Monday, December 21, 2015

Halong Bay

After several days relaxing in Hanoi, I moved on to Halong Bay.  I'd talked to several friends who'd been there and all said it was a highlight of their time in Vietnam.  I booked my trip on the "new" Swan Cruises.  I put "new" in quotes because while the company was new, the boat was not.  Not that it mattered - it was in good shape and very clean.

I was picked up at my hotel and joined the rest of the cruisers in a small bus.  Ironically the bus was identical to our school buses at Ayeyarwaddy International School.  We had plenty of room and the 4 hour plus trip gave us some time to get to know each other a bit.  It was an eclectic group of 3 singles, a few couples and ages ranging from early 20's  Our guide was friendly and helpful but not overbearing and didn't feel it necessary to talk the entire way to Halong.

I was looking forward to the drive to see a bit of the countryside but was a bit disappointed.  I saw very few scenes that made me want to yell "Stop the bus!" so I could take a photo.  We had one rest stop along the way for about 30 minutes.  The rest stop was a sign of what was to come.  The large store/toilet facilities were packed with others on buses to Halong Bay.

Let me say upfront that I took a lot of photographs.  None of them do justice to the sheer beauty that is Halong Bay.  The water is neither clear nor does it appear clean.  We were never in a place where we didn't have at least one (or 30) other boats in sight.  But it is amazingly beautiful.  Peaceful.  The kind of place that made me smile and feel like I could breathe a bit deeper.  Here are some of my very inadequate photos.
Before we get to the scenery of Halong Bay, check out this cup and saucer.  Notice anything different?  The cup holder is a bit offset so there's room for cookies.  Handy!

Our tour guide on the bus.

Unfortunately, that wasn't fog as we crossed the river leaving Hanoi.  It was smog.

Just a few of the other buses waiting for their tourists during our rest stop.

We took a small tender to the mother ship.  Seriously, that's what they called it.  I felt like I was about to be beamed up every time they said it.

I never even considered staying in the town where the boats dock for Halong Bay but would the next time I visit.  It's got an amusement park and they're building a very long suspended cable car route.

Once on the mother ship we were given bottles of water, cool clothes and greeted in the dining room for lunch and orientation.  There were no safety lessons.

A few of the other boats picking up passengers.  All boats are on the same schedule and go the same routes.  The only real difference is if you choose 1 night or 2 - and whether you want to spend that night on the boat or on Cat Ba island.  I chose 2 nights, both on the boat.  I was VERY happy with my choice.

We saw a number of new, modern hotels as we sailed off to Halong Bay.

My cabin on Swan Cruises.  It is considered a double.  One couple complained that it was too small but since most people only carried back packs with them I think it was fine.

The bathroom was both larger and nicer than I expected.  The shower was awesome - and had a great view of the Bay.  Of course, with all the neighboring boats, that meant everyone also had a view of you as you showered.

In case you are from a real mother ship, this is a toilet.

The water in the bathroom was fresh and had plenty of water pressure and hot water.

Beautiful views from my cabin.

The dining room was surrounded by windows.

Food on board was varied, plentiful and delicious.  One of the big differences among different tour companies is the quality of food.  The Swan was at the upper end.  They also accommodated those who didn't eat meat or seafood.

The views went on forever.

Our captain.

Just to prove I was actually there.  I was there in late October and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Another view from my cabin.  I was sitting on my bed, watching the karsts go by.

There were several opportunities for kayaking, which was included in the tour price.  Unfortunately, you had to kayak only with the group.

On the top deck there was ample seating.  Everyone gathered there at sunset and the crew provided snacks and beverages.

I don't know whose house this is but I'd like to live there.

Evening, as we pulled in to the area where all the boats anchor at night.

Hard to express how beautiful it was.

The chef put on a somewhat cheesy but fun cooking demonstration.

We found out the smoke detectors were in working order.  :)

I didn't get up for the early morning (6 a.m.) tai chi on the top deck but the view when I did get up was lovely.

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