Let me say something first about the bus transportation from Hanoi to Vịnh Hạ Long (Hạ Long Bay), a UNESCO world heritage site: the drive there was long, taking about four hours in one direction with only one pit stop along the way, and the ride was rather uncomfortable due to the narrow leg space. Luckily, I was seated way in front of the bus and could stretch out my legs. Still, it was pretty uncomfortable. Pity the poor guys at the back of the vehicle.
Anyway, we arrived at the Tuần Châu Club in Ha Long Bay slightly after half past noon, which gave us a few minutes respite to stretch our legs before boarding a boat that would take us to the V Spirit cruise boat. From the outside, the V Spirit did not look totally impressive but the rooms were spacious and the bathrooms were clean. The tour agency had even arranged for the four of us to occupy two adjoining rooms, so there was little to complain about. And because the weather at Hạ Long was good, the sea was smooth and the cruise boat was very stable. We hardly encountered the boat swaying in the waters of Hạ Long, even at night.
This was the dining room where we had all our meals. On our first day on board, we were served lunch and dinner but I can't say that the meals were memorable enough. In fact, one of the dishes they served us looked something like a peculiar version of chicken curry but it tasted weird even to our Asian standards.
The first destination at Hạ Long Bay: the grottoes or caverns at Hang Sứng Sốt, which were reached after a short climb up about 25 metres.
The entrance into the caverns. The second surprise was to come after you go in.
And this was the first surprise. The views across the bay from the entrance into the caverns were worth the effort of climbing alone, not to say that it was strenuous, which it was not. Now for a wondrous journey through the interior....
Impressive enough but more surprises were to come further into the cavern.
More wow! Truly an incredible sight. The colours came from some strategically placed lights throughout the caverns.
I had to dig deep among the 1,500-plus pictures to unearth this rare picture of the four of us together at Hạ Long Bay.
The pier at the other end of the Hang Sứng Sốt, where our boat was waiting to take us back to the V Spirit.
One of the many sampan ladies who eke out a living daily by trying to sell drinks and foodstuff to the tourists. Not many bought from them. Tough job.
Our next destination after the Hang Sứng Sốt. While my son went canoeing, we three went on a sampan ride.
We never expected that the lake on the other side of this cave would be so quiet and serene, but it was! It was so peaceful that when the boatman stopped rowing, every sound, every bird call, was clearly audible. We wished that the moment could last but soon, we were on our way through the cave again to the outside world.
As we approached the platform there were other tourists already waiting for their turns on the canoes.
Back at the platform, we saw this basket full of the freshest oysters. No doubt, we'd be having some of them for dinner!
The V Spirit cruise boat waiting for our return before the day ended.
It is to be noted that the bay where we dropped anchor was filled with other cruise boats too. The V Spirit was about the furthest from the rest of the boats and so, it gave us a good panoramic view of all the other cruise boats in the distance.
Should I mention that the 11th of May was also the last day of the English premier league? With little nothing else to do on board the V Spirit after dinner, some of us adjourned to the upper deck of the boat where our tour guide, Đức, had brought out his iPad and streamed in the Manchester City versus West Ham United game. I was a little curious how he could have streamed the match seeing that we were quite a long way from the nearest land at Hạ Long. Later, I was to learn that despite the distance from the shore, the Internet signal was still strong enough to stream in the signal. Sad to say, this puts Malaysian Internet broadband connectivity to shame anytime