Amazing Vietnam Day 3: Halong Bay, A Dream Come True

Visiting Halong Bay is one of my dream... time to make it true! 

27 September 2013
As suggested in our tour programme, we prepared a light-packed travelling bag only and simply left our big luggage at Aranya Hotel bcoz we'll back here after the trip. Again, the same-with-last-night hospitable lady helped us for this matter. She gave us a small coupon as a proof of deposit to take our luggage tomorrow. Everything went smooth, and we were ready for the journey!

We sat on lobby's couch, waiting for a bus from Alova Cruises. We saw some tourist buses came and picked up another tourists, mostly for Halong Bay trip. Well, tourism business runs very well here! Around 15 mins later, a man came to the receptionist asked for my name. Yup... he's our tour guide, finally! He briefly introduced himself as Hung, our tour guide from Alova Cruises, then sprightly helped us to handle our travelling bag into the bus.    

The bus has around 25 seats in total, 2 seats on the left side and single seat on the right. Luggages placed at front part of the bus, also took some front seats, but luckily there was an empty front row on the left for my mom and I. Looked like that spot was reserved for us -by faith.. yeah! The bus continued to pick up some other tourists after us, still in Old Quarter area. It was an additional thing for me to drive between the narrow lanes packed with many shops on both sides. Through bus' window I saw the busy morning in Old Quarter, and it is a daily routine over there. Interesting!

Once all participant were gathered on the bus, Mr. Hung introduced himself one more time. His name should be pronounced as "hong", differently with its spelling, bcoz it has different meaning. Psstt.. I won't tell you that if his name mispelled as hung, it means "moon" which is not suitable for a man, you know… *big grin*. Like another Alova's tour guide, he has a nickname "Ticket" as he will be the one who responsible for our ticket during the trip in Halong Bay. Confused? A lil', but he said we'll understand later. Right after that, Hung collected our passport while explained that he would only borrow it for a while to copy our data. It's a standard procedure that all passenger's data should be reported to the company. To held an overnight cruise, a cruise company should make report to about 17 departments (government) to get the license. Whew, kinda complicated eh?

Hung spoke a lot during the trip; stories and facts about Halong Bay, Hanoi, also daily living of Vietnam people. Glad that we're sat close enough with him, so we could clearly hear what he said. He spoke English well, but his local accent forced me to always listen carefully of what he said. Sometimes I need extra effort to understand the whole meaning of his words. Moreover, he has good knowledge upon his country, he told informations in clearly and straight forward way, and also tried to be communicative to everyone. Yeah, right as he said that his 16 years of experience as a tourist guide turns the profession into his passion.

Here are some informations about Halong Bay:
- 1962: 'Renowned National Landscape Monument' by Vietnam Tourism Authority. 
- 1994: UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO
- 2012: New 7 Wonders by New 7 Wonders Foundation
- Member of Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World

The Legend of Halong Bay
In ancient Vietnamese, Halong literally means “descending dragon” and it is originated from a legend of this ancient land. The legend says that during the old time when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. Feeling sorry for the country, The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth to help ancient Vietnamese people defend the country. While the mighty enemies were attacking the main land, The Mother Dragon and her children suddenly appeared and incinerated the enemies with their divine fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered around the battlefield on the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall that left enemy battleship fleet sinking. Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were finally swept away and the peace finally came back the South East Asian country once again. 
After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes. After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children didn’t come back to the heaven, but stayed in the mortal world and turned into human form and help people planting, cropping, raising cattle, reclaiming, and expanding the country.

To remember the help of Mother Dragon and her children, the people live there from generation to generation name the bay where the Mother Dragon descended “Ha Long or Halong” and the bay where her children descended “Bai Tu Long”, which means “Thanks to the Dragon’s children”. This legend is also a part of the general belief that Vietnamese people's has Dragon's origins.
Source and more informations:

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is officially protected from development, that's why we cannot use credit card to pay our expenses nor have wifi on board. Only 5-star cruises have those facilities as they use satellite connection. So, better prepared with cash to pay all ur extra expenses on board.

According to Hung's info, it was 160 kilometres drive from Hanoi to Halong City, and we gonna pass 4 cities and 5 towns before finally reach Hay Phuong Port. Around 10.30 am we stopped at a rest area (government owned) to stretch the legs and shopping if we want. Yup, this is a big souvenir shop that provides wide range of Vietnamese products, from huge stone carvings, assorted crafts, garment, and snacks. They also have a workshop as tourist attraction

Around 12 o'clock, the bus arrived at Hay Phuong Port. It was not a week end day, but the port seemed quite busy at that time. We walked to the left side of the building until near the entrance gate. Hung asked the whole group to wait there while he bought the ticket for us. Aha, that's a chance for photographers to take some pics, including me.

