Departing from Hanoi we set off for the 4 hour mini-van ride to Halong Bay where our 3 day, 2 night cruise departed from. The beauty and uniqueness of this place cannot be described in words but we'll try...
After the 4 hour ride, we set sail through Halong Bay on a motorized "junk" sailboat steering through freighters, tug boats and other ships. As we received our welcome watermelon fruit smoothies - Seth was in heaven... we were already able to see some of the over 1,960 islets of the greater Bay area. Stunning! From afar they appeared as a mountainous range, however, as we neared closer they were in fact massive rocks somewhat covered in greenery jutting out of the water and peaking at heights up to 330 feet.
We were on a ship called the Dragon Pearl II, operated by Indochina Junk. The ship had 11 rooms, accommodating 22 passengers - we were 23 on board due to a baby girl who was just celebrating her first birthday. The ship was great, well staffed and the overabundance of food throughout was delicious (except for this weird mystery vegetarian dish we were served a few times which had
a rubbery texture - we were told it was made from rice noodles and vegetables).
Over the first day we ventured into the bay, out of sight from any other tourists. After the first couple of hours, the only other people we saw were fisherman and floating fishing villages. One of the reasons we picked Indochina Junk was because they go further out than all the other companies so you are not travelling with a bulk of tourists.
Upon reaching our destination for the 1st night tucked between three islets, we went swimming and kayaking as the sun set. Simply breathtaking. We both readily jumped into the water excited to get out of the heat. We soon realized the water was home to many jellyfish who enjoyed floating with the current and often stung tourists as they coursed by... Needless to say, we jumped back in the boat. Our one hour kayak excursion around one of the islets was fun and a welcomed activity after the endless food at lunch but frustrating at times as we did not seem to be able to master the notion of paddling simultaneously through the strong current.
In addition to coasting
past islets and limestone karster, we spent the second day touring a fishing village via bamboo boats steered by the local women, we were shown their living accommodations, schoolhouse, fish farms and enjoyed tea with the local chief. Later that afternoon we relaxed on an isolated beach and swam in the bay of the China Sea (jellyfish free as the current did not bring them in). That evening, the crew prepared us a barbequed dinner which we ate in a cave on that same isolated island, they also demonstrated their creative skills with various food carvings of our boat, swans and an eagle. A great balance of fun, relaxation, and introspection as to the life of a fisherman living on the water. Not to mention capping the evening off watching the starts from the top deck with vino and beer on hand while chatting with other passengers.
There were some great couples on board from across Europe (we were among the youngest - but we got on with the other couples just as well). 2 of the passengers were from the US so after 2.5 weeks travelling, we finally met some Americans whom we sat with at meals multiple
times and had a great time chatting with.
On the last day we cruised back to shore taking in all the scenery and having one last tasty meal. After docking we waited for the van and started the drive back to Hanoi where we were dropped at our hotel, Hanoi Sapphire Elegance. We expected to just wait around until our next transport to the train station but they let us use one of their rooms to shower, change and repack our little bags for our next excursion to Sapa - a very welcomed gesture.
And then we were off to do some trekking...
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