Our travel group spent 2 half days and one night on La Vela Premium Cruise boat (1 day in Ha Long Bay rhymes better than 2 half days :)).
Before we arrived I’ve looked at some pictures of Ha Long Bay, and while the photos online looked amazing, over the course of our trip in Viet Nam I became convinced that there is no comparison to experiencing something first hand – in person. For some reason mine, and most other photos I’ve seen online of Ha Long, came out gray and gloomy, but in person we actually had a beautiful sunny day! I am not sure how to explain it, there must be some mystical fog.
We arrived on Monday afternoon, and were loaded onto a small boat, which took us to our cruise boat docked nearby. We were greeted with a wet hand towel (just like everywhere else we went, which was awesome since we were constantly sweating) and a refreshing drink.
After checking into our rooms, we were served a buffet lunch and set sail along the bay. There are almost 2,000 islands in the bay. Their legend is a bit cheesy, being that they are a product of a dragon, but their history is truly amazing. I just remember gazing at each island we passed and analyzing the shapes, the vegetation, the layers of descending water, the birds… And this was even before I listened to the A Short History of Nearly Everything. I’ve never cared too much for geology, but this place has certainly sparked my curiosity.
La Vela has several cruise boats and we were lucky enough to be on a brand new boat that just started sailing a couple of months ago. I have not stayed on the boat overnight before, but I never, not once felt the boat jerk. I had more motion disorientation from a 45 minute flight than I did on the whole 24 hour cruise. The team looking out for us was amazing. Bear Teddy was our chief crew and he was fantastic as was his whole team! For a second, or maybe the rest of the day, I forgot that I am not rich because I certainly felt like royalty and was well catered to.
The bathtub with the window view was absolutely AMAZING!
Amazing La Vela cruise team headed by Bear Teddy. I know! He was awesome!
After we had a few minutes to digest our lunch, we sailed to the TiTop Island. The island is named after a Soviet Union astronaut Ghermann Titov. Ho Chi Minh named the island himself to impress Mr. Titov during his visit to Vietnam in 1962. Now the island has a man-made beach where the tourists can swim and a viewing deck at the top that is designed to look like a pagoda. The hike to the top is challenging and sweaty, but only takes about 20 minutes to get up and the view is enjoyable! The water felt amazing after the hike, but beware of the jellyfish! I got stung and still have a burn mark almost two months later.
This lady was very eager to swim up to our boat trying to sell chips and beer.
Succeeding some swim lessons with the jellyfish, we came back to the boat. There was an option to kayak, but I decided to take advantage of the bathtub with a view and relax for a bit before the evening cooking class. Well… I relaxed a bit too much and came out to the group sealing the cooking class egg rolls with a shot of Vietnamese vodka. Whew! At least I didn’t miss the drinking, haha :).
When the sun started setting, I was in disbelief. I kept running around the top deck trying to take pictures of everything. The colors went from turquoise, to gold, to dreamy pink, then purple, and settled at the deep blue once the sun has passed over the horizon. Drinks and dinner were served, and if I didn’t have photos to prove that it was all real, I would think that it was just a dream.
The next morning we were awakened by the speaker system at 6:00 am for the morning Tai Chi. Waking up so early was not a problem because there are not a lot of distractions on the boat (WiFi only worked for some of us, and even then it was very spotty). There was no escaping the relaxation!
Once we were all stretched out and filled our bellies with delicious fresh breakfast, it was once again time to explore. This time we were taken to the Sung Sot Cave. The cave set up and the lighting were absolutely gorgeous! On the way to the cave we passed a local family that lives in the bay. Our guides explained that families used to live inside the cave, but were offered government assistance to move out.
Also saw a couple of stray dogs in the cave, which made me quite sad, since unlike humans, dogs can’t leave the cave island without a human assistance. There was a mini shop at the cave’s exit where you could buy cigarettes, alcohol, and ice cream. I bought ice cream for one of the dogs, but he ran away before I could give it to him… so I ate it.
One peculiar thing that I found annoying, is the fact that tourists were smoking inside the cave despite a multitude of signs instructing not to. But forget it and just focus on the beautiful views.
As always, all that is good must come to an end. We were given enough time to shower, have lunch, pack up and pay our bills. Until next time, Ha Long, or shall I say “So long, Ha long!”