Vietnam – Cai Lan, Halong Bay

Today was the best day we’ve had ashore on this cruise so far.  Everyone had a truly wonderful time.  Fred was in charge of the planning for today.  This is unusual, since I normally do copious amounts of research and planning; however, I’ve been really busy trying to catch up on the blog, so Fred was in charge.  He looked at a few websites & videos and in the end decided to leave a bunch of things until the very last minute.  When we got off the ship, we only knew that we wanted to see the sites in the bay and do some kayaking if we could.  I was a little anxious, but I’ve seen him work miracles before.  The man has a golden tongue and is a walking lucky charm!

Fred rode in front with the driver as we headed to the tour office near the marina.

When we first got off the tender (the small boats that take us to shore when the cruise ship is too big for the harbor), there were a few guys selling tours.  Fred talked to the very first one we saw, who just happened to be selling a tour for seeing the bay & kayaking (Fred’s luck never ceases to amaze me).  For about $260, we got transportation to the marina, a private tour of Halong Bay on a boat with just the four of us, a visit to Hang Sung Sot Cave, and kayaking.  It sounded like a great deal.

We all waited in the tour office, but were not sure what was going on since we weren’t greeted after being dropped off.
Is carb similar to crab?  I’m guessing it’s not low carb.  Sorry y’all.  I’ve been around Fred for too many years.

We were first brought to the tour office.  The driver simply pointed to indicate to us where to go and then dropped us off.  No one said a word to us when we walked in and we were just sitting there.  We assumed that someone would come and get us when the boat was ready, but we just didn’t know.  After about 10 minutes, Fred got up and told us to start walking out, so we did.  He said it was taking too long & then had a small argument with two people that worked there.  As we were walking down the street, the owner caught up with us.  He spoke great English and took care of us the rest of the day.  He walked us to the marina and got us situated on the boat, which turned out to be ready as soon as Fred complained.  The owner, Zoom, also promised us a great seafood lunch that would keep our dietary restrictions in mind.

Fred walks toward the marina with our new best friend, Zoom.

The boat itself looked like something I’d expect to see in Vietnam.   Of course, I’ve never been anywhere close to Vietnam before, but like any other American who has seen movies like The Deer Hunter and Platoon, I had certain imagery in my mind.  There were smaller fishing boats and barges, but most of the boats with tourists looked like this one.  Here are a few shots of the boat and others we saw in the marina.

Boats are lined up in the marina, ready to take tourists to see the sights in Halong Bay.
We had an entire boat to ourselves with a crew of three.
Fred irons out all of the details of our itinerary with Zoom before we board the boat.

The first part of the trip was just for sightseeing.  We cruised along the bay and took in the beautiful scenery.  I couldn’t stop taking photos.  It’s just postcard worthy everywhere you look.

Here’s a shot of the interior of the boat and our small crew.
Kayla and Kyle are quick to grab the offered sodas.
There were lots of junk boats on the water in Halong Bay.
a small beach we passed
Here’s just one of the stunning views we saw that morning.
…and another
I think I have thirty or more photos that look similar to these – and they don’t really capture the beauty as well as I’d like.

After about 5 minutes sitting in the main cabin, we realized that we could climb up the stairs to the top deck, which we did with alacrity.  It was a sunny day, but it was overcast, so it didn’t seem quite as hot as we expected.

Kayla chills out on the top deck of our hired boat.

It wasn’t more than 40 minutes before we reached Hang Sung Sot Cave, which turned out to be one of the better ones we’ve seen.  Kyle was really excited, since he’s got a long term project that he’s working on that takes place in a cave.  He’s been studying caves for the past two years or more.  Here are a few of the photos that we took at the cave.

Fred, Kayla, and Kyle are ready to explore Hang Sung Sot Cave.
the long walkway to get to Hang Sung Sot Cave
some of the vegetation along the walkway
The cave is full of really textured rock formations, which make for interesting photos 😉
We liked the lighting in the cave, since, for us, it didn’t distract from the space or the rock formations in any way.
Junk boats line up along the shore waiting as tourists explore Hang Sung Sot Cave.

When we got back to the boat, they took us on another short trip to an area for kayaking.  It wasn’t a very long ride, but we did see some interesting things along the way.

We passed this small fishing boat as we departed from Hang Sung Sot Cave.
Junk boats were packed together as we approached the kayaking area.

Once we arrived at the kayaking area, it was filled with so many boats that we squeezed in between two of them partway and then walked on someone else’s boat to get to the dock.

Fred waits for me as we get ready to walk through the boat on the left.  We just smiled at the people onboard.
Rowers wait to row tourists through the beautiful scenery.

We showed our tickets again and then were quickly outfitted with vests and paddles.  Fred and I got into one kayak and the kids were in another.  It was the perfect day to be out on the water.

Fred paddles us toward the first of two areas that lead beneath the rock.
Kayla and Kyle really enjoyed their time on the water.
We had to watch out for all of the other kayaks and rowboats.
Kayla and Kyle coming in from the hour-long kayaking session
a view of the dock with the kayaks and rowboats

When we were done, we brought the kayaks back into the dock and found our boat right along the dock, so we didn’t have to walk through someone else’s boat to get back on.  At this point, the crew had started setting up our lunch.  It was perfect timing since we had worked up an appetite from kayaking.

After an hour of kayaking, we were ready to eat some seafood!
Fred wasn’t thrilled with his chicken (to the right), but we really enjoyed the shrimp and the fried spring rolls.
…and the clams and the calamari and the steamed greens and the watermelon (not pictured)

Once we were done eating, we took the boat back to the marina.  On the way, we enjoyed the scenery yet again.

This is called Fighting Cocks Island, which we saw on our way back to the marina.
Kyle enjoys the top deck of the ship as we head back to shore.
We saw quite a few fishermen as we cruised along in Halong Bay.
There were plenty of souvenirs to be had at the marina.

Once back at the marina, Zoom was waiting for us to see how the day went.  We were really impressed with the entire experience.  We enjoyed our day so much, in fact, that we plan to do another private tour with his company tomorrow in Chan May.