Day 2 saw us rushing through the early morning chaotic traffic in Hanoi.. There seems to be a method to the madness in driving through and the driver appointed for us through the hotel seemed to know exactly how to traverse through the narrow streets of the old quarter. We were going to pick up a few more guests enroute to Halong Bay. We were staying the night on the Paradise Luxury Cruise and was part of the booking through Hanoi LaSiesta Hotel. It was going to be a 4 hour drive and i almost immediately went off to snooze mode the entire journey. We were dropped off at the cruise office on the bay and we could see atleast 5-6 cruise boats docked. We completed our preboarding formalities and were escorted to our Luxury boat for the night. The wooden boats had plush interiors and comfortable beds in individual cabins. each of which had an ensuite bathroom and toilet. We had an upgrade so we were lucky to have a balcony. The boat set sail soon after our briefing. We were served lunch onboard. The food was a gastronomic delight almost the kinds you see on masterchef.
The Cruise Director explained us our itinerary and the highlights of the islands and caves we would be exploring. Halong Bay spreads on an area of approximately 1,553 km2including 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone topped with thick jungle vegetation rising from the ocean. We were starting from Tuan Chau Island which is the main entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the evening we were to head to the Sung Sot Cave which is one of the most amazing caves in Halong Bay. It is the largest cave in Halong Bay and was discovered by a group of French Explorers in 1901.
The evening setting sun brought down a golden glow in the sky lighting up all the islands in the bay. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets i have ever witnessed. Thankfully the cruise offered Happy Hour drinks and we couldn’t be happier. We opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and sat on the deck gazing at the stars on the clear night sky. After a while the chef taught us how to prepare authentic Vietnamese spring rolls and we even got a certificate indicating our expertise 😉 . The cruise director handed us with robes similar to the ones worn by the Royalty of the Ancient Imperial City of Hue. We were to dress in them and join everyone on deck for the Royal Dinner experience. The food was mind blowing. It was an amazing experience. The cruise also allows for a night squid fishing experience but we gave it a miss and went to bed.
The following morning, i woke up early and joined a Tai Chi Demonstration. It was surreal. We had a quick breakfast and headed to Titop Island named after the famed Russian Astronaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. Its the only beach in the bay which had a spectacular view point of the entire bay but ofcourse one needs to climb a 200 step path to reach the view point 😉 The Titop island was the last stop of the cruise before we headed back to Tuan Chau Island.
We grabbed a quick bite at the Paradise Hotel at the bay and started our long journey back to Hanoi. We might have stopped at a Handicrafts factory but am not sure i was awake 😛 We reached Hanoi around evening and went for a much needed massage which was inclusive in the deal. I would definitely recommend the hot stone massage for anyone visiting Hanoi and specifically at the LaSiesta Hanoi. It was really refreshing and gave our aching muscles the much needed relief after all the climbing and travelling.
We then headed out for the last part of the Hanoi leg which was the Night Market and Food tasting tour. The hotel booked us with one of their best guides ever who was singing all along the way. He set a romantic mood for us even as we were sitting at hawker stalls and binging on some yummy fresh spring rolls, banh mi, pho ga and even the famed egg coffee called ca phe trung. We bid our guide adieu and wrapped up the Hanoi trip with some street shopping at the local night market.
Click on the links to see the detailed itinerary and images :
Day 1 : KL to Hanoi – Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, Hoan Kiem Lake, Thang Long Water Puppet Show
Day 4 : Hanoi – Saigon – Notre Dame Basilica, Saigon Central Post Office, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market
Day 5 : Cu Chi Tunnels – Ben Duoc, Saigon – KL