Plan for the next three days
This was the first day of our 3day-2night Halong Bay cruise. Our original started date was five days ago but it was also the day when all cruise boats had to get off the bay due to the arrival of Typhoon Mangkult. Vani of Lily Travel Agency who arranged our cruise suggested we started our cruise one day early and shortened our cruise to 2day-1night. We rather delayed our cruise till Typhoon Mangkult blew over so that we could still be on a 3day-2night cruise.
The cruise had arranged a bus pickup to transfer us to Halong Bay. The journey would take about 2.5 hour. Lunch would be at noon on the cruise boat. It would be two nights on the boat and the third day we would leave the boat after lunch.
By end of the three days
Before arriving at Halong Bay we heard that it was beautiful and it was truly wonderful. It was so much more beautiful than we expected. We were glad that we had not took up the suggested 2day-1night cruise. The extra one day and one night made a lot of difference and we able to explore and see more of this beautiful bay. The sunset and sunrise was so stunning and after witnessing one sunset and one sunrise we were delighted to have another day to enjoy another sunset and sunrise.
On the way to Halong Bay
We were picked up at 10.00am by “La Paci Cruise” bus just outside our hotel. 10 am was a good time as we got time to enjoy our breakfast leisurely at our hotel. We left our big luggage with the hotel reception as we would be back for a night in the same hotel after our Halong Bay trip. For the trip we only brought a backpack each.
By the time our “La Paci Cruise” bus rounded up all the customers in the Old Quarter it was another 20 minutes later. There were 19 of us, a guide and a driver.
Along the way we had one coffee break. It was about 11.30 am when our bus turned into a highway stop, Tram Dich Vu Pk77″. It was also a toilet break but unlike the toilet break during our journey to Sapa where we had to pay vnd1000(usd0.4, sgd0.6) per person to use the toilet, this toilet was free.
After a 30 minutes break we carried on with our journey to Halong Bay Jetty. The journey took another 45 minutes and along the way we passed the outskirt of Hai Phong City and saw a tall “french style colonial building”.
At was about 12.40 pm when we reached the jetty and got off our bus. It was a hot day and we could not wait to get out of the sun. We were divided into two groups and went on two boats to our cruise boat, La Paci Cruise.
Our guide “Ling” told us that all the cruise boats were anchored further out into the bay away from the Jetty. The transfer took about 5 to 6 minutes.
La Paci Cruise
Our first impression of La Paci Cruise Boat was that it wasn’t as big as we thought. It had two decks of rooms and a open roof deck. Once we boarded La Paci Cruise Boat we were directed to the dining room on the second deck.
The dining room very nicely furnished with wood panelled ceiling and wall. The floor were tiled. All the dining tables were nicely laid out. The families of 5 and 6 were assigned the tables in the center of the dining room. The other four sets of couple (including us) got the tables by the windows. We thought it was most fortunately to get the seats by the window as the scenery of the bay was just very beautiful. Since all the guests were onboard the boat began its journey further into Halong Bay.
Our guide, Ling, briefed us on the activities for the next two/three days. Only the Israelis family of five and us were doing the 3day-2night cruise the rest were on the 2day-1night cruise. For the first day both groups would share the same itinerary. On the second day each group would have a different itinerary.
Next came the room assignment. Our room was on the lower deck. We had a double room and it was also beautifully furnished, wood panelled ceiling and wall and tiled floor. The room had an air-conditioner, a fan and ensuite toilet. One side of the wall was filled with half-height windows with day and curtains.
We had booked our 3day-2night cruise from Lily Travel Agency at US$220 per person. It was a cost that covered transfer between Hanoi and Halong and all other entry fees. One great advantage was to have Vani helping us to reshuffle our tour dates when our original dates coincided with the arrival of Typhoon Mangkult.
La Paci Cruise boat had a lovely top deck. It had a small covered area for those who like to stay out of the sun. There were many tables and chairs and sun lounges. I had fallen in love with the top deck. All I wanted to do was to lay on the sun deck and watch the day go by. Unfortunately that was not the case as for three days we were pulled off the cruise boat to go kayaking, swiming, island visiting and boating around!
