Jan. 9, 2017:
The Gringos are back on the road, this time in South East Asia. We left LA for Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday morning and arrived late Saturday night at the lovely Sofitel Metrpole right next to the Opera house in downtown Hanoi. True to character, “Our Lady of the Aggressive Schedule” (me) booked an overnight tour to Ha Long Bay, before our main tour starts later today. Ha Long Bay is a mere four hours away by bus from Hanoi. While it is possible to do this trip in a day, basically, all you have time for is a four hour cruise around the closest islands in the bay while lunch is served. That was too aggressive even for me, so instead, Jim and I booked an overnight trip aboard one of the live-aboard boats that ply the bay.
The bus picked us up at our hotel yesterday morning about 8:30, and we quickly got a taste of the insanity that is Vietnam traffic! Bikes, motor scooter, cars and trucks all seem to peacefully co-exist, even when they are going the wrong way in each others’ lanes, but it does make for a hair-raising experience! Nonetheless, it was interesting to see all the different architecture, with these incredibly narrow houses going up as high as six stories.
Upon arrival in Ha Long City, we found a very busy resort town with tons of resort hotels lining the shore. The harbor was full of boats awaiting their passengers. In fact, our guide told us that there were 500 boats which took tourists out for tours every day, and 200 of them had overnight guests.
We took a small raft-like boat out to our ship, the Royal Princess. Candidly, when I first saw it, I thought there had been a mistake, because the boat did not really resemble the photo I saw online when I booked!
However, our fears were soon put to rest as we came aboard this older, but well-maintained wooden dragon ship. Our guide was quick to tell us that we were on a “4 Star” ship (by Vietnamese standards). Further, we got lucky when we were booking because even though I had no idea about these boats, apparently I stumbled into booking one of the Two “suites” on the boat. The nicest part was there was a lovely deck behind our room with some nice chairs for watching the world go by.
After serving us a very nice lunch while sailing around the bay amidst the islands, we dropped anchor in a secluded cove, and we changed to swimsuits, so we could swim or go kayaking. I chose the latter, while Jim went swimming, and I had a lovely paddle around one of the islands. When we returned to the boat, the sun was going down, and we had cocktails with some of our fellow guests on the deck outside our room.
Dinner was another multi-course affair, and everything they served was really good! We sat with a fun couple from Los Angeles, but there were people from all over the world on our little boat. Jim and I were really tired, so we skipped the squid fishing and karaoke activities and went to bed.
After crashing into bed, Jim and I arose early this morning before the sun rose. I went up on the top deck to take a Tai Chi class and to snap some sunrise photos. However, it was somewhat foggy, so no great photos, but my body felt better for the Tai Chi class.
After a great breakfast, the ship moved to our next location, the bay next to a great cave complex called Hang Sung Sot. We hiked up a winding stone path to enter the caves and then toured through cavern after cavern of amazing stalactites and stalagmites! The most notable of these resembles a giant penis! The lighting in the cavern was spectacular, and added greatly to the enjoyment of the visit.
Finally, it was time to begin sailing back to the harbor, and we had a Vietnamese cooking class. Tired but happy we had made the trip to Ha Long Bay, we headed back to Ha Noi.