Day 4 – Sapa to Hanoi onward to Halong Bay
It was after 5 am when we arrived at the train station in Hanoi. The trip seemed shorter this time. Perhaps we were too tired and managed to catch a bit more sleep this time and time passed faster than we realized. When we exited the train station, Tien, Cham’s husband, was already there waiting for us. He walked us out to the main road and we boarded a minibus to head for his office while he rode his bike back to meet us there. The roads in the city were still dark and quiet as we drove through the Old Quarter. There wasn’t much activities in the city and very quickly we reached the main road outside their office building. After alighting, we walked through the dark and quiet back lanes and went back to the office. Our Australian friends were given a room upstairs to rest while we were given a room inside the main office and sitting area. The room was the same high quality standard of a 3 star hotel room. We took turns to shower and rested until breakfast time. Some repacking was done to prepare for our upcoming Halong Bay cruise. Around 7 am we could hear some noises outside our room and Tien was actually frying eggs for our breakfast. Our children went to the kitchen to help bring up the food and plates with cutlery. Tien also made us a big jug of coffee and another jug of tea. The breakfast was good and filling. While waiting, we caught up with news and friends with the free wifi provided by out travel agent. Near to 8 am our Halong Bay cruise company arrived to pick us up for our cruise. We carried only the bags required for this 2 days 1 night cruise and leaving behind the rest of our bags in the office to be collected when we returned from our cruise. Ken was our guide for the trip and after picking up more guests from a few other hotels in the Old Quarter, we were on our way towards Halong Bay. Ken briefed us about the activities for the day and then let us rest while we made our way to Halong Bay. After about 2 hours, we arrived at a rest area for a toilet break. This place was a huge souvenir shop with workers doing their handicrafts in the building. There was also a cafeteria in the building. A wide range of souvenirs was available and credit cards were also accepted in this establishment. Generally, the prices of the stuff here were more expensive than what we could get from the shops in Old Quarter in Hanoi. After 30 minutes, we continued our journey to Halong Bay and reached Hong Gai Tourist Wharf around noon.
We alighted with our bags and waited while Ken went to settle the boat tickets and entrance fees for the whole group. Soon he returned with all the tickets and we were ferried by a smaller boat towards a bigger boat anchored further off shore. We were told we had been upgraded from our 3 star Oriental Sails 1 to this 4 star Calypso Cruiser boat. It was a pleasant surprise to all of us and we happily boarded this cruise boat when we arrived.
We were given 2 inter-connecting rooms for our four children while we took another room next to their room. The rooms though not very big were nicely decorated and clean. Each room has its toilet and shower facility. Bottled water was also provided in each room. No TV in the room though as this was supposed to be a relaxing cruise to get us to stay away from many other distractions in the world.
Having checked our rooms and with everything in order, we went to the restaurant to wait for lunch. The tables were arranged nicely for each group of guests and we had a table just for the six of us. Lunch was really nice as four of us opted not to have seafood, we had other meat dishes to replace the seafood dish. So our table was full of food and we were really filled up after lunch. It was so nice to have lunch on a cruise boat sailing calmly passing many islands on the bay and the lunch was indeed very enjoyable. How often do we have such occasion to have a meal as a family dining with such a nice view on a bay of thousand islands.
After lunch we went up to the sundeck to enjoy the fantastic scenery as we cruised along with limestone islands standing out in the waters. They came in different forms, shapes and sizes and it was a pleasure to behold these islands during this cool winter day on the bay. There are about 2000 islands here and Halong Bay is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sky was cloudy at times but the temperature was just right for us to laze about on the sunbeds to while away the time. Being surrounded by islands on a calm bay with a cooling breeze blowing gently on our faces was such a wonderful experience and what more treasurable was all our children were now with us enjoying this time of our lives together. It was perfect indeed as we chatted and shared these splendid moments of our vacation together that would be etched into our memory for a very long time.
Of course snapping of pictures on the bay was something not to be missed. We passed other boats and floating farms and houses along the way on the emerald waters of Halong Bay. It was so peaceful out here and one could easily forget about the troubles and distractions we all had in the busy world where we eked out a living on a daily basis. This was really a timeless moment for us to indulge in a peace of mind venture to rejuvenate ourselves for other challenges in the coming year ahead.
Having had sufficient dose of luxurious tranquility on the bay, we went back to our room to rest before we were set to conquer Amazing Cave for our next activity. Not long after, we were requested to be transferred to a smaller boat as we headed for Sung Sot Cave with our cruiser anchored nearby.