We had selected La Paci Cruise as it was one of the few cruises that sailed on to Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha Bay was further away, more secluded and more scenic. We read that Halong Bay would be packed with cruise boats and would not be as enjoyable as Lan Ha Bay. On our way into Halong Bay and then into Lan Ha Bay we noticed only a few cruise boats. The bays were relatively quiet probably due to the recent arrival/departure of Typhoon Mangkult. Many customers cancelled their trips and their full return would take a while to recover.
The bays were very beautiful, the water was not crystal clear but still the scenery was very beautiful. North of Halong bay was Bai Tu Long Bay and south of Halong Bay was Lan Ha Bay. The bays were beautiful wonders, with thousand of limestone islands and islets covering an area of thousand of square kilometers.
360° around us were huge mass and mass of limestone karsts. Some were huge and broad and some were tall and thin. We were totally surrounded. This place was amazing and very unique, one of the kinds in the world.
Kayaking & swimming
We went kayaking and swiming on the first and second days. I had thought that all kayaking and swimming activities would be done just by the side of our cruise boat, I planned to skip all of them and stay dry on the top deck of the cruise boat. Unfortunately all kayaking and swimming activities were done away from the cruise boat.
On the first day, lunch finished at 3pm but before I could fully enjoy my rest/relax time on the top deck of the cruise boat we were rounded up (all19 guests) and left our cruise boat on a day-boat which was a smaller boat tied to the end of our cruise boat. We were brought to a floating platform where many kayaks were tied.
This platform was a on-water rental “shop” that provided kayak rental to various cruise boat operators. Every two persons paired up to take one kayak and off we went with our guide, Ling, who took the lead. We had an hour of kayaking before going back to the on-water rental shop.
After kayaking we returned to our day-boat. Our guide told us she would be fetching us to a very nice place to swim. We arrived at the “nice place” which was not very much different from all the other places. Ling told us we had three ways to enter the water, 1) going down the steps by the side the day-boat, 2) jumping into the water from the side of the boat or 3) jumping into the water from the roof of the day-boat. Yat Thong and I were not into swimming as we tired out after the kayaking so we just relaxed in the boat and watched the others having fun.
On the second day after our Cat Ba Island visit our day-boat brought us to a on-water restaurant where our food was brought on board to our day-boat for us to consume. After lunch we were brought to another on-water kayak rental shop where we again paired up and went kayaking with our guide, Billy. Billy led us to an island with a beach and we spent the afternoon swimming on the beach.
On the second morning after we had our breakfast the 2day-1night group went out on the day-boat to some boating trip. Our 3day-2night group would be going to visit Cat Ba Island. I was toying with the idea of staying back on the cruise boat but again was dissuaded by our guide who told us that after visiting Cat Ba island we would proceed to lunch and then kayaking and swiming and only return to the cruise boat at about 4 pm. Basically the itinerary did not provide for those that wished to deviate from the standard itinerary.
At 8.30am a bigger day boat (two levels) came to pick us up. Already on board was a couple from another La Paci Cruise boat. All of us went up to the upper deck where there were several sun chairs and lazed there the entire journey. The deck was airy and the view was good. On our way to Cat Ba island we passed several fishing boats and fish farms and even saw a temple on a beach far away.
Our day-boat took us to ferry terminal Ben Tau Viet Hai (one of the several on Cat Ba Island). At the terminal we walked to a bicycle rental store where our guide, Billy, told us to pick a bicycle each. I was not too keen to ride a bicycle as I did not ride well on country road so I opted for a opened-van ride.
From the ferry terminal we were on our way to Viet Hai Village which was about 4 km inland. For me it was a nice short 10 minutes ride on the open-van with some very scenic views.
The open-van stopped at a “drink store” at Viet Hai Village. I alighted and waited for another 15 minutes before my “parties” arrived on their bicycles. In the “drink store” Billy give us some background details of Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba Island was the largest island on Halong bay. Our visit focused mainly on the more remote part of the island.
