As the last part of the journey for John, we booked a 3 day, 2 night
tour to Halong Bay where we'd spend one night on a Vietnamese Junk and another night in the
Sunrise Resort on
Island. We had a hard time booking a tour for the days and time we wanted. Our first choice was with a tour group, Handspan, based on reviews and personal recommendations. However, they would not confirm our trip until there were at least another two folks registered. So we waited all day on Tuesday to find out if we'd be going with Handspan. As a second option, we booked through our hotel's tour desk and went with a company called Columbia tours. This tour was 20% more expensive than the Handspan tour but we were comfortable with that knowing that it would also be more luxurious. Given the trekking in Sapa and the long walks in Hanoi, we were ready to finish off John's travel with a nice relaxing few days.
Halong Bay is about 4 hours via car from Hanoi city where we boarded the Santa Maria with 10 other folks. Almost immediately we were
treated to an extensive, well prepared gourmet meal. What a treat to finally eat very well and feel good about everything that was prepared for us. After lunch we continued to cruise through the bay and gasp at the never limestone formations that climbed from the sea. We made one intermediate stop to walk through a well visited tourist cave (where we pushed along like cattle) before dropping anchor for the night in a "quieter" cove.
There was no entertainment on board so John and I passed the time playing more crib and enjoying a few Tiger Beers. The rest of the guests were either couples or family, except for 1 lone Irish traveler who stuck to himself. At dinner, it became evident that the crew thought John and I were also a couple. After dinner there was a brief party to celebrate one of the other guest's birthdays. Following dinner, most folks turned in for the night (it must have been (9:00) as there would be an early breakfast and then kayaking. John and I chose to play some more crib and have a couple more beers in the main indoor area of the boat. During this time
the 5 person staff watched TV and played with their cell phones. I can't believe how much TV they watch here and how widespread cell phone usage is. At one time the ship's captain was texting on two different cell phone simultaneously. Anyway...I digress...John spotted what appeared to be another bottle of rice grain liquor under one of the tables and we inquired about it. Our guide, Vins, told us what it was and asked if we'd care to try. Could this be a repeat of "Lavie" night in Sapa? We insisted that we'd only try if Vins also participated. After relentlessly trying to avoid saying he's already brushed his teeth (lame) he finally succumbed to peer pressure and we all enjoyed one shot - "Lavie".
Finally we went to bed. We had a modest cabin but the dual twin beds were the most comfortable beds I experience in all of Vietnam (save for the Marriott) and a restful night followed.
Following breakfast the next morning it was time to Kayak. John opted to continue his restful night and chose not to participate. I was then paired with Paul, the Irishman who not only had never been in a kayak, but really had no concept on how it worked nor how the two people are supposed to work together nor any capacity to learn. For the next 1.5 hours I'd try to keep my frustration bottled up and appreciate the natural beauty of Halong Bay. We paddled around, through, and under a few of the 3000+ limestone formations.
Upon returning to the ship, John, Vins, an American couple, and I boarded a smaller boat to continue on for day two while the others returned back to shore on the junk to head back to Hanoi. Our first stop one of the small Islands which were part of the 336 island Cat Ba National Park. To get to the shore, we actually transferred to a small, bamboo row boat where a very friend lady with a genuine smile rowed us to shore (or at least close to shore as her and I had to get out and pull the boat closer). At this point, we began a two hour trek through the jungle. Before we began, Vins said "Do not shake the trees as snakes or spiders may fall and to be very aware where you put your hands. Um hello, snakes would be my biggest fear...I don't need them failing on my head. So off we went into the jungle and it felt like Indiana Jones, very thick, very moist, lots of exotic sounds filling the air, and a few hundred km uphill and then down to complete the trek. Thankfully no snakes and at the end I asked Vins what kind of snakes are on the island. He informed us that it is the "Blue" snake which is actually a pencil thin green snake (go figure) that is quite poisonous. Luckily, he carries anti-venom in his fanny pack (which he's had to use on multiple occasions while guiding this particular trek).
After completing the trek, we boarded the boat and headed to a very small island for a beach side seafood lunch. No only was this very cozy for the four Americans but it was also the only time the sun truly came out during our Halong tour. Very fun and a great way to share the experience. After lunch we once again boarded the boat to head to our final destination for the night at the Sunrise Resort on Cat Ba Island. The resort was wonderful, very deserted, and quite relaxing. Guess what? John and I played crib and never really saw our new American friends Lisa and Tyson. Our set menu dinner was excellent.
The next day we rose early for a quick breakfast and taxi to the boat to begin our return voyage to Halong Bay city and, ultimately, Hanoi. We found out that Tyson proposed to Lisa the previous night and she accepted. How wonderful and a perfect setting for the occasion.
A long day's trip back to Hanoi to have final dinner and final farwell for John. His airport taxi has just left and now I begin the 3rd stage of my adventure...solo and off to Laos in the morning.
Source: Travel Blogs