Hung came with our tickets in his hand. He gave one to each participant then we queued to enter the boarding gate. After we passed the gate, Hung collected our ticket again. He would save them as we gonna use the same ticket to enter the island and cave. Ah, that's why he got the nickname Ticket! Got it?

The ticket!

We boarded to a tender, this is a small boat with top cover (roof) which carry us to the cruise junk. A tender could occupied about 20 pax with some crew. Life jackets available on the ship and all passengers must wear it as safety standard. It took less than 10 minutes to reach the cruise ship. We boarded to the ship and sat on the dining room. We got the welcome drink then Hung introduced Mr. Luu Dinh Muoi, the cruise manager of Alova Gold Cruises, who will accompany us during the cruise. After the toast, Hung distributed the room keys and continued with some briefings. 

Mom and I got the room number 6 which located just few steps away from the dining room. Haha.. that's an advantage for us! *wink* We entered the room and "observed" it as usual. 

Our cabin located at 2nd deck so it served a better view than the rooms below. When we opened the window, sea breeze came in and brought fresh air. Love it!

View from our cabin before departure
Soon after, we remembered our bags were still out there. I went out to find them and saw Mr. Muoi in front of the bar. He asked if I need some help and I said I was looking for my bag. He said all bags were put in front of the ship and immediately led the way there. My bag was a bit covered under a bigger bag at the corner. Mr. Muoi didn't let me brought the bag by myself and dropped it to our room. Well, that's small thing but honestly I impressed… thank you, Sir!

Lunch was served in minutes, and all passengers sat down around 2 long tables. While we enjoyed the food, Hung shown us a view on the left side of the ship. There are 2 rocks stand on the sea that known as the icon of Halong Bay. We could see those 2 rocks as different "figure" when the ship moves from one side to another, from kissing chicks become the fighting cocks. Of course we need imagination to see the "figures".

I wasn't in a good position as I "trapped" in the dining table and chairs so I could not quickly move outside. I hated myself for losing the chance to capture those view. Oh c'mon.. that's the "icon" of Halong Bay and I could only saw it without taking any single pic. Sad!! 

Ok, here I grabbed a pic of The Fighting Cocks so you can see it too.
Source: from Tripadvisor

Our lunch was quite delish and complete from pork, beef, fish, squid, cucumber salad, and tropical fruits, but we had to pay more for the drink. Yes, we have to buy it! The company would even charge us if we bring our own drink to the dining table. Good way to sell the drink, eh?

We had free time after lunch while the ship heading to the next destination. I explored the ship and spent the most at sundeck to take photos. Oh Halong Bay, wherever we see, rocks everywhere!

And here are some part of our Alova cruise ship…

Sun Deck
Dining Room

We moved to the tender again and transfered to Ti Top Island.  Before we reach the island, I saw a small building on the top of the island. It looked so high… hmm, a challenge! 

See those small building on the top?

Upon arrival, Hung gave short explaination about the name of this island.

On November 22, 1962, this tiny island had the honor of receiving a visit from cosmonaut Ghermann Titov, a hero of the former Soviet Union, accompanied by President Ho Chi Minh. To mark the significance of their visit, Uncle Ho named it Ti Top Island. The island is a very popular stopover for visitors cruising Halong Bay. The beach on the island takes the shape of a half-moon crescent encompassing half of the island. A bit small though it might be, it wins kudos for its quiet and airy atmosphere, its clean white sand and clear waters, as well as its alluring landscape. The beach is ideal for swimming nearly year round, as even in winter the water temperature is still a pleasant 65-70 degrees F. However, perhaps the island’s real attraction is the pagoda-styled lookout point its peak.

For those who cannot or don't wanna make every effort to reach the top, first stop terrace is enough to enjoy different sight of Halong Bay -at least you see it from above, although not too high. My mom did, bcoz she had problem with her knee joints so better not push too hard. Here's view from the terrace, about half of the island's total height. Not bad, isn't it?

We love Halong Bay!

If you dare to strain your feet to reach the top, all of your pain and sweat will be paid off with stunning 360° bird's-eye view of Halong Bay. No words needed, just enjoy it with your eyes and let your heart soar!

Don't forget to take a pic of yourself here! I did it also, but unfortunately with those sweats and tired-looking face after climbed about 10 minutes (didn't count how many steps). I saw tourists who went alone helped each other to take photo, then I did the same.

