This evening we headed off to the water puppet theatre, not really knowing what to expect. It was really enjoyable, even though we couldn't understand the commentary (we maybe could have got translation head phones) we could get the gist of the story. We had front row views which was really good. They are very talented and it was a fun evening.
Wednesday 13.9.23 - Day 1
Ha Long Bay - the pearl of Vietnam, we are really looking forward to this 5 star, 3 day relaxing cruise on the majestic Ha Long bay. We were collected from our Hotel in Hanoi in a Limousine bus that only carried 6 people, so a pretty comfortable 2.5 hr ride to Ha Long town. Arrived at the "Aqua of the Sea" dock and soon transferred onto a charter for a 20 min ride into the bay to get out to the ship.
Once boarding the ship we were ushered into the dining room for a buffet lunch.
Our room was on the first of 3 floors at the front of the ship - same level as the dining room, so we didn't have to go far for dining. The room was pretty nice, the beds are super king size, and the bathroom was nice, but why do many bathrooms have no hooks to hang a wet towel? There was a nice big bath, but one was soon to realise there would be no time to use it!! The room had a lovely balcony that was peaceful to sit on and watch the scenery go by.
After lunch we were given about 30 - 40 minutes to prepare for the first activity of kayaking and swimming in the bay. This was fun, getting up close to the tall limestone out crops. After a few hours we headed back to the ship and given about 1hr free time to get ready for happy hour - buy 2 get one free!!, and a cooking class of making spring rolls - I did actually learn something. Then dinner at 7.15PM. Dinner was very nice, however there was about 5 courses of fish dishes - Rob was fished out by the end of it. On a 5 star cruise, the only free drink was water! So you had to buy even juice.
After dinner the entertainment was none other than what ALL Vietnamese love to indulge in - Karaoke, or squid fishing off the ship - which I discovered you were unlikely to catch any as it was the wrong season!
Rob and I chose to retreat to the room for a little solitude on the balcony to watch all the lights on the bay from other ships.
Thursday 14.9.23 - Day 2
You could get up at 6am to join a Tia Chi lesson at sunrise, this was not announced over the loud speaker so others could sleep in - too cloudy so no sunrise to see, so thought we would sleep in. NO - we were nicely woken at 6.15am with the sound of clanging chains pulling up the anchor to start cruising, and then over the loud speaker at 6.30, that the one night cruisers were to get ready for breakfast as their activity headed off at 7.15am.
Every day the cruise takes on new passengers and it was an ever revolving 1 or 2 night cruise.
As we were on the 2 night cruise we could wait to 7am for breakfast as our activity began at 8am, which involved getting on a smaller charter boat and cruising on the bay for about an hour which was nice to see the rock formations, and it was raining off and on so at least you were sheltered on the boat, then we visited Viet Hai Village, Cat Ba Forest Biosphere Reserve 11 - as it was raining this was very unimpressive, basically we were collected by an electric car with the sides pulled down due to rain so you could not see anything. Stopped at an open café where we could get a cold coffee, and there was a pond with "pedicure" fish that people experienced - we didn't! A sample of some more snake wine, and an explanation of where we were, which it was so noisy and crowded our guide asked another tour guide to move on!. Then we were taken to see a school which, they seemed to be most proud of, so not sure what the Forest Biosphere Reserve is really about!
We were then ushered back on the tender boat for a buffet lunch of more fish. There was a stuffed crab that Rob kindly said I could have both 😊. After lunch there was a lot of sitting around with a little rain and us wondering what to do. Then we discovered the crew upstairs having their lunch and we were meant to be relaxing before doing more kayaking. Any way off in the kayak again, we were able to kayak into a nice bay where boats couldn't enter. Once back on the tender we headed off to a small beach to swim, among the many other beaches that were occupied by other tourists. After a very long day out we got back to the ship at about 5pm and invited to a repeat of the last evenings events. This 5 star cruising is tiring stuff! We skipped happy hour & cooking demo to enjoy a little solitude on the balcony of our cabin with the only included in the price sachet of coffee from the room. Dinner again at 7.15pm - tonight's meal was actually really enjoyable. After dinner entertainment was a "rinse and repeat" from last night, so we again retreated to the room, having to listen to terrible karaoke drifting down the corridor.
Friday 15.9.23 - Day 3
The morning schedule was the same as yesterday - except I did get up at 5.30am and saw a peek of sun through the limestone peaks to get a couple of quick photos of sunrise. Rob and I sat on the balcony for a short while before breakfast discussing what day it was! So we must be relaxed 😉
Our tour today was the early one at 7.15am, a visit to the "beautiful" Trung Trang Valley and Cave - the largest valley on Cat Ba Island. The valley covers an area of approximately 300 hectares, has a depth of 10m to 30m and is around 15km in the middle of Cat Ba National Park. Trung Trang Cave measures 300m lengthwise through the mountains. The cave was carved by nature for more than 2000 years. The cave has many stalactites that take on various shapes that will awe and inspire visitors to use their imagination.
This was a short 5 minute tender ride from the ship to the dock, we all piled onto one of many buses, drove 20 mins, hopped off to climb about 50 steps up the entrance of the cave, which you enter in one end and exit at another, we were first in the queue behind the guide, and we were almost running to keep up with him!, no time to stop and admire the unimpressive stalactite structures - especially if you have seen the caves in the south west of Australia! Back on the bus, to get back to the tender and on the ship for a quick shower and buffet lunch before dis-embarkment, and head back to Hanoi.
So, what I enjoyed about Ha Long bay 5 star cruise - the scenery was really pretty, even with the rain, it gave it a mystic like atmosphere. However, I think Thailand's Phang Nga Bay limestone out-crops are a little more impressive. The room was really nice, and sitting on the balcony watching the view was magic. The bed was like sleeping on a big fluffy cloud. The food had some nice choices, and the service from the crew was top notch. What we weren't impressed with - you had to pay for all non-alcohol drinks, even tea and coffee, the day activities went for too long and it would have been nicer to spend a little more time relaxing on the ship.
Is 5 star worth it - I'm not sure!