May 27, 2016 5:27PM (JST)
I forgot that I booked the Ha Long Bay cruise starting on the 28th because I delayed one day in Myanmar since I loved that country so much. With last minute decision, I had to change the date from 28th (original booking date) to 29th. When I called the Ha Long Fantasea Cruises via the hostel phone, they somehow put my trip to 30th, which did not work accordingly. I was devastated so I promptly ‘tried’ to force the lady on the other side to get me a spot because I insisted that I already had a flight on the third day and could not make it if I went on the trip the next day. So I somehow convinced her and I made it through! So the good thing was that they arranged the vehicle very quickly and they picked me up 1.5 hour later. I woke up early that morning, expecting to be picked up at the entrance, so it was good that I made a call early in the morning, at around 6:30AM.
While waiting with my backpack sitting with me by the entrance after finishing eating pancakes for breakfast at the dining area in the hostel, I talked to a fellow traveler at soft linen bench outside by the entrance. I recognized her as a Canadian immediately because she was wearing a red McGill jersey, showing that she was attending McGill University in Montreal, which is a top 2 university in Canada and ranked 38th in the world by the Times Higher Education (2016). This shows that she is a smart girl, which did show me that she is indeed intelligent after I learned that she was accepted into top accounting (Big Four) companies. She was quite talkative. She informed that she was staying at the hostel for over a week because she had a Vietnamese friend in Hanoi who was an exchange student at her university the previous year. We promised to meet each other after I came back from Ha Long Bay.
At 8AM, the pickup person did not show up. A few minutes late was okay. As I observed other people going off to their destinations, I became restless. Even by 8:30AM, no one came. I still waited with patience, but angry at same time. Finally, a mini bus full of people came at around 8:45AM. 45 minutes was astronomical.
I talked to no one on the bus. They were many kids with a group of adults mingling in their own world. There was another solo middle aged woman sitting next to me separately by a single seat – seats for solo people.
The ride was supposed to be 3-4 hours. We stopped at a rest about 1.5-2 hours later for a 30-minute break. It was a souvenir shop. A very common thing among tour in Asia – at least which is how tour works in China and Japan. The shop contained various objects that are common in Southeast Asia: silk scarfs, paintings, etcetera. The most notable object was the glass bottle with cobra (I think) and scorpion. My mouth was probably open when I first saw it. I quickly brought my camera out and took photo. Two fellow Caucasians followed and also took a shooting.
After the break, we continued on our road. It was traffic but we still arrived on the expected time. I guess it was all planned since the beginning. I thought I was going with everyone else on the bus apparently not. Because I booked separately, I was on my own. The lady on the bus informed me that I was to join a different guide and group. I was sad because I thought it would be fun to have a large group. I later joined two couples – one (African-American) from France and another from the United States (I think?). They were shopping while waiting for me to arrive. The guide wondered why I arrived so late – well, because my bus arrived late, so had no choice.
Our ‘cruise’ was just like everything else – same size, same rooms. I have never spent my time on such grand ‘hotel’ before. The $175 cost or so I spent on this trip was quite pricey for a 3-day trip in Southeast Asia compared to individual trips that one can do on their own.
I was the only one with a backpack. The others, just like me, were on short vacation – for a week, just in Vietnam (if I recall), and had luggage. We were first introduced to our rooms after dropping our belongings. Just like a normal hotel room, the room was comprised of private bathrooms and double beds, with view of outside. After setting my belongings, since I was alone, I quickly organized and went up to the roof to relax. Others joined shortly after and waited for the ferry to depart the Gia Luan Pier.
Ha Long Bay was not that far. The famous limestone cliffs could be seen from the deck. The weather was very foggy and so, the water was not clear but grey. Apparently, it was common for the weather to be grey and it was rare to be blue. The pictures that I saw on the Google, just like everything else that we see online for attracting tourists, were too beautiful that attracted me to the Ha Long Bay in the first place, since I figured 2-3 days were probably enough for me to enjoy the bay.
Lunch was first served after we settled down at the roof relaxing. The lunch was grand. It was too much for just five of us. The lunch contained various high quality seafood (cuttlefish, shrimp, etc.) and beef, and of course, traditional Vietnamese vegetable dishes. It would cost a fortune if I eat back in my home country.
The first stop that the boat stopped at was the colorful caves named Sun Cot Cave. Although the cave is naturally formed, I did not enjoy it because there were too many artificial lights shone on the rock surface, creating hallucinations of different shapes. Also, there were just too many people in the bright cave that made it too touristy. My group of two couples said the same things, but the French seemed to enjoy very much. Both French couple and I spent about same time touring the cave, exiting after one another, while the other couple was very quick and was waiting for us for probably over ten minutes. Lots of Chinese people from Mainland China were at the cave. Totally understandable, since China was very close to the northern Vietnam.
After the cave, we went to Luon Cave area for kayaking where there were several kayaks of which people call home. Kids, adults, and even dogs were visible. I was excited to see locals living in their daily lives in harsh environment (at least, it seemed to me that way). The American couple, the French lady (the boyfriend did not join her but opted to stay on the deck to take photo of her), and I kayaked nearby. The French lady and I shared the kayak. We paddled around leisurely and took photo around, until it was time for us to go back where we just paddled toward the lone limestone rock in the middle of the water body. After 30 minutes or so, we went back since we were being called. The kayaking experience was not I was expecting because prior to my trip in Southeast Asia, I read online that it was possible to kayak through the cave where bats live. That was not possible due to the low water level, according to our guide, which I later asked.
Dinner was ready for us when we arrived on the boat. Just like lunch, the food was very rich. We relaxed for the rest of the day and noted that there was a party boat with lights next to our boat, as we could hear the music very clearly. Maybe it was one of the tour packages my hostel was suggesting – I wasn’t sure but it was definitely full of young people close to my age.
We slept early that night and hoped for another great adventure the next day.