We spent about 2 hours on this island. Beside the viewing points above, Ti Top island has a nice white sandy beach that favored by tourist. Some participants from our group were swimming on the beach -or sunbathing- while some others chose to enjoy the beach under the tree shades, yup.. that's me!

We sailed back to the ship and saw a floating fishing village afar.

I also saw a "floating home" passed by. It's a boat where the fisherman live (fisherwoman in this photo). She do everything on the boat -everyday.

Hey, there were also floating sellers!
I remembered that Hung already informed us on the bus, if we bought product(s) from this seller, the company would even charge us extra "tax". Dunno how's the mechanism, but better avoid them.

Once arrived back to the ship, we got prepared for kayak session. I was super excited for this activity. I'm a first timer, of course, and cannot swim! But I wasn't scare at all.

One kayak can occupied 2, and Hung suggested for the first timer should be accompanied by an experienced one (at least not the same first timer). Hung volunteered to bring my mom with him, so I didn't need to worry her. Now I had no companion, but then Mr. John agreed to accompany. He's an Australian tourist, middle aged man that look experienced, and I was right! He became a good coach of mine, taught me from holding the paddle correctly, how to paddle forward, then turn left and right. Soon I felt like an expert -in my own opinion *super big grin*. I thought we're just gonna paddled around the ship, but Hung  led us a bit far. Thru a low rock gate called Luon Cave, we entered kind of a lagoon surrounded by rocks. Some monkeys roamed between the trees and even cliffs, but only at one part from all rocks around. I wasn't fast enough to capture their pic as they ran away when we came closer. As the first group entered here, we could privately enjoy its peacefully-calm ambience, it's like a piece of heaven on earth!. We left the place once another tourist groups started to fill up this "big pool" (and monkeys were totally disappeared, for sure).

Out from Luon Cave, Hung led us back to the ship, but my coach took me somewhere else for a while. It started when Hung shown him a fisherman's boat catching fish faraway there, and Mr. John obviously wanted to go there. We diverged far enough from the group and founded the fisherman did nothing, no fish catched. Oh yeahhh.. thanks for the afternoon exercise, coach!

Mr. Hung brought my mom safely during the kayak trip
Thanks to my coach, now I know how to paddle on a kayak

Embarked to cruise ship again, it was sunset time. I ran to sundeck to catch the-one-and-only sunset moment at Halong Bay (as I stayed for one night only). Here're the best pics I could captured, due to our ship's position. Yeah, that's far enough from a perfect sunset I expected, but no problem!

We had free time again while waiting for next activity. Most passengers took a bath then have their own way to relax. I tried to play with the camera again on sundeck, but didn't really produce good night photos.

About 6.15 pm, Hung called all participants for cooking class. It was spring roll we gonna made, the very famous Vietnamese dish. Hung explained the complete "story" about spring roll, from its skin, content, and the dipping sauce. Participants didn't need to write down the recipe b'coz Hung said they gonna send it later by email (and it really sent, you may check here). 

Together, Hung and the chef demonstrated the step-by-step of making a spring roll, then it came to our part: wrapped the spring roll. For my mom and I, it wasn't a big deal, just a piece of cake! Some westerners looked excited, but a craft like this was kinda hard for their big fingers.. haha..

Finished with spring rolls, we had another free time while waiting for dinner. Mom and I chose to go back to our room and enjoyed the air-con inside.. ahh, heaven! *sleepy mode on*

Around 7.30 pm our dinner seemed entirely ready.. and here's our sumptuous dinner, a seafood party! Presented nicely with vegs carvings, their taste were also delish, especially the seafood. Prawn cocktail, stuffed crab, fried calamari, oh so yummy!

Remember the spring rolls that we made in cooking class? They came in different look! Deep fried with crispy skin, cut into 2, and arranged around nice "pineapple lantern" created from a whole pineapple. It's simple yet very creative idea.

We closed the nite with squid fishing, an optional one. Some passengers were interested to try their luck to catch the squid, but no one succeed. I myself wasn't gain appetite to try it, so I just watched for a while then went back to our room.

For me, took a bath is my "closing" activity before hit the sack. Our worse luck, there was a cockroach in the bathroom! Yayyy.. I HATE those nasty insect!!! Thankfully my mom could kill it before it ended up at the bedroom. Oh Alova, you need to improve the hygiene more.

Good nite!

Read the next day: Amazing Vietnam Day 4: Halong Bay and Night Market

Back to previous day: Amazing Vietnam Day 2: Explore Hanoi


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