Continuation from Nicola’s Journey Back to Italy – Sapa, Vietnam
Halong Bay trip is not cheap. The mid-range price for a decent cruise was around USD400 for two nights. As a budget conscious and an adventurous person, I thought of spending three nights at Cat Ba island, where we can take a day or two trips to Halong Bay, or the surrounding bays from there. But with limited days, the luggage, transportation and such, that would be too much a hassle.
After checking all reviews, we opted on either Dragon Pearl or Signature Royal Cruise. I contacted Oriental Central Hotel, the hotel we’ve booked in Hanoi, on whether they have a package deal. The tour consultant came back and offered a tour with Signature Royal, which includes a van transfer to Halong City and a complimentary transfer to the airport.
The luxury van transfer from Hanoi was smooth and we reached Halong City after three and a half hours. We were warmly welcomed by the Cruise Manager, Vinh. He asked whether we have any food allergies, and preferences for special diets. After about an hour wait, we were transferred to the main vessel where the crew gave us a warm welcome.
I have booked the smallest room without balcony, and it turns out to be more than perfect. The room has a nice layout and was beautifully decorated, with enough windows where we can take in the sights of beautiful Halong Bay and the surrounding areas. The ensuite bathroom is equipped with a Jacuzzi bath, hairdryer, and modern toilet (bidet).
After our delicious lunch, our itinerary was to go to Vung Vieng fishing village by local rowing boats to explore the daily lives of its inhabitants. As of many tour groups, which I always try to avoid whenever possible, it was difficult to get some people to be on time. Ignorance? Selfish? Vinh called their rooms to check on their participation.
The rowboats took us to the village, toured the floating school, fish farms, and the oyster farms. We were shown how pearls are formed by salt water and fresh water, the culturing process, and the final products. There were no hard selling in the gift shop so I didn’t see the problems with this tour. I am always happy to see those beautiful intricate creations. I love pearls!
In the evening, the cruise conducted a traditional cooking class. Guests were invited to participate and try their skills on making the Vietnamese Spring Roll. It was fun.
Unfortunately, during our visit, we didn’t get to watch the sunsets. However, the view was still beautiful with shimmering lights from the other boats. “We didn’t have a clear sunset but we have each other,” I overheard the conversation at the next table. So lovely…
After our sumptuous barbecue dinner, we try our luck with the night squid fishing but it seems that the squids were disappearing from us too.
We woke up very early the next morning to attend sunrise Tai Chi on the upper deck. Nicky was fascinated with the exercise techniques as he felt relax and refresh. He told Vinh, the Tai Chi Sifu, that he will practice often at home. I’m not sure if he did.
We were part of a two-night stay, and so after our breakfast, we were transferred to a smaller boat that took us to Cong Dam area. All of us did kayaking which was so enjoyable. An older couple claimed that they had never been kayaking before. At first, they were a bit hesitant and just wanted to stay on the boat. The staff encouraged them to try and after a while, they really enjoyed their kayaking adventure. It became the highlight of their trip.
We stopped at a nice secluded beach to relax and take some pictures, before kayaking back to the boat. Some guests swimming around the area, and others reading a book and sun-tanning on the upper deck. There was a cool breeze coming off the sea, and we were enjoying ourselves out here on vacation away from it all.
The lunch was delicious, we had a set meal and I wondered how we can finish them. Being a small eater, I have never eaten so much food but it was too delicious to stop. Signature Royal Cruise pampers all their guests with attention to details.
For Halong cruise ship, it was a continuous cycle. The cruise takes new guests from the harbor, and the next day after breakfast, the two or three nights guests will be transferred to a smaller boat for the day tour while those who were on the last day of the cruise trip, will be taken on a tour of the cave. After that, they will enjoy their delicious brunch before transported back to Halong City wharf. New guests will arrive and the remaining guests will be cruising back to the main boat to join the groups.
In the evening, we had a great five-course dinner which was worth mentioning. The food includes pumpkin soup, pomelo salad with Halong squid cake, roasted chicken marinated in Vietnamese herbs, prawn and scallop with mashed sweet potato, lotus seeds sticky rice and vegetables, and a traditional sweet dessert. What more could one ask for? The food was magnificent and sumptuous. The scenery was breathtaking.
On our last day, after light breakfast, we were taken to Thien Canh Son cave. The scenery of Bai Tu Long Bay and Ha Long Bay from the top of the cave was stunning. The cave was simply gorgeous with the entire ceiling shine by thousands of glittering stalactites. The stone forms unique images which I thought was artsy.
Signature Royal Cruise has various activities onboard. They have good happy hour specials, traditional cooking class, morning Tai Chi, night squid fishing, movies night, and many board games to keep guests entertained. The upper deck was nice for guests to relax, interact with each other, and scenery watching.
When we booked Signature Royal, we had no expectations. We had a great time onboard. The food was outstanding, the crew was excellent, and the service was beyond our expectations. It made our experience a memorable one.
Being recognized as the natural wonder of the world by UNESCO, Halong Bay is a worth visiting place. The scenery is splendid especially if one visit during nice weather. Imagine watching the beautiful sunsets over the bays, and the night sky full of stars… Do not miss out on this natural beauty.