Bay of Islands
27 Sep 2019
|Fri 27th Sep
We slept well last night, despite sleeping on a rock. Up early to pack and check out. We leave our large bags at the hotel, and only take a couple of bits for overnight on the boat, we will be staying here again tomorrow night. We have been told to have a big breakfast because it is a long bus ride to Ha Long Bay, a good four hours. We are told we will stop on the way for cheap food and drink, as at Ha Long Bay everything is very expensive. There are a few from the hotel going on the tour with us, in all about thirty people on the mini bus. We are the only kiwis, joined by a few Aussies, Vietnamese and Indians. Seems a like good crowd, a couple of families with young babies, and another couple with older pre-teen kids. Hot, humid and smoggy again today.
After a couple of hours travel we stop at a factory that employs disabled and disadvantaged people to make lacquer work, embroidery, sew clothing, etc. The prices are quite expensive by Vietnamese standards, with an A4 size embroidery selling for around $NZ100, and another large wall hanging for over $NZ2000. We are sceptical as to how much the workers get paid. The name of each artist is on the back of each piece, and we are told they get 65% of the sale. Hmmmm?
There is a huge grocery section, and the prices are very high compared with downtown Hanoi. If these prices are cheap compared to the Ha Long Bay, we hate to think what the prices there will be. We don’t buy anything here, we should be able to get by with what is given to us on the boat.
A couple of hours later we are at Ha Long Bay (Ha Long means descending dragon), and contrary to what we had been told the prices here are not so expensive, well not when compared with the place we stopped at on the way. We are disappointed at how hazy it all is, the islands that we are sailing to are lost in the mist. We cannot tell if it is mist or smog either, but the haze has been with us all the way from the south. We hope it is more weather related, rather than smog.
Our guide, Peter, bundles us into a tender, and we sail all of 300m to our “luxury” cruise ship. It is a bit of a stretch to use the word luxury, but it wasn’t a dive either. Why we had to sail along the few metres we could have easily walked, we are not sure, maybe it was to get us used to using the tender? The tender pulls up to the side of the boat and we are welcomed aboard. Upstairs we are given a glass of iced tea, and rooms are allocated. We paid an extra US$30 to upgrade, we think that meant we got a balcony on the second deck, and later we find out that the other bathrooms had a shower and toilet in the one small room. The room is nice, a big king size bed, with a topper on the mattress to soften the bed (yay!). Strangely, the bedcovers are two large covers, one for each of us, and they overlap in the middle. Tony is pleased that Cynthea cannot steal his covers, haha. Not that we need covers, it is hot enough as it is.
There is a bottle of local red wine on the bedside table, and we have to check if it is complimentary or not. Turns out it is a wedding anniversary gift, how wonderful. Also in the room we have a shower, hand basin and toilet, with an open bucket (no lid!) in which to put toilet paper. They could have put a lid on it, bad enough having to use a bucket! When we used it, we ended up folding the plastic liner over to keep the smell down, and left the extractor fan going all the time!
We were served lunch as we get under way, Tony had told them he was allergic to all seafood (not just shellfish), and mushroom and coriander were also on the list. Much easier to say he is allergic, because if he just says that he doesn’t like it they don’t care as much. Lunch is several courses, and whenever seafood is dished up, Tony gets his own special dish. The servings of the meals seem a bit mickey mouse, we seem to get the same amount on a dish for six adults to share, as the table of two adults and two kids next door. But we don’t go hungry, especially Tony, as the individual servings he gets are bigger than those that the others have to share. Drinks are offered at the table, but we don’t get told the prices. We investigate later, and the prices are very dear, no $1 beers here. Some had brought their own, we didn’t know we could have done that, and would have been tempted (but then there is no fridge in the cabin).
There are a lot of limestone islands in the bay area, 1969 of them! On Bo Hon island is the world heritage Sung Sot cave, or Surprising cave. While we are waiting to go up we see a massive hairy caterpillar, bright yellow, not sure what it will turn into. We have a steep climb to the entrance, they reckon only 50 steps, pffttt! The cave has two chambers, and is about 10,000 square metres. The path is about 500m long through it, about 30m high in the main chamber. Having seen some pretty amazing caves at home, we were blown away by the size and beauty of this one. It takes us about 40 minutes to walk through, there are quite a few people visiting, but it is not feeling too crowded. One rock looks like a turtle, and people have let money there around it. Another rock looks like a penis with a couple of balls, it is pointing to hole in the rock opposite, and they have shone a red coloured light on it, haha.
As we take our tender back to the bay we spot a boat that appears to be on fire, one similar to that which we are staying on. We tell our guide, who phones the captain, and is told all is under control.
Our next stop is at Ti Top island, where can swim at the beach, or climb the hill to the tower at the top. In 1962, this tiny island had the honour of receiving a visit from astronaut Ghermann Titov, a hero of the former Soviet Union, accompanied by President Ho Chi Minh, who named the place Ti Top Island. It is now a beach for tourists and has various of tourist services. The path to the top of the hill is only 400 steps we are told, it will only take 15 minutes up. Yeah, heard that before. Cynthea decides to go for a swim, Tony wants to see the view. He didn’t count the steps, but there was a lot of them, and it was a steep climb, and very uneven. The steps varied in height between high and low, and some on tight corners could only be used if you stood sideways. Even with a short break half way up it only took the 15 minutes we were told to expect, a pleasant surprise! At the half way lookout we stop to catch our breath a bit, and check out the boat fire. It is well ablaze, and we figure there is no saving it. We just hope everyone got off (they were likely to be visiting the caves, or swimming anyway), and that not a lot was lost in the way of possessions.
The view from the top is stunning, and we are bombarded by massive dragonflies that are hard to photograph, they move so quick. We all notice the lack of bird song here too, only one or two birds so far as we can tell, and that is common throughout the country side, everywhere we go here.
Back down at the beach Tony joins Cynthea in the warm water. We try to figure out where the bubbles in the water are coming from (never did figure that), and are a little concerned at the quality of the water. There is a film on top, and it feels greasy on our skin. There is a bit of rubbish floating around, though not as much as we had expected, and surprisingly very little in the way of fish. Something brushes by Tony, it looks like a big centipede, and it soon swims, or floats, off, so we don’t get a proper look at it. Tony didn’t really enjoy the swim, and is looking forward to a shower when we get back to the boat. The locals are playing soccer on the beach, they really love the game, but it is corrupt – the score is often known before the game has even started!
When we get back to the boat, Peter announces pre-dinner drinks (Sangria) on the top deck, but we rush off for a quick shower first.
Dinner is several courses again, just like at lunch. The food is great, and they take care to make sure everyone gets food they enjoy, as well as care for those with allergies. We have the bottle of wine that they gave, but have to drink it out of margarita glasses, so funny.