Sunday, December 30, 2018

Cruising along Bai Tu Long Bay

So, what is it like to cruise along the stunning limestone isles of the Halong and Bai Tu Long region? 

When I decided that I wanted to visit Vietnam, I always knew that this is something I most certainly wanted to experience. I am not a cruise junkie. In fact this was my very first overnight experience off shore. The only other "big boat" I can recall, is the hour (or was it two?) long journey I had taken on those gigantic steamers that ferry humans, cattle, along with massive buses, trucks, and all, across the vast Padma river in Bangladesh. But, that was an entirely different sight - a story for another day! 

My travel mantra is simple. Since I cannot possible garner every travel experience the world has to offer, I would like my very limited ones to be as diverse and as distinct as possible. And, that is how the cruise happened. 

Eerie, mysterious, gorgeous...

If only I could put in words the sense of peace that washed over me, as I lay on the sun deck under the bluest of skies, sun on my face, with the gentle whirring sound of the boat... but I cannot. All I can say is that it was beautiful, and calm, and serene. The sunrise (and sunset) was spectacular, and I will proudly proclaim that I managed the monumental task of waking up at 05:30 to watch the sun rise! 

Panorama shot of sunrise

There isn't much to do on a cruise, really. I am extremely averse to group activities that many tours entail. Luckily for me, this one didn't have any of that - except meal timings, kayaking hour, and the visit to the cave. Most of my time I could be one my own, sitting at the restaurant on the deck, or lounging on one of those super comfortable sunbeds, soaking in as much peace and quiet as I possibly could. Funnily, I was the only solo traveller on a cruise that had three honeymooning couples, and five more couples/ families. Ah, well. I loved my me-time. 

Sun deck: See that man with his feet
up in the air. He was snoring!

My only regret was that I couldn't spend enough time in my cabin - if you can call it that. The gorgeous room was larger than many hotel rooms I  have stayed in, and the bed - oh the bed! You just sink into it, and want to stay there forever!

I wouldn't call this a cabin! There was a jaccuzi
in the bathroom!
But then again, the outdoors was gorgeous. I was lucky to be there on a day when the weather was just perfect. Not a drop of rain, clear skies, and calm waters. My kayak behaved very well all through, and I had no trouble leaving the oars occasionally to click a few pictures!

My kayaking buddies

Limestone caves with stalactites and stalagmites

I took this photo (see below) from a clearing near the entrance of a cave we visited. The cave was kind of dark, as would be expected, but you could admire the stalactite and stalagmite formations inside. For a split of a second, I was transported to my incredibly tiresome geography class in school. Why could they not arrange study trips to real caves to study that stuff? I would have learnt a great deal without doubt!

See the two peaks? Well, guess what the term
for these two, umm, peaks, mean in the local
language. Boobs! So, explained our cruise guide.

The verdict

In all, an experience worth every penny, and a fitting end to my overseas trip. But, would I cruise again? Probably not, at least any time soon. My thirst for luxurious cruises has been quenched for now. I wouldn't mind sailing on rough seas next time, or maybe an expedition to Antarctica or a cruise along the Caribbean islands, perhaps?

INFORMATION BYTE Where to go: Halong or Bai Tu Long

Most 2-day 1-night cruises take you to one of these two areas (Halong or Bai Tu Long). I was distraught over this decision -  which one to opt for? But I realize now this need not be very difficult. Option 1 is visiting the UNESCO heritage site with a more spectacular landscape but accepting the fact that there would be tons of other cruises alongside you. This is Halong. This part of the bay is generally much more crowded and you must be prepared to have all your photos dotted with other cruise ships. The other option, is visiting the Bai Tu Long route, and this is the one that I chose. The limestone isles here are slightly smaller in size, and in fact the term Bai Tu Long literally means "baby dragons descending", while Halong refers to the mama dragon! However, the thing that sets apart Bai Tu Long is the fact that it is still somewhat untouched, more pristine, with very few cruise ships sailing along this route. Ultimately, it boils down to personal choices, but for me, I know I made the right decision.

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