And we'll be cruising on BHAYA-islander ....
Trip Start May 28, 2012
46Trip End Oct 24, 2012
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Where I stayed
Bhaya cabin number 209
We had been looking forward to our cruise as we've always heard it's been one of the best things to do in Vietnam and Nicki and Caitlin came back with such glowing reports. After finally deciding on what one to do and how long to go for, back before we even left New Zealand, we've been secretly counting down the days until we got to step on board. Also, because it was a bit more pricey we decided this would be our birthday presents to each other this year. Did not disappoint.
So with lots of anticipation our journey began. We got picked up from our hostel at 8.00am sharp in a little mini van and quickly began to navigate the busy morning streets to pick up the rest of the passengers. First we stopped and in popped Kelly and Dane - a couple from Sydney who we quickly got acquainted and proceeded to jabba away with them for the next two hours
Once we finally got to Ha Long Bay we checked in and just waited before our shuttle boat came to get us. We got talking to everyone and this is where our six strong alliance was born. Kelly, Dane, Tom and Jenny were so nice and we couldn't help but be thankful we didn't end up with a boat full of old retirees. (No offence to any old retirees who may be reading this). As we were waiting in the foyer out streamed boatloads of hungover sun burnt tourists all arriving back from their day trip. I'm so glad we weren't there for a day trip - the eight hours of travelling to and from Hanoi doesn't really make being out on the boat for a few hours worth it. Not in my mind anyway
Finally we were on board where we checked out our sweet room and the rest of the boat and were treated to a welcome cocktail (which I actually thing was a mocktail) and a glorious buffet lunch which included stuff we haven't seen in weeks like blue cheese and olives! Also a mixture of fresh seafood, curries and some traditional Vietnamese salads. After lunch, we took a spot up on deck to watch the picturesque island backdrop go by. It was stunning. The photos really do not do it justice. Ha Long Bay basically covers an area of about 1553sq km and includes around about 1969 islands scattered all around. (I couldn't help but think of how much Kait would have liked it from a geological viewpoint)!!
First on the agenda was to stop in by a fishing village then we had the choice of swimming or kayaking before happy hour began. We hopped into a small boat by the four and were rowed around for an hour by a strong Vietnamese lady rower. Right on cue, upon hopping into the row boat it started to rain. Luckily enough, for us girls anyway, there were some 'woman' hats which kept us relatively dry. Jason and Tom were too cool to wear them and only sported one for the photo opportunity before swiftly removing them altogether. At the village we stopped off to have a quick look around, most interesting thing was the school where all the little fisher village children go. On the blackboard was the word Ma which has about 10 different meanings in Vietnamese! Next up we stopped off at the pearl farm where we watched a lady basically inseminating a oyster. The process is fascinating. A little lady carefully inserts a fake pearl (which they make out of the shells of oysters) into the oyster shell with tiny tweezers and once it's in place they put in the shell into the water where it grows for two years
Back on the main boat (which had two stories of cabins, a third for the dining room and a fourth for the sundeck) the boys decided it was a brilliant time to jump..lets say.. 8 metres into the water. (I still think it was more like 10 metres - bloody high - but Jason thinks 7. Whatever, high all the same. Jason was of course first and talked a nervous Dane into doing it too. Tom, who seemed to be a little more sensible jumped from the dining room level (still three floors up) as he had a fear of heights and it all made for a great photo however there was more important things to worry about and that was happy hour - although, it ran from 5pm - 7pm so it's more fitting that I call it Happy time. Two for one everything from the menu (except wine bottles) and in this case the cocktails are cheaper than wine so we tried the lot. They were very variable as to who was making them so it was a bit of a surprise each time we ordered a new one. At six that night we watched a quick cooking class where the chef showed us his tricks on how to make a stella spring-roll and also showed us the tricks of the Asian culinary trade on how to make those flowers made out of carrot and tomato that you see everrrrrywhere!
Dinner rolled around where we were treated to a five course meal. We were given the option of steak or sea bass in which we both went with steak because, lets face it, we needed a good slab of meat. We were witness to the most amazing electrical storm, we were right in the thick of it with thunder booming so loud over our heads, it shook our glasses. Every few minutes the sky would just have the most vivid white flash which would last a good couple of seconds each time and light up all the surrounding islands. The dinner was superb and we chatted on, and drank on through the night ending up being the last table standing well after the dinner service had finished. Tom insisted to the staff we would all be up and ready at six for the Tai Chi on the sundeck while I was quietly confident that none of us would really be that silly to get up at such an hour to do such a thing.
Day two started not with Tai Chi but with an amazing cooked breakfast in which I saw something fairly foreign on my plate... BACON! After which we headed out to a smaller boat which was intending to take us to Cat Ba island where we would go on a bike ride around the island, kayak, have a beach side BBQ lunch, visit various other villages and swim. When we got to the boat we quickly realised it would just be us six for the whole day because everyone else on board the big boat was only there for the one night cruise and had already began their voyage back to shore! Double score! We were really lucky this day and even got some sunshine however for the most part it was that bright overcast kind of weather, still highly hot but the main thing was no rain! As we got closer to the opening of the South China Sea the water started to get it's chop on slightly and the captain decided it would be too dangerous to go any further
We left the beach and sailed into a small bay where we dropped our anchor and were served a four course lunch on board. After letting that settle, it was time to go kayaking which was super fun and we got into and up close to some super sweet caves. However, what no one told me was there were bats in one of the caves and I nearly fell out of the kayak from the utter fear of being bitten and getting rabies. After nearly being eaten alive from our kayaking trip, it was swim time where we must have leaped of the boat several hundred times, trying out new tricks and dives and what could make the best splash. At about 3.30 we headed back to our big boat again to find a whole new shipment of new people. Same story
On the last day we had a quick breakfast before heading out for our last activity. We were off to see the 'surprise cave' or Sung Sot if we're being proper. Again, us six basically had the tour guide to ourselves because all the American and Vietnamese people from our boat just took off up the stairs before our guide could explain any thing or tell them what the plan was. They wanted to be first and we were all the better for it. When we got inside it was much more impressive than I was expecting. You could say it was a ... surprise! Which is the whole reason it has been dubbed the surprise cave. It was massive and took us about an hour to walk through it into all the different spaces. Our guide pointed out shapes to us of things the formations slightly resembled and let us know the biggest area we went into was roughly 10,000m2. It was pretty cool, but there were also a few bats spotted and people were pushy. Not what you need at 8.30 in the morning.
Back on the boat we packed up our bags and went to have our last meal, a buffet brunch whilst the boat took us back to shore
Overall it has definitely been the highlight of Vietnam so far. Fully recommend to everyone, and it's a great birthday present for the next time you're stuck on what to get someone!