June 20, 2016
This morning we were going to be picked up shortly after 8:00am for our two night cruise in Halong Bay. We woke up a bit earlier to pack up, had breakfast, and checked out. We were both looking forward to getting out of the city and just relaxing.
We were picked up in a nice “van limo” filled with five British girls. The ride to the port was about 3.5 hours long… a pretty long ride. Luckily, there was pretty good WiFi in the van and the seats were very comfortable. When we got to the dock, we realized not all vans are the same – definitely lucked out! There was a 20 minute break about an hour in to the ride. It seemed like the same rest stop was used by all the other cruise companies. It was full of souvenirs and over priced snacks – luckily we had our goodies from Hanoi.
We finally arrived at the Bhaya Cruise terminal where we were greeted with iced tea and checked in by our cruise director, Chris (actual name is Tuan), who is a 24 year old Vietnamese guy with really good English. We waited about 30 minutes before we were boarded on to our boat. There were a lot of people in the waiting area. Lots of Vietnamese and Aussie tourists. We were happy that we decided to go for the “premium” (smaller) boat instead of the cruise with 20 cabins. Our only other cruise mates were a nice family of three from Melbourne. I was really happy they were our cruise mates!
Chris took us to our boat and showed us our rooms. The boat we were on only had 4 cabins for guests. Since there were only 5 of us, there were only 7 crew members (apparently there are usually 8). All the rooms on this boat had balconies and were on the same side of the boat. We had the room closest to the front of the boat and our new Aussie friends were in the room beside us. The room was quite nice, bigger than some hotel rooms we’ve stayed in on this trip.
After we got settled in, we headed to the dining room for lunch. We were served a wonderful and very filling 5 course meal. After we had lunch, it was clear that we were going to be treated and fed quite well on this cruise. I was also slightly relieved because we went higher end on this cruise to make sure we didn’t have a horrible experience out at sea (which is probably one of my fears – being at sea on a dirty boat, with bad food, with no escape). The regular price for this cruise is $319 USD per person, but we waited to book under 1 week so we got 20% off – $255 USD. The price for a 1 night cruise on Bhaya was more expensive per night than the 2 nighters, so we opted for the longer cruise. The itinerary for the 1 night and 2 night cruises are the same but the difference is that we get to have more free/relaxation time.
After lunch we went up to the roof and took lots of pictures while admiring the beautiful bay!
Our only activity for the afternoon was to visit a cave in Halong Bay. When we walked in, we thought it was a pretty narrow cave but as we kept walking we were pretty shocked at how big the cave was. There were a bunch of uplights inside to show off the various stalagmites and stalactites. It was nice inside and it almost felt like being on a set in a movie. Unlike in New Zealand, people were free to touch the rocks as they pleased.
After our little excursion, we headed back to the boat and went to a pearl farm. The guide there showed us how they farm pearls. They seed oysters with small beads made of oyster shell and implant those beads into other oysters along with a small piece of harvested oyster membrane. Whatever colour the interior of the shell was from the oyster whose membrane they harvested, is the colour of the pearl that will form. I wear pearls everyday and I actually had no idea that pearls were farmed in that way. Chris told us that the Vietnamese pearl farmers went to Japan to learn from them (probably at Mikimoto’s pearl farm). As expected, they had a show room at the end of our tour for us to browse and buy jewelry. No one from our boat bought anything. The ladies did give Pippa (the 6 year old on our boat) a ring for free though.
When we arrived back on the boat, we had free time before dinner. We spent a lot of our time on the roof deck admiring the scenery and trying to catch a sunset. It was really nice having so few of us on board, it felt like we chartered our own boat and the roof was basically ours. Most of the time, it was only Tim and I up there (especially during the day time). Chris came by to talk to us before dinner. He just started working for Bhaya about a year ago after graduating from tourism university. He said he learned English in school but improved it mostly from watching American TV shows and interacting with people on the cruise.
Dinner was served at 7:30pm in the kitchen and we were in for another wonderful 5 course dinner. We got to know the Melbourne family pretty well since we were the only ones on the boat. They were in Vietnam for the first time and were spending about 2 weeks here. We talked about our Australia portion of the trip and they told us how they were just in Vancouver visiting family – it was nice to talk about home. Before going on the boat, we knew our boat would be small so we were pretty lucky we were paired up with some great people.
After dinner, Chris gave us the option to go squid fishing. Tim, Pippa, and the Dad went to go try catching some squid. But Chris warned us that it wasn’t really high season for squid so it would probably be a challenge. It was cool, however, to actually see some squid and lots of jellyfish in the water. But unfortunately, no one caught anything.
As you probably could guess, there was no internet on the boat. At first I was a bit annoyed that there was no WiFi because I thought there was supposed to be. But at the same time it was nice to disconnect for a bit.
Steps today: 4,000 (Tim: though I think the apps I use for tracking steps had trouble when we were on the boat).