and I tried to move in the other direction. "Jellyfish!" she cried again, pointing, this time to water on the other side of the boat.

"Which way?" we yelled. "Are you pointing TO the jellyfish, or AWAY from the jellyfish?"

The young woman had been circling the boat for a while, her craft laden with Oreos, Aquafina water bottles, Choco-Pie biscuits, and alcohol. Water-born touts, trying to make a living from hungry western tourists. "You buy something?" and "Ice-cold beer, vodka, whisky!" had seemed to be the limit of her English-speaking ability.

That, and of course, "Jellyfish!" She slapped the oar down onto the water again.

We'd passed her by a few minutes earlier, after deciding we wanted to swim out about 200 metres and touch the base of one of the huge limestone mountains that make up the World Heritage listed Ha Long Bay. We'd turned down her requests to buy something. But now, two jellyfish stings later, she was going to be of service, whether she liked it or not.

"We're just going to have to push," said The Wah. "We'll just push her boat towards ours, and stay at the back. Hopefully the jellyfish will keep off to the sides."

We grabbed the wooden stern, arms still aching, and started kicking. After a while, the confused young woman realised what we were doing, and starting paddling her oar. A few minutes passed, punctuated by the occasional "Jellyfish!".

By this time, everyone else on board the Bien Ngoc 08 was watching. They'd all climbed out of the water while we were over at the rock, having been warned of jellyfish coming out in the pre-dusk. But we'd been too far away by then; and they didn't want to panic us. After seeing us both get stung so close to home, they were ready at the ladder to help us onboard, once we'd kicked the young woman's boat far enough.

"I'll come back, I'll buy water," I told the young woman. She scrounged about in her battered esky and fished out a few pieces of ice, which a fellow traveller took and began applying to my arm. The Wah and I climbed the stairs to the ship's main deck, where other passengers had grabbed several lemons from the crew.

"Vinegar! We need vinegar!" said The Wah.

But they didn't have vinegar - only lemons. We squeezed about half a dozen of them onto our arms - the Wah had also receiving a whip across the lower chest. Both had turned red-and-white, the skin raised with angry heat. The Wah, being more stoic than I, took the pain more manfully.

Mindful of my relatively fresh travelling companions, I decided against completely losing my shit, despite the pain that seemed to grow and come in waves of white heat. Some kind of shock set in, and I sat down, my stomach knotted, my back tense with pressure, opening and closing my hands to make sure they didn't clench themselves into paralysis.

It took over an hour for the pain to subside enough, and the shock to wear off enough, to brave a shower. I managed to climb onto the boat's roof just in time to see the beautiful pink-and-orange sunset over the limestone. With a deep breath, I blessed my good fortune in not being more greatly injured.

And with a second breath - I cursed all jellyfish kind.


  1. rofl Gotta love travelling stories from Asia. Mate of mine got Bali Belly when he was there but before he had some sorta mushroom dish and spent the next 8 hours in the pool dodging dive bombing bats - or terradactyls, as he put it. rofl. Great stuff.

  2. Jellyfish seems too passive and happy of a name. But gelatinous pain beast of intense stingery is quite a mouthfull.

  3. gah! too much time looking out for octopi, and other easily countable tentacled horrors...

    the fiend
    love the narrative way you wrote this...

  4. I don't know,,,
    Young people of today,,,
    When I crossed the Alps with Hanniball you never heard us complain about the dangerous snow bunnies Not mention the dangers of snowball fights breaking out willy nilly
    Seriously, hope you are over the worst and the trip is continueing to be a blast
    The Ancient Man

  5. Didn't know you were in Viet Nam. If you get a chance, and you recover from the jellyfish, go and see the floating musuem in the Cua Van floating village of Ha Long Bay. I have no idea how you get permission to access it, but you can.

    Hope you both feel better!