Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Vietnam 2010

All aboard, me hearties!

Today was to bring about a complete change of scene, but for this to happen it meant a particularly early start: the alarm was set for 0600! We decided to go downstairs for a full breakfast and were surprised to find how busy the restaurant was already, with a high preponderance of tour groups. We checked out at 0745 and were met by an agent from the cruise line. I paid the balance of the fare, Bruce having previously coughed up a 50% deposit. Ahead of us lay a rather daunting four-hour minibus transfer to the coast. The good news was that we were first into the van and therefore had our pick of the seats. We collected another two people at the nearby InterContinental Westlake and a further four at a small hotel in the Old Town, none of whom were taking the same cruise as us.

It was a long and uncomfortable journey punctuated by periodic shifts of position in a forlorn effort to ease the numbing effects on the derrière. The driver was the most composed that I had seen since arriving in Vietnam; he didn't honk the horn once in the entire journey. Somewhere around the half-way mark, we had a 25min break at a large and busy handicrafts place, aimed squarely at tourists doing exactly what we were doing.

It was still a long way to go and I noted many times over that we were but one small part of an amazing procession of similar vans, all heading for the same place. We eventually arrived at Ha Long Bay and were ushered into a building to check in. In due course, we were transferred to our vessel Prince II by a small tender and shown to our tiny cabin, configured as a twin. Immediate impressions were that it was a nice boat, staffed by a remarkably young-looking crew. There were only four cabins, with two passengers in each: in addition to ourselves, there was a couple from Colorado, another from Paris and two English ladies related through the marriage of their respective children.

Many boats departed together, so it was comforting to know that our particular company specialised in sailings to a less crowded part of the outer bay. First order of business was an excellent lunch, during which the delicious food just kept on coming. Thankfully, each serving was relatively small. It proved to be a most agreeable way of serving a balanced meal - a delightful array of contrasting tastes and textures, with plenty of pauses in between. As would turn out to be the case throughout our cruise, we ate under a canopy on the otherwise open upper deck. This meant that as well as eating and getting to know each other, we could appreciate some wonderful and dramatic coastal scenery as it glided past. It was a shame that conditions were a little hazy, but perhaps that was better than excessively strong sun. (A second table was available in the bar downstairs in the event of inclement conditions, but we never had to use it.)

After lunch, we simply cruised along for a while, before stopping for a spot of kayaking. As it turned out, the Colorado couple were the only partakers; the rest of us stayed on board. I read for a while and, before long, it was G&T time. (Some traditions work just as well at sea as on shore! ) We had an excellent dinner on much the same basis as lunch and went to bed around 2115 after what seemed like a very long day of two distinct halves.

Monday 22 Nov

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