We were on a boat! A ship really, a really nice cruise ship. Touring Ha Long Bay was top on our list while in Vietnam and it was well worth it. I did a lot of research on which cruise we wanted to take, and there are a lot to choose from. We were looking for something with good food and a relaxed schedule. Signature Cruise seemed like the best one for us. Of course it was also one of the most expensive. I contacted the cruise company directly though and asked if they have any deals. We had flexible dates too, which I think helped. The cruise company gave me a few option and also told me about their new luxury cruise line, Era Cruise, that sails in Lan Ha Bay.
Ha Long Bay is made up of 3 areas. Bai Tu Long Bay in the north east, Ha Long Bay is in the middle but also refers to the entire area, and Lan Ha Bay in the south. Lan Ha Bay is in a different province than the rest of the bay so has different regulations for the cruise ships, and is much less traveled. For this reason, we went with the Era Cruise. Although I have to say we were never not in sight of other ships while out in the bay. I can only imagine how crowded the other bays get. They also gave us an incredible deal, almost half off the normal price if we booked through a travel agency. We could have found something cheaper, but not by very much, especially for a two night trip.
Our suite on the ship was fantastic! We had a huge bed, a Jacuzzi tub, and a private balcony with lounge chairs. We spent a lot of time on that balcony. The food was fabulous too! After we were on board we went to the dining room for a 6 course “light” lunch. We had a delicious mushroom & shrimp soup, shrimp cocktail with salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, sea bass over rice, and fruit and cake for desert. It was quite an impressive lunch. According to the scale in our room I had lost a bunch of weight so I had the perfect excuse to eat as much as I could. (Do cruise ships usually have a scale in the room? Seems like a good idea, and a bad one at the same time…)
The ship was fairly small as far as those mega, open-ocean going, Royal Caribbean type cruise ships go. It was 4 stories and had 20 state rooms, a restaurant, a sun deck, a spa, a small cinema, a coffee lounge, 2 bars, although the one on the sun deck was closed, and a fitness center. The boat was just over half full so there were a lot of empty staterooms. The ship towed a day boat that would shuttle people back and forth from shore if they didn’t want to kayak, or to and from the dock in the harbor. The staff was very friendly and accommodating too. Obviously, I would highly recommend Era or Signature Cruises.
That afternoon we went kayaking through a couple caves, to a private beach where we could swim. Howard and I had never been in a tandem kayak before and let’s just say we were out of sync. We are glad we have individual kayaks at home. I also stopped paddling a lot to take pictures. The huge lime stone cliffs rising out of the ocean are amazing. Photos do not do the scenery justice. We had beautiful weather too, not too hot or humid, but still plenty warm to swim and play in the water.
In the evening there was happy hour at the bar with a cooking demonstration. The cruise director, Lucky, performed some magic tricks, and all the guests relaxed and socialized. Later we stuffed ourselves at the buffet dinner then had cocktails delivered to our private balcony, where we enjoyed the ocean air. Madam Joy, the ship’s manager, had come by earlier to tell us the next day’s itinerary. We would go to shore and ride bikes to a village, have lunch on the day boat, and spend the afternoon kayaking or swimming on another private beach. We had the option to stay on the boat while it went to shore to pick up people for a 1 night cruise, but we said we wanted do the day’s itinerary.
When our alarm went off early the next morning, we had a different plan in mind. I slept like a rock but was so tired I couldn’t wake up. Howard had a night of insomnia and was exhausted. We decided to skip the activities on shore and hang out on the boat. We eventually made our way up to breakfast where we were served a giant bowl of pho, then a big plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and fruit for desert. There were some items on the buffet too. I’m not a big breakfast person but I managed to eat a piece of toast and some fruit. They also were serving watermelon juice, which is fantastic! I had several glasses. Howard ate all his breakfast food and most of mine.
We asked for Madam Joy so we could let her know we changed our minds and wanted to stay on the boat but she had gone ashore. We found Lucky and told him. We spent the rest of the morning lounging on our balcony, watching the limestone isles and fishing boats go by. I took a nap. Just before lunch we decided to wander around the boat. It was deserted, aside from us and the staff who looked at us weird. Did they not know a couple guests stayed on the boat? We wandered around the sun deck, tiptoed through the dining room as a few staff members were napping in the booths, and out to the bar on the back deck.
We looked for someone to asked if we could get a drink at the bar. We didn’t just want a drink, we wanted to make sure the staff realized we were still on the boat so we would get lunch. After we were served our drinks, the day boat pulled up with a new load of people for a one night cruise. We sipped our beers and waved hello as the new people were herded into the restaurant for their safety briefing. We got some funny looks. How are these people already on the boat? How did they already get cocktails?
After their briefing, we joined them for lunch. Again we were served the 6 course lunch-to-impress. Better than what the rest of the guests were having on the day boat. This time we had some slight variations in the lunch. The soup was a little different, but still delicious, we had tiny squid cakes instead of shrimp cocktail, teriyaki chicken instead of spaghetti, and a yummy little steak instead of the sea bass. The rest of the guests got the same lunch we had the 1st day, so again, we got some funny looks while we ate our special meal.
After lunch I took a nap. Howard tried, but had no luck. We went kayaking again in the afternoon. This time we had our rhythm down and did a bit more exploring, opting not to swim that day. We ended up back at the ship before the other kayakers and the day boat. The people from the first day were back on board by then. (About half of them had disappeared though. I guess their cruise was over.) They looked at us weird. Where had we been all day? At happy hour I explained we stayed on the boat and relaxed. They said the bike ride to the village was really pretty, but there were jelly fish (the kind you don’t want to be stung by) at the beach so no one swam.
We didn’t swim that day either but not because of jelly fish, because the water is somewhat polluted. It’s really sad. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a lot of trash and sewage ends up in the bay. Hanging out on our balcony we played a game, calling out what kind of trash floated by; a soy sauce bottle, plastic bag, small towel, I don’t want know what that is, a water bottle, Tupperware lid, a Styrofoam cooler that exploded, and so on. When we did go for a swim, I didn’t put my head in the water.
One thing I did put in the water, that I probably shouldn’t have, was my phone. I have a waterproof Samsung S7 edge. It’s about 3 years old now, but still working pretty good. I always take it kayaking with me. It was even on me when I swam to the bottom of Lees Pond to search for our lost GoPro. (Yes, I found it, and it even still worked.) Salt water however was not kind to my phone. It must have corroded something by the charging port because I couldn’t get it to charge anymore after a dip in the bay.
The day we got home from the cruise Howard spilled a drink all over his mouse and it died. Was this going to be one of those times when we loose a bunch of electronics all at once? It’s happened before. It’s how we lost the first game we ever wrote together, Goat Traders. On the same day a hard drive in our server, and one in Howard’s computer, went kaput. All my game files were only on the server because I was formatting my PC at the time. Just like that, everything related to that funny little game was gone. The day after the cruise I surprisingly awoke to a fully charged phone and Howard’s mouse had come back to life. Crisis averted, for now I guess.
Anyways, back on the boat, the third day of the cruise we sailed back to the harbor. Everybody was taken on shore and herded to a bus going back to Hanoi. Except us, of course. We waved goodbye to the crew and fellow guests, and wandered off down the street. I’m sure we got some weird looks one last time.