27th November 2018
We get woken up by a very strong vibration in the cabin around 6.45am and the Captain announcing our arrival. I go straight onto the balcony to see the most amazing sight of Halong Bay and its incredible limestone islands. The weather is sunny, but a bit misty and we learn later that this is normal for Halong Bay, but we are incredibly grateful that the weather is as good as it is, as we've heard of visitors being able to see very little due to heavy mists in the bay.
[Kev - I missed this as I was still in bed. One needs one's beauty sleep..]
[Kev - One of the main reasons we booked this cruise is that the ship stays overnight in 4 different locations. This allows you to see more than just dropping in for a few hours. We have booked a cruise on a small ship that sails into Bai Tu Long and anchors up overnight. Bai Tu Long is next to Halong Bay, but is a little less busy.]
We have eggs benedict in the main dining room for breakfast and meet up with Lorna and Tony at 10.45am in Cafe Al Bacio so we can share a taxi. In our hastiness we grab an unmetered taxi and get charged 300,000 dong - which may sound a lot but is actually only around £10 at the time, whereas our return journey turns out to be just 100,000 dong we discover the next day. It doesn't take too long to cross the bridge to the small docks by the river where Athena cruises are based. We check in and get given some tea whilst we wait. It seems like a long time until 12.20pm when we are told we can walk along the river a short distance to the tender to the ship. Our luggage has been taken so we don't need to worry about that. It's just a short journey before we arrive at the larger boat where we will be spending the night. We paid $555 USD for a terrace suite which included all meals, 2 cocktails and wine with our evening meal as part of Kev's 60th birthday celebrations (the fact that this was celebrated back in March didn't matter to us).
The crew were all very welcoming and give us lots of information before showing us to our cabin. The terrace suites, of which there are two, are situated at the aft of the ship and enjoy a lovely balcony. We are very happy with the decor and space and the bathroom is well equipped too. There is a welcome bowl of fruit in our cabin and fresh flowers which is a nice touch.
Lunch is now ready in the dining room and there is an amazing selection, hot, cold, lots of lovely V ietnamese delicacies, puddings and fruits and we fill our plates and take advantage of our two free cocktails which are really good.
We are now on our way further into Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay where we will drop anchor overnight.
We board the tender that is tethered to the boat to go a short distance to the fishing village where people still live on houses on stilts in the water, we have the choice of kayaking in a double kayak or being rowed in a bamboo boat which fits 6 people by the people from the fishing village. We decide on the double kayak and enjoy a really pleasant 1 hour circular tour past the oyster beds and through a rock arch back to the village. It's great to see normal village life going on, complete with barking dogs on the wooden connecting pathways, all in the middle of the bay. The circuit ends at the pearl centre where they have great displays of the oysters growing at different stages and then in the final showroom all the jewellery they make with the pearls is on show and on sale (at prices far out of our league). It really is amazing to hear what makes the different colour pearls and how big they can grow, especially when you realise only 10% of the pearls are decent specimens, good enough to make jewellery from.
All aboard the tender back to the ship and we've booked a 60 minute couples massage for 5pm, at just $45 USD per person. What a wonderful hour of relaxation it is and we walk out feeling amazing. The rest of the passengers, probably around 20 people, have been given a cookery course on the deck - how to make spring rolls. All the wonderful fresh ingredients are on display and all who want to have a chance to make a spring roll for themselves. We have now moored up for the evening in the middle of a bay - although there are other ships in the bay it certainly doesn't feel crowded and as the darkness engulfs us there really is something rather magical about the twinkling lights from the other boats and the shadowy silhouettes of the limestone islands all around. It is now happy hour with two for one cocktails, so we enjoy these on the deck before showering and getting ready for the evening meal.
Dinner is as good as lunch and we enjoy our free bottle of wine with it. There is some music from the crew and generally a good atmosphere in the dining room.
[Kev - All the meals on the Athena cruise ship were fantastic, better than on the Millennium and as good as anything we had the entire holiday.]
The next activity we'd been informed about was the squid fishing, those that want to gathered on one side of the ship where the water is illuminated. We were given rods and bait and told how best to lure the squids. Needless to say no one is successful but it is a fun thing to try and nice to chat to fellow passengers. [Kev - I'm not convinced there were any squid to be caught. I think the crew just wanted a few minutes of peace to have a crafty cigarette behind the bike sheds or whatever the nautical equivalent is. Perhaps behind the Poop Deck?] We spend the rest of the evening up on the deck in the balmy heat, chatting with people and soaking up the uniqueness of this incredible place. One of the passengers is a gentleman from Malaysia celebrating his birthday with his family and is very drunk - but he is so funny constantly singing happy birthday and encouraging everyone to join in.
Bed at 11ish - we both agree what an amazing day it has been and more than lived up to our high expectations. [Kev - Yep, once you get away from the hustle and bustle of the port it is a truly exceptional place.]
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