Ha Long bay in Northern Vietnam with it’s thousands of towering limestone islands and islets was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994. With it’s emerald waters, pinnacles topped with rainforests and sea level eroded bases it’s a sight to behold.
I had a respectable pick-up time of 9am from my hostel to join the others but it’s a long bus ride from Hanoi to our launch point. I look forward with anticipation to board the Sapphire Cruise ship for my 3 day, 2 night journey.
After one rest stop in the middle of our 130km bus ride we arrive to some docks and exit the bus but I don’t see the ship. I’m wondering where it’s moored. I joke to the others about this older smaller boat I see and say OK it’s a bait and switch there’s our real boat and we sleep on benches Bad joke but it got a couple chuckles. What happens next is that we board a smaller transport boat to take us to the ship which is moored along with other ships offshore. As we approach the ship the crew is standing just outside the lobby entrance smiling and waving at us.
Boarding the ship they directed us immediately to lunch even before we checked into our rooms. Their presentation of the meals was lovely with polite service and the food itself was quite tasty. We’re off to a good start.
Time to check into my cabin and see what I get. All I can say is wow, nice roomy cabin. Then I saw the beautiful bathroom with the jacuzzi tub. Note to self: I’m taking a bath tonight.
With time before our first excursion I explore around the ship. Taking some pics of the view I hear an announcement for a kayaking excursion to head for the lobby.
We get on a shuttle boat and head for a nice bay to kayak this afternoon. Kayaking amongst these islands makes you excited to choose your path, they all look great so how do I choose? Quite randomly I say. I kayaked about an hour, trying to remembering where we parked. Back on the boat some people choose to jump into the water. I’m usually one of those people but just not today without the warm sun, the water is on the chilly side, I could say about mid 60’s F. The air temp was about the same which was fine for kayaking, just no so much for swimming. There was this one guy saying the water is warm. A girl from Chile jumped in and quickly got out shivering. I informed her that the guy saying it was warm was from Toronto. Her pouty facial expression at him spoke volumes.
I have my luxurious bubble bath after our return from kayaking before dinner. With two window views of the pinnacles, I have them only partially open since there’s a chance of ships passing by really closely. There’s an announcement over the speakers that the evening happy hour on top deck starts in 30min. I have time to dry off and get dressed up for this event.
Once at the top deck I sit and have conversations with a couple from Canada and a couple from Melbourne. They were interested in my long term travel style, then we spoke a bit about cost of living, economy and politics.
My first drink was a tall Singapore Sling, with next round a Mai Tai, and final drink a Caipirinha which I take with me down to dinner at 7pm. Alcoholic drinks are not included in the tour price but the total cost was 330K VND about $14 USD. Not bad, usually one drink in the U.S. is $14.
After more dinner conversations I welcomed going to my cabin to watch some TV for which that had some movies loaded.
There was a mixture of cruise length passengers on the ship which I did not realize. Some people were on a 2 day 1 night cruise like the couples from Toronto and Melbourne. While us 2 night people boarded a smaller boat for our day-long adventure, the 1 night people would experience our 3rd day agenda.
The ship takes them back to the original port, drops them of, then picks up a second set of 1 night people while we are touring on a smaller boat for the day.
Passing by a isolated temple and floating villages, we get dropped off at this small dock which is on Cat Ba island. We pick out some nice bicycles in good working order then ride about 5km to Viet Hai village.
The path was gentle and pleasant with only one slight incline which many of us got off the bikes and walked them about a couple hundred yards.
No problem walking the bikes since I would have hopped off to take a pic of the overlook view anyway.
Waves of delight and calm happiness kept washing over me. Tranquility reigns. We stop a few places in the village and explore around. I see this bamboo bridge walk and just know I had to give it a try.
At one point we sample different wines, forest banana, honey, hibiscus and cobra wine which tasted like tequila and surprisingly had the best flavor. All high alcohol content for a wine.
Time to return to the dock and I found the ride back just as pleasant. Now it was time to transport to a new kayaking bay. I found this bay much better than yesterday’s with more islets and cavelets to explore.
There are other boats moored around this bay and as we hop into our kayaks everyone disperses and you feel uncrowded and sometimes even alone. I head for some cavelets first. I pass by these interesting beaches which have caves and thought about kayaking to shore and exploring on foot. But I decided to keep going further then kayak back this way.
Looking around for the best path I round this island corner and keep going. I don’t see anyone so it’s my private bay now. I’m compelled to continue onward. Luckily I have my phone with Maps.me app which has much more islands info than Google maps. I use this to mark where our ship is moored because this place is a labyrinth. Now I’m wondering if I can get back with time to visit that cave beach I had spotted cause I’m still wanting to move forward.
Using Maps.me app I can see if I keep going there’s a way around back to the boat. We have 2 hours kayaking time and I have 1 hour left. Surprisingly the tide was low which Maps.me showed high tide island images. I realized I came around to the other side of the beach I wanted to check out.
The low tide created a sand bar so I beached my kayak to explore. Looking at the sand bar length I figured to drag my kayak to the other side to depart as a shortcut. This would give me more beach exploration time.
Luck would have that I spotted this low cave entrance with enough light passing through to warrant checking it out. You need to crawl under at one point. I’m not completely alone as I turn to look back and see a couple people on the beach.
After I’m able to stand up again I see this perfect path. What a thrill, how far does this path go and where does lead? Well it leads to this round opening filled with coral stacks . I can’t describe or do it justice with photographs. What a visual and fascinating treat.
Going further on I need to see the end of this path. It emerges on the other side of the island pinnacle where I see two other people on the beach.
I tell them about this coral grotto to which they replied they had just seen it as well. Looking at my watch I have just enough time to get back through the path to where I left my kayak and launch. It was an east launch and back at the boat I show my pics to some of the others as we head back to our main boat. Later I look up on Google Earth to see if this place had a name and it’s Coco Beach.
This main boat had picked up new passengers and returned to it’s mooring spot while we were gone for the day. So there were new people to meet for happy hour. Another bath, another happy hour, another great dinner with good conversations made this a wholly perfect day.
Day 3 after breakfast we board a shuttle boat to board an even smaller row boat. Our guide for the row boat takes us through a cave called Bright Cave. We’re all excited when we spot monkey’s huddled in this one tree on the hillside. They’re actually langurs with blond haired heads where their ‘hairdo’ ends in a point. I couldn’t help but wonder what was so special about that tree they chose.
We have one more lunch and a cooking class as we depart and head back to our mooring point of origin.
Back at my cabin I’m gathering and packing up up my stuff. So sad that it’s over. I could have done this a few more days actually. So much to explore and see. I’m watching the pinnacles go by as I’m making a mental note to come back here someday and pick a slightly warmer weather season.
Good-bye Halong Bay!