Day 8 (To halong bay)
Our guide picked us up at pillow backpackers at 8.30 am and transferred us to a rather congested bus. In all, the tour group had about 15 people from multiple nationalities. Our guide informed us that the ride from Hanoi to halong bay takes 4 hours on average; a rather long one !. A rather chilled out guy, he explained the history of Vietnam along with food preferences, climate etc of the Vietnamese people. We were rather tired due to lack of sleep and just dozed off instead after 15 minutes. Midway though, he noted down the food preferences of everyone.(there were only 4 vegans). There was a pit stop on the way for tourists to freshen up. (Note that everything at such locations is highly over priced and catered to tourists only; a souvenir can cost as much as 5 times the nominal here). A highly disturbed sleep and 4 hours later, we were finally at halong bay. There are approx 700 boats in all at halong bay as told to us and April month is the off season; so fewer boats at the sea comparatively.
A small boat took us from the port to the main boat, the grand palace cruise ship. We were given a grand welcome with the staff dropping flowers on us as we climbed up the stairs. The restaurant located at the second flower had a bar but the over priced drinks was of putting. A cool welcoming drink followed by an introduction to the cruise by the captain improved my mood though. It was an over night cruise , followed by an early check out. The room keys were handed over but there was no time to rest ! ; we were expected at the lunch table in 30 minutes. A quick unpacking followed by a couple of shots of the upper deck and wallah ! lunch was served. We were joined at the table by other members, 2 medical students from Germany and another couple from England, Jaime and Sarah. Jaime worked at Rolls Royce and a discussion on Tesla’s latest electric vehicles line served as a quick ice breaker. A lot of the conversation at the table was simply around the difference in culture of wherever each of us was from. The food was fantastic and all credits to the chef to have prepared a fantastic meal on board a not so large boat at sea.
An hour of lunch and our guide requested all of us to assemble quickly in 20 minutes time to depart for the ‘Ti Top Island’, our first sightseeing stop within halong bay.
Nestled within the multiple lime rock formations was one which stood out; it had a viewing station at the top ! The name Ti Top is named by the most respectful hero of Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh, after the Russian astronaut German Titop on the occasion of his first visit to Halong Bay in 1962. There are about 400 steps which lead to the top to the viewing station. It was very crowded on that day; how crowded? Well, it took us about 35 minutes to reach the top. A single continuous line of people all the way to the top.
There is a resting spot at the 200th step for the ones who uninterested in admiring an awesome view of halong bay from the top. And a view it is !! . The only dampener though, as obvious , was the cloudy weather. A bit of mist would have been nice but that too was missing. Regardless , it was still something to remember for a lifetime.Another 20 mins of trek down and we regrouped with the rest.
Next up was kayaking in halong bay !. Wow. As much as we wanted to, prevailing better sense prevented us from our phones/ dslr’s for kayaking. After regrouping at the main ship, another small boat carried us to the kayaking spot located 5 minutes away. As such it was just another island with a couple of people and kayaking boats. We were helped on to the boats by the helpers and off we were !
This was my third kayaking experience overall and the best one yet. The scenery was amazing, weather cool and the water warm. Me and Karthik synchronized our rowing and overtook most people even though we had started last in the group. There was pieces of plastic trash and we did hope that the Vietnamese government take steps to maintain the pristine waters of halong bay.Half hour of kayaking and we decided to re trace the route; after only 45 minutes was the actual allocated time. Overall it was tiring but wonderful.
Next up, a quick dip in South China Sea. Our guide gave the daring ones (ones who knew swimming i.e) in the group 15 minutes of time for quick dip in the sea. It was long time since I had swum but Karthik though jumped right in and so did sarah and Jamie. I wore a life jacked and followed them; I wasn’t going to miss on this once in a lifetime opportunity! A quick swim around the boat and it was done; what a wonderful way to end the evening’s activities.
By the time we reached the cruise ship, our dinner was already ready and we asked to assemble in 15 minutes of time. Well, by this time, folks familiar with each other had already ‘grouped’ and we sat at the exact same location as during lunch. The food served again was excellent and dinner time conversation was mostly around the awesome day at halong bay. At the dinner, we had to make a difficult choice, karaoke or just chill on the upper deck. Pretty much no one wanted to stress their voice, everyone headed towards the deck, and it was happy hour on deck as well! A beer, cool wind and reclined seat; what more can one ask for.( Well a starry night would have made it perfect). We spent almost an hour just taking shots of everything we could. Most Just relaxed on the deck with a beer in hand. At 10.30 p.m or so , we decided to hit the bed.