Tuesday 21 April 2015
Three and a half hours later after leaving Hanoi, I arrived at Ha Long Bay Wharf at noon to catch a small boat over to the cruise ship which would be my home for the next 24 hours. There was a total of 15 other people on this trip including my guide “Chucky” who I found to be very personable, witty and a spitting image of a young Bruce Lee.
It only took 10 minutes of gentle motoring before I was boarding the Vega Cruise boat and checking into my Double Deluxe Balcony cabin. I thought I would make good use of the balcony on this trip and hence, booked it, but since the itinerary was jam packed, there wasn’t any opportunity to enjoy it in the end. To start with, lunch was served within 20 minutes of boarding. As dish after dish was being served, I knew we were all going to be well fed on this trip. It reminded me of my river cruise along the Mekong and the amount of food on offer.
After lunch, we were all afforded an hour or so to chill out and take in the view as we cruised through the bay. Everyone congregated on the the top deck with some snapping picture after picture of the beautiful rocks that were in front of us, whilst others were content in getting even more of a tan.
By about 4pm, we anchored for the day and jumped into the smaller boat again to visit Hang Sửng Sốt (Cave of Surprises). This was very surprising indeed and well presented. Climbing wooden stairs to enter, they had spotlights of different colours in all the right places which really showed up the formation of stalactites and stalagmites. Our guide Chucky picked the best time to visit the caves as there was only our group and one other tour visiting. All the other tourists came and went earlier in the day. After spotting and making out various naturally formed faces of humans and animals in the cave, we climbed more steps to get to the vantage point for an amazing view of the bay.
Back on the boat, I only had a quick 10 minutes to change into my wet shorts and rash vest before jumping into a kayak to visit another cave. As the group paddled toward the cave, we all stopped for a moment to see the sun setting in the background between two huge rocks.
I approached the cave opening and paddled through the tunnel to reveal a beautiful lagoon with no other tour group there. Chucky had indeed picked the perfect time to visit when every other tourist group had left and were on their own cruise boats drinking cocktails. I much preferred what I was doing right then. The water was warm as I dipped my arm in. Turning left as I entered the lagoon, I was greeted by a bunch of tiny monkeys gathering on the rocks playing and chasing butterflies.
As the sun set and it was getting dark around 6:30pm, I paddled back to the Vega Cruise boat to shower and get ready for dinner at 7pm. As I walked into the dining room, a table was already set with lots of ingredients. We were all there to make our own starter of fresh spring rolls. This was exciting but in the end, it turned into a feeding frenzy as arms were flailing left, right and centre, trying to grab what ingredients were in front of us. I can only think people were really hungry after about an hour of gentle paddling. As the remnants of what was left was cleared up by the crew, we sat at our tables ready for the main course, or should I say courses!
After dinner, Chucky told us some stories about his upbringing, his father and uncle and their involvements in the wars and his views on the country’s current political standing. At around 10:30pm, I retreated back to my cabin only to be woken up at midnight by the sound of “chubby” rain bouncing off the top deck as the heavens opened. I was treated to a lightning show for over an hour before I fell asleep again as the whole bay was constantly being lit up by the storm. Amazing and definitely a first and once in a lifetime experience….
Wednesday 22 April 2015
After about 5 hours sleep in total, I was up at 5:30am and stepping over Chucky, who was asleep on the floor in the dining room, to go watch the sunrise on the top deck of the boat. Surprisingly, over half the group were getting up too which was completely the opposite turn out when I was on a boat cruising on the Mekong. We all waited for the sun to shine over Ha Long Bay and through the clouds. By 6am, it managed to show itself as I was served coffee on the the top deck.
With a packed schedule to adhere to, breakfast was promptly served at 7am before the whole group jumped into the smaller boat to go to Titop Mountain, where I climbed 340 steps to the top for a “360” degree view of the bay. According to the original itinerary, I was suppose to be on top of the mountain watching the sunrise there but apparently, the government changed the whole entrance fee structure in Ha Long Bay, which meant that Titop wouldn’t be accessible until 8am. The reason for this? The ticket officer needs to get from the shore to the mountain and doesn’t arrive until 8am.
Once the muscle burn had subsided, I descended the mountain and spent about half and hour on the man made beach at the bottom before we were all herded back onto the boat to set off back to the shore.
Lunch was served at 11am as I was told that the hygiene is far better on the boat than eating at Ha Long Bay Wharf. I only had breakfast 4 hours prior and Vega Cruise was filling me up again.
After lunch, we docked at the wharf at midday and transferred over to the minibus for the bouncy ride back to Hanoi…