Day 5 – Halong Bay to Hanoi
Sleeping on the cruise boat was not much different from that of a hotel room and of course far better than the bed on the overnight train ride from Hanoi to Sapa. We did have proper sleep and woke up quite early around 6 am. As there was going to be a Tai-Chi class on the sundeck at 6.30 am, we made our way up to the deck and waited while enjoying the fresh air surrounded by limestone islands. It was really refreshing indeed as we took pictures of the bay and watched the activities that went on around our boat.
Soon the Tai-Chi master came up and gave us a briefing about the moves during this exercise. We spread out enough space for each of us and began to follow the moves of the master. It was some stretching with slow movements accompanied with a deep breathing exercise under the cool morning breeze on a calm bay with beautiful scenery which was such a fantastic experience. The movements were awkward at times when we failed to keep up with the master but it was quite fun. It was really a pleasure to be able to have some simple exercise under such favourable circumstance in a place of unique beauty. This first activity of the morning got us going to begin a brand new day of excitement and fun. This simple joy lasted only 30 minutes and then we descended to the restaurant and got ready for breakfast.
Food was nice as we had our breakfast at our own table again. Watching the world go by during such a meal was another great experience while the boat began sailing to our next destination for our kayaking activity. After breakfast we went back to our room to refresh ourselves and changed to get ready for some actions on the emerald waters of Halong Bay.
We reached a bay with a floating support structure where many kayaks were kept. Those who didn’t wish to participate remained on the cruiser boat while the rest of us were transported to this floating platform on a smaller boat. We queued for our paddles and got onto our kayak. We were instructed where we could kayak and the boundary where we needed to stay within. Firstly, we would be kayaking into a cave where a larger lagoon was inside this cave. After that we could exit the lagoon and spend time kayaking around the islands near our cruiser boat.
So off we went and approached the cave opening. It was really interesting as we went through this dark cave and emerged on the other side to discover this still and calm lagoon inside the cave. There were also monkeys on the cliff next to the cave watching us. We spent some time enjoying this ecstatic experience as though we were actors and actresses filming in a movie scene. We kayaked around the edges of the lagoon and also rested in the middle of the lagoon looking upwards towards the sky turning 360 degree to enjoy being surrounded by hills within this lagoon.
It was really a great out of this world experience we wished time could stand still for a while longer. Unfortunately, we had to leave in order to spend time kayaking outside the lagoon before heading back to our cruiser boat. So with much reluctance and a bit of sadness, we turned towards the cave opening again and bade this lagoon good bye leaving behind precious and happy memories of our family kayaking in this natural wonder, a playground seemed to be meant just for us.
Once we exited the cave, we had a much larger area to kayak. We spent time kayaking around the edges of the islands to have a closer look at the vegetation, rocks and limestone edges before venturing out to more open area of the bay. As the sunrays pierced through the top of the hills of the surrounding islands illuminating the emerald waters with glaring reflections of the glorious sunbeams, we slowly kayaked back to the floating platform to return our equipment. We were then transferred back to our cruiser boat by a smaller supporting boat. This was indeed the real highlight of our Halong Bay cruise and an unforgettable experience to be cherished for a long time.
The next thing we needed to do was a quick shower. We had to pack up and check out and then get ready for lunch. When we were all ready, we went back to our favourite spot on the sundeck and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay as our cruiser boat sailed back to the wharf. Unlike the day before, this was a sunny day and great time for picture moments for our family. Soon it was time for lunch and we went back to the restaurant and had one last enjoyable meal on the cruise. It was still the same arrangement and our table was full of food as four of us opted out of seafood dishes. Finally, enjoying another great meal with great scenery watching the world go by on Halong Bay, we were approaching the wharf not far away. Near to noon, our cruiser boat came to a halt as the anchor was lowered. Everyone then queued to settle their bills for drinks consumed which were not included in the cruise package. With the transfer on a smaller boat we were back on shore to board our awaiting minibus to head back to Hanoi. It seemed our Halong Bay cruise came and went so quickly these two days. What we acquired was an experience with so much fun and joy spending quality family time together on one of the natural wonders in the world we were privileged to have a part of during this vacation.
Like the trip to Halong Bay, the bus stopped after two hours for a break with the same arrangement for tourists to spend some money on souvenirs in a huge established workshop. It was a hot day during this winter season so some tourists indulged in having some ice cream during the break. Soon we were on our way again heading towards Hanoi. We arrived the busy Old Quarter in Hanoi near to 5 pm. Ken arranged for the guests to alight near their respective hotels and we were last to alight next to the Ministry of Defence building again. We then made our way through the back lanes and went back to the office of Halong Sapa Tours. We met up with Tien and collected all our luggage. Tien walked us out to the main road and flagged down two taxis for the six of us. He paid for the taxi fares and told the drivers to send us to our hotel back in the Old Quarter. The streets were busy and with some roads blocked by the police, our taxi had to make a detour. Finally, we alighted opposite our hotel, the Eclipse Legend Hotel. The road was so busy and we had trouble getting across the road to our hotel. So I walked across the road on my own leaving my family and all the bags behind to approach the hotel staff to help. Immediately, their staff sprang into action and escorted my family and helped carried our bags across the road to the hotel. It seemed so effortless for them just to jaywalk across the road carrying heavy bags with them. They were professionals in the own right.
We were offered towels and welcome drinks as we got our rooms sorted out. We were told we were upgraded to the honeymoon suite for two of our rooms and all the three rooms were the same unit one floor above the other. The rooms were very clean and nicely decorated. In particular, our honeymoon suite came with a round bed with two swans folded with towels decorating our beds. Our girls were giggling when they saw their bed and our younger girl naughtily pushed the swans down on the bed and let them sleep. It wasn’t their honeymoon at all but perhaps was a good preparation for their future honeymoon. Our boys got the room on the higher floor with a big sofa set next to the bed. This hotel was rather new and we were very happy with all our rooms and the performance of the hotel staff as well.
It was already dark and we asked the hotel staff about restaurants for dinner. We were recommended to try the Pho shop just a few shops on the right of the hotel. So off we went and we ordered our pho noodles with beef and they were really good. It cost around 50,000 VND for each bowl and we had a great dinner of Vietnamese pho. After that we roamed the streets at night and went for some desserts which were also recommended by the hotel. We had egg coffee and other desserts just a few streets away from the hotel. The cafeteria was doing brisk business when we were there and this cafe seemed really popular, especially with young people. Next we walked a few more streets just to orientate ourselves before returning to our hotel to call it a day.
We had a great day in Halong Bay and a nice evening in Hanoi and were particularly happy with the hotel rooms we were given. The hotel staff were really friendly and helpful. Our children all enjoyed themselves thoroughly and returned to their own rooms for more IT related entertainment via their smart phones. So we went to our rooms, showered and stretched out on our clean, lovely and comfortable bed. Watching TV, catching up with friends and keeping updated with news via the free wifi provided by the hotel kept us busy during the evening. Before we knew it, we were dozing off soon entering another exciting day of adventure in Northern Vietnam.
Continue to Day 6 ...