Any “10 top things to do in Vietnam” list will tell you that a Ha Long cruise is essential. Towering rainforest-topped islands rising out of the misty bay make for an atmospheric and highly Instagrammable situation. Not that I Instagram – I don’t – but all those other people who do are making this a very popular choice.
I spent some time looking at websites for cruise ships but the options were a little overwhelming. Fortunately my friend Amy, who moved this year to Vietnam with her family, came to the rescue with a recommendation for the mid-priced Alisa cruise company.
It turned out to be a good choice. There were perhaps 20 guests on the trip, mostly couples. The boat was well-appointed, the staff was friendly and enthusiastic, and the food was great. Everything is included so there’s nothing to pay for other than drinks and a tip at the end.
There was plenty to do. And eat.
After lunch on the boat, our first group activity was a choice of kayaking or visiting a pearl farm. Andreas picked kayaking but sorry no kayak photos because Andreas doesn’t do cameras. Having forgotten to transfer my swimsuit to my overnight bag, I picked the pearl farm.
The tour was interesting if something of a tourist trap. But I began to regret my choice when I learned that the the site had for many generations been a floating fishing village. The government recently relocated the people to make room for the more profitable pearl farm. I was not at all convinced by the guide’s story about how happy the fishing families were to move closer to schools and shops.
Our next stop was Sung Sot cave, also called Surprise Cave. It’s on an island and the entrance is a couple of hundred steps up on the side of the mountain.
It’s bigger on the inside.
Back on the boat, we had some free time before dinner to enjoy the view from our little private porch. We watched one of the staff go out on the dinghy to buy fish for our dinner from one of the colorful fishing boats.
Everybody met on deck for a cooking lesson (spring rolls) and happy hour. We can check Singapore sling and Ha Long Special off our life lists now. There was squid fishing from the back of the boat after dinner but we were both too tired.
The next morning there was tai chi. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures of Andreas getting his yin and yang sorted but I opted to sleep the extra half hour instead.
Our last stop was Ti-Top Island. We climbed the seven zillion stairs to the peak. There is a viewing pagoda at the the tippy top which is somewhat surprisingly not the inspiration for the island’s name. Andreas wanted to go for a swim at the little beach but it started to rain hard so we had to sprint back to the launch. Then it was homeward bound, back to Hanoi.