What an amazing place to visit and cruise amongst the 1969 islands (or so I’m told by our guide… easy to remember as it is the same year as Ho Chi Minh’s death). Our adventure started in Hanoi where we were picked up at our hotel and headed the four hours by bus up to the harbour. Our boat V’Spirit Classic (one of several with the same name on the bay) is one of 200 sleeping boats on the bay; there are 300 day boats in use on the bay, not to mention the tenders and local fishing boats!
We had an amazing lunch when we got underway which included stuffed crabs! Genevieve keeps hoping they will make another appearance on our table.
In the afternoon we headed to the ‘amazing cave’ where we climbed a hundred steps to get to the entrance of the cave. The three large caverns cover an area of some 10,000 m2 and are considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, opening to tourists about 20 years ago. As it is the dry season we did not have to navigate running water in the caves – but did get to see the crystal clear pool in the first cavern. Having been in other caves the magnitude of the caverns and the varying geologic formations were impressive.
Back onboard the crew prepared what we have called ‘fire and steam’ prawns – nothing like vodka poured on hot rocks followed by prawns and water, then hold a lid tightly on it – done in about two minutes. Stuffed oysters were also on the menu for dinner. We are beginning to get the hang of it – you get many dishes at a meal and we joke that once the steamed rice comes there are three more dishes to follow!
Our second day we headed out on a day trip – leaving our boat for one of the local day boats. Our day included kayaking in a quieter bay having cruised away from the main bay where the boats all seem to anchor overnight. While kayaking we passed a jellyfish that had a body slightly larger than a basketball… making the offer to jump off the boat into the water a bit less enticing. We headed out to try our hand at net fishing – dropping in the net and then circling it, banging on the hull of the boat to scare the fish into the net… although we did not catch a thing. After lunch we headed to a local cultured pearl farm learning about how they actually grow cultured pearls. A long process with low success rate. Depending on the oyster a pearl will take between 2-6 years to grow. From what we understood there is a 50% mortality rate and then of the ones that survive only 30% produce a pearl. We also cruised past one of the local floating fishing villages en route back to our main boat. For dinner we had ‘fire and steam’ prawns along with spring rolls and other local food. We are still finding an early bedtime necessary!
There are also what we have called the ‘floating mini-marts’ – women who row up to your boat to sell you everything from beer to Oreos. It is interesting to see how capitalism is working in a communist country. There are privately owned companies, but our guides tell us that no foreign ownership is allowed without a local partner.
Woke up this morning to another great breakfast on the boat and then headed to Ti Top island to hike the 400 stairs to the top for a panoramic view of the bay – well worth the walk up. Glad it is cooler (around 19C) making the hike up the stairs more manageable than if it were the heat of the summer. Returned to the boat to make spring rolls, eat lunch, and enjoy a cruise back to the harbour before catching our bus back to Hanoi. Well worth the two nights as it meant we were able to see another part of the bay, a few more experiences than a single night would have allowed, and a relaxing few days. Quite the contrast to the pace of Hanoi.
We have already had the opportunity to meet many travellers already from all over the world – surprisingly many of them on longer adventures than just a few weeks. Seems we are not the only ones on an adventure!
Looking forward to meeting Hannah at the Hanoi airport tonight and then heading south as we continue our time in Vietnam.