Friday, April 18, 2014

18 Expats & 2 Aussies

Day 13 & 14 Halong Bay

On our first visit to Hanoi in 2004 we ran out of time to do a trip to Halong Bay and it has been on our ‘must see’ list ever since.  We originally booked with Oriental Sales but Cham & Tien managed to snag us an upgrade to the Calypso.

The minibus collected us from the hotel about 8.15am and after a lap of Hanoi to collect more passengers we headed off on the very bumpy 3.5hr trip to Halong Bay.  The mid-way stop was another of those cynical ‘get-money-from-the-tourist’ traps with miles & miles of tacky (and expensive) souvenirs.

The 'highway' is being upgraded!
"I think this would look lovely in our courtyard ... not!"
This guy was trying to cross the highway....  hope the bus doesn't have to stop suddenly
The boat dock is yet another example of Vietnamese organised chaos as one cruise group comes ashore and the new outgoing group hits the water.  You clamber onto a transfer boat and are taken out to your ‘big boat’ for the welcome drink & check-in procedures before heading out into the bay.

Calypso - our cabin was directly above the name
We had 18 fellow passengers on our boat, and what an incredibly diverse group they were:

An English family (mum, dad & aunty) and their son who teaches English for the British council in Hong Kong (but who had also taught in Kazakhstan just prior to his HK contract)
An American guy with his Spanish girlfriend – living in Phnom Penh – he was a lawyer with the UN War Crimes court there and she was a graphic designer.

Two French brothers and the girlfriend of one.  One of the guys was a gem dealer in Zambia (having previously worked in the gem business in Colombia after starting life as a chef) His girlfriend was Zambian (of Indian heritage – stunningly beautiful and fluent in 5 languages!) who was working in Thailand as a jewellery designer.  The other brother was a photographer working for an advertising agency in Shanghai.

A group of 4 young poms - two couples – one couple were currently on a working holiday in Oz.  The other two were from Warwick where one of the guys was a design engineer for Aston Martin (and who gets to take them for a spin on week-ends!)
Two girls from Philippines but currently living in Singapore – one a travel agent and the other a designer for a large international architectural firm specialising in hotel and hospitality design.

A Malaysian girl working as a corporate travel agent in Singapore.
And us … the only Aussies and the only ones working in our country of birth.

The weather really wasn’t on our side – it was very hazy and visibility wasn’t great, but it is such an amazing place we can forgive the weather gods. 
The view from half way up to the 'Surprising Cave'

We putted our way round the islands before stopping mid afternoon in our ‘parking spot’.  From here we took the transfer boat (every cruise boat tows their own transfer boat) to one of the caves .. huge and amazing – and my photos do not do it justice!
This cave was huge!

Back to the boat for happy hour and a spring roll making class before dinner.   Dinner was another extravaganza  and then the choice of karaoke or squid fishing.  Most of us just sat round on the upper deck chatting.  We made a point of trying to sit with a different group of people each meal and just chatting was a lovely way to spend some time.
Not-quite-sunset but pleased I took this one .. our 'parking spot' meant a bloody great rock blocked our view of proper sunset

Look out Luke Nguyen!

Dusk on Halong Bay and the other cruise boats

The view from our shower


Breakfast at 7 before a kayaking trip through a natural arch into a beautiful lagoon area (and where I didn’t take the camera but absolutely could have/should have) Back onto the  Calypso for a lazy chug (and lunch) on the way back to the dock.
We kayaked through this arch (I wish I'd taken the camera because it was absolutely beautiful in the enclosed 'lagoon'

Another mad 3hr dash (with obligatory stop at a different ‘take-money-from-the-tourist’  service centre before being dropped of back at the Artisan Hotel a bit after 4pm.

So there we are, our 2 weeks in Vietnam comes to and end and we head for 4 days in Siem Reap.

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