To reach the cave, we had to walk up a flight of stairs which might be challenging for those who had knee troubles. As we ascended, it became apparent that the view of this part of the bay was very beautiful and so we took pictures of the surrounding at a few lookout points. The flights of stairs wasn’t that bad to climb with ropes and poles on the sides to secure the path for trekkers. We were told we had to climb up this flight of stairs and will descend from another exit after visiting the cave. There would be no turning back from here once we ascended the stairs to reach the cave. So those who didn’t feel like visiting the cave could opt out and remain on the cruiser boat.
Actually it didn’t take very long to reach the top to the entrance of the cave though some steps were more steep than others. It was dry during our visit so it was very easy to walk but if it had been raining and wet, it could be a bit more troublesome. It was quite a relief for some with weak legs and knees that there would be no more steep steps to climb as we entered the cave.
The cave was all nicely lit up in different colours to bring out the special effects of different faces on the walls of the cave. There were three chambers within the cave. The first chamber wasn’t very big. The paths were well maintained and the cave was dry. Ken our guide was busy pointing out different shapes of the caves using his laser pointer. You could let your imagination run wild with all kinds of pictures you could conjure from the different forms and shapes of the walls inside the cave.
After spending awhile in the first chamber with us busy taking pictures of the various forms of the walls at different angles, we slowly moved on to the next chamber. What greeted us was really awesome. The second chamber was so huge and it would take some time to explore. With Ken continuing his explanations and pointing of his laser pointer at different parts of the walls, we gradually made our way through this second chamber. It was quite cooling inside the cave and we took our time and took more pictures here. The lightings did bring out the beauty of the cave walls without which it would be pitch darkness inside and would be difficult to thoroughly enjoy what this cave had to offer.
Soon we reached the final third chamber which was just as pretty. All the fascinating features on the walls as well as the stalactites and stalagmites within the cave were simply awe-inspiring brought out by the special lighting effects. The cave was quite easy to navigate and after spending some time taking more pictures, we exited the cave looking out at the bay from a different vintage point.
Having visited the cave, we made our descend through well trodden paths. Along the way, we took some more pictures of the bay and finally boarded the waiting boat to bring us back to our cruiser boat. This cave visit was one of the highlights of the cruise. After returning to our cruiser, we were free to have our own activity till dinner time.
So another round of lazing around on the sundeck to enjoy the beauty of Halong Bay was the order of the day. It was great to just do nothing and enjoy the serenity on the Bay of thousand islands sailing on calm waters. We waited till sunset to capture the moment of the disappearing sun descending into the distant islands painting the sky with a tint of light blue slowly turning to dark blue with hues of pink in the clouds bidding us good bye for the day. It was a great day no doubt and the time spent as a family together to enjoy this natural wonders on the bay was an experience of a life time to be treasured for a very long time.
As it turned dark, we went back to our room to shower and to get ready for dinner. Diner time soon beckoned and we were back in the restaurant but this time we assembled outside for a cooking demonstration. Ken introduced the chef who was going to teach us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. The chef showed us the ingredients and the process of making the spring rolls. After that, he invited us to participate and make our own spring rolls for the dinner. It was quite fun as we put on gloves and had a go at trying out this spring roll making activity. Once the fillings were all used up, the chef began to fry the spring rolls to a crispy brown and we had a great time tasting the spring rolls which was very delicious.
We were then ushered back into the restaurant to our respective tables. It was about the same arrangement as lunch but the dishes this time seemed to be more and better. Of course we also had the spring rolls made earlier. We took our time to enjoy the Vietnamese feast on the cruise and chatting happily enjoying one another’s company. When diner was over, Ken asked if anyone would like to remain in the restaurant to join him for a round of karaoke singing. None did and some preferred to try out squid fishing. We went up to the deck again to enjoy the night and watched the stars in the night sky. We also saw other boats anchored nearby. Very near us was the newly renovated Oriental Sails 1 beautifully lighted up and we began to wonder whether this Calypso Cruiser was indeed an upgrade albeit free. Anyway, the price for Calypso Cruise was still higher than that of Oriental Sails so we were comforted. Perhaps our food quality and quantity was more superior than that of Oriental Sails as well. So we didn’t really take it to heart.
As the night grew older, we went down and checked on those who had tried squid fishing. They were not successful but had fun though. Finally we went back to our rooms and called it a night. The children were very happy and they left their inter-connecting door open so they could do stuff together. Though no TV was in the room, the children had their own TV via their mobile phones and watched movies from their phone snuggled together on bed. It was a joy to watch them spending time enjoying activity together. We didn’t know what time they retired but we returned to our room and not long after, we were slipping into rest mode with many happy memories of the events of the day.
Continue to Day 5 ...