Part 3 picks up on the morning after our overnight stay in Ninh Binh. We were collected by the tour company early in the morning for the drive to Lan Ha Bay where we would board our Ha Long Bay cruise ship.
Upon arrival at Lan Ha Bay we had to wait around an hour in the waiting room for the cruise company, Era Cruises, before being transported to the cruise ship via a tender boat. We were welcomed onto the cruise boat by a group of very enthusiastic and passionate staff members. The obligatory face towel and welcome drink were served whilst we were given the keys to our cabins.
Our cabin was huge – a massive bed in the middle of the room, large windows for uninterrupted views of the scenery, a separate dressing area, a big bathroom with separate shower and jacuzzi bath and – the best bit – a good sized balcony with sun loungers to lay on and watch the scenery go by.
A lovely 3 course a la carte lunch was served in the restaurant as we set sail. Afterwards we pottered about on the ship before a couple of afternoon activities: kayaking to a small island and then swimming / playing around at the beach on the island. Kayaking wasn’t mandatory -there was a wee boat which took you to the island and brought you back.
Once back aboard, I opted for a couple of spa treatments (additional cost) before happy hour – a back massage and a pedicure which were lovely. The spa is quite a small room on the top deck of the ship but it was a lovely experience still!
Happy hour is served at the outdoor bar with nice seating areas to again let you soak up the scenery. The only annoying thing with happy hour was that although it was 2 for 1, you had to get 2 of the same drink which wasn’t really explained until after we’d ordered a couple at full price…
Dinner was a buffet – which I normally hate for a dinner – but the king prawns were just incredible – cooked on a BBQ in the kitchen, absolutely massive, perfect with a crisp white wine (literally salivating typing this!) – we must have had a trays worth to ourselves! The rest of the food was lovely – fresh meats, salads etc.
Afterwards we retired to the bar again and chatted away with fellow shipmates long into the night! Shockingly did not make it for the 6:30am kayak session the next day…but still managed breakfast!
Then it was time to disembark. The cruise experience was a true highlight of the holiday – I’ll attach some photos of the ship and food – and the service from the staff was second to none! Would highly recommend Era Cruises!
After the cruise, we were taken back to Hanoi to the same hotel, La Siesta for one night before flying to Hue.
We were taken from the hotel to the airport by transfer and then flew to Hue with Vietnam Airlines. The transfer and flight were both part of the tour.
On arrival in Hue, we were met by our tour guide who took us straight to the Thien Mu Pagoda via a short boat ride. The Pagoda is a large, 7 story temple which is often regarded as the icon of Hue. Behind the pagoda was a large, beautifully maintained garden with bonsai trees and koi ponds. It was so peaceful and tranquil!
Afterwards, we were taken to the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. The citadel is a vast area comprising of war defences and royal buildings, with key attractions being Flag Tower, Noon Gate, Nine Dynastic Urns, Nine Holy Cannons, Thai Hoa Palace, and Purple Forbidden City. Our tour guide took us around each section and explained the history at length to give us a good idea of life for the royal family at that time and also the preservation work that goes into maintaining the site.
Once we finished in the citadel we were taken to a restaurant off the beaten track. The restaurant was set in what looked like a large villa/ guesthouse and was beautifully decorated with dark, ornate wood. We were served a variety of courses – again more delicious prawns and a cool phoenix meets hedgehog display for spring rolls complete with candles inside to make it look fire-y!
Next was a trip to the market. We were taken along on tuk-tuk bikes by local drivers ( we tipped generously!). The market was a mix of souvenirs, fresh meat/fish/fruit and every day grocery shop items which was really nice to see. Our tour guide for the day was fantastic, she was so friendly and easy to chat to and we learned a lot from our time with her!
Finally after a day of travel and sightseeing, we were taken to our hotel, Hue Pilgrimage Village Resort. We were greeted with a fresh scented towel and welcome drink (not sure how I function now without a daily scented towel, so refreshing!). Our room was massive and very well appointed. The pool was down a hill towards the back of the property – always make it in time for happy hour at the pool bar – and we chilled out there for a few hours to unwind from a busy day. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant which was lovely. I wouldn’t normally eat in hotels as much but because the resorts were kind of off the beaten track and we had been on the go for so long during the day and were also only in the resorts for time, it made sense to make the most of the facilities.
Hue – Hoi An
This day was the only day of the tour we did not enjoy. The plan was to travel from Hue to Hoi An via a number of tourist attractions on the way: view points to see the Lang Co beach, the Hai Van Pass, Cham museum in Da Nang and then Marble Mountain.
What actually happened is we were taken to a couple of rest stops to take photos kind of near the places we were supposed to go. We were taken down a couple of sketchy looking side streets and back alley ways and were accosted by people selling fake sterling notes (they had fake notes in every currency). The whole day just felt off. We weren’t taken to the Cham museum or the marble mountain, instead we were taken to a shop selling marble products – I never understand that type of scam because there is no way anyone could fit a marble statue in their suitcase especially with a 23KG limit for aeroplane. The food at the restaurant we were taken to was inedible and we felt pretty unwell and uncomfortable with the situation and asked to be taken to our hotel at Hoi An a bit earlier. Nothing bad really happened it just felt a bit off and it was a bit of a dampener on the amazing experiences we’d had so far.
Thankfully this was the only blip on the journey and some of the best experiences were still to come!
Stay tuned for part 4!