We visited a village community farm that looked abandoned, visited a cosy home stay, tasted some snake brewed rice-alcohol, stuck our feet into a small pond to experience some foot spa (fish bites). By the time we were done with Cat Ba Village it was close to noon.
On the third day immediately after breakfast we went on a boat ride. The boat ride was on a perculiar looking huge row boat. Unlike the more streamline rowboat this boat was rather huge and squarish. Each boat could seat easily ten over people and was very stable when floating on the water.
The boatman rowed us towards a huge limestone karst/island and we saw a cave near the waterline of the karst. Our boat went into the cave and we exited out the other end of the cave to come into a bay, sort of a santuary surrounded by more limestone karsts. It was a pity that the boatman could not speak much English and our guide could not tell us more about this “mystical” santuary.
Sunset and sunrise
Sunset and sunrise were the best parts of our Halong Bay cruise trip. Our cruise boat anchored at Lan Ha Bay and the sunset and sunrise were magnificient.
On the first day we nearly missed the sunset. We came back to our cruise boat at about 5.30 pm after a tiring kayaking and swimming trip. We were in our room resting and were just out of a cool shower when we noticed golden rays filtering through the curtains of our room window. It was only 5.45pm and the sun was setting fast!
I stucked my head out the window and photographed the last rays of the sun as it set behind the many islets in the bay. I felt sad not to be up on the deck to have a better view of the setting sun.
The next morning we were up at about 5.00 am and in 15 minutes we were on the top deck with our cameras and tripods. We had a great time viewing the amazing sunrise.
As the sun began to rise, the colours of the scene around us changed. It was a darkish blue massive sky, then orangy amber rays began to stretch through it and then they brightened into various shades of golden color. The fantastic experience of being on the bay was that these colors were reflected by the water. The entire scene was not just infront of us but all around us, on top and below. We were just tiny dots in the middle of a magnificient scenery.
The second day we were on the open deck of the La Paci Cruise before the sun began to set. After the sunrise experience we knew that watching sunset from the open deck would be very different from watching it from our room window.
On the deck the view was 360° and unblocked. We saw the sky changing colors into many shades of orange, gold, amber and yellow. was lovely. These beautiful evolving colors lasted for about half and hour.
On the third day we woke up at 5 am to go up to view the sunrise again on the open deck. Though I was sleepy and had already seen the sunrise the day before I just wanted another experience. It was a pity that many guests of the cruise prefered to sleep through the magnificient sunrise.
This time I left it to Yat Thong to do all the photographing, I just pulled a chair and placed it facing the sunrise section of the bay, sat back and propped up my legs and enjoyed the sunrise to the fullest.
Food on Board
Food on the cruise was nice. Altogether we had three lunches, two dinners and two breakfasts. The cruise package covered all meals but not the drinks, including mineral water that went with the meals.
Generally outside meal times we did not have to purchase water as each day our room was allocated two bottles of mineral water and everytime we went for a day-trip we were also given a bottle of mineral water each. So each day we had about three or four bottles mineral water given to each of us.
Breakfast was buffet style, bread, eggs, sausage etc. Juices, coffee and tea were also provided. We also found out that we could order chicken pho from the kitchen. The chicken pho was cooked only on demand. So we had pho for two mornings.
The final activity on our cruise was cooking class. We were thought to make the famous vietnamese rolls. The thin translucent wrap was made from rice. Our guide-chef showed us the various ingredients that went into the wrap and everybody got a chance to make a roll. Our chef informed us that whatever we had made would be served to us for lunch. Luckily our chef insisted that we used gloves when handling the food!
Leaving Halong Bay
While we were eating lunch in the dining room our cruise boat was making its way from Lan Ha Bay to Halong Bay, to somewhere near the jetty when we first arrived. At about 11.30am we boarded the day-boat and went back to shore. Somehow on land the weather seemed so much hotter so we hid in the waiting station at the jetty till our bus arrived.
Our La Paci Cruise Bus arrived at about half past noon with a full load of newcomers. We boarded the bus and returned to Hanoi, back to Hanoi Glance Hotel where we would stay for our final night in Vietnam!