The driver made one stop along the way at a big souvenir emporium for tourists. We appreciated the bathroom break and Jeane browsed quickly. She saw a small red lacquerware vase that she really liked and I told her to buy it, since she might not see it again. Good call. 15 minutes later we were moving again. We arrived at the cruise waiting area just shortly before noon. I neglected to mention that we were originally booked in the single suite on the Valentine, a small ship with only 5 rooms, including the suite. Unfortunately, I had received an e-mail from Tonkin two days prior saying it was not to be and that Indochina Sails had offered an alternative, a suite on the brand new (but larger) Indochina Sails III. Tonkin felt that I should go for it only if we could do it at half price to compensate and I agreed. Indochina Sails also arranged for a bottle of Chilean Red in our suite for our troubles.
From the waiting area there is a shuttle boat to take passengers to the ship. We departed just before 12:30. After boarding the ship, orientation and check-in were relatively quick and painless. While the ship was bigger than we would have liked, our a/c suite was very nice – king size bed, rain forest shower, plus a jacuzzi bath and a small private deck. There was also a safe and a minibar in the room. Lunch was the first activity of the cruise and it was an international/Vietnamese set menu, not a buffet. Very nice. The price of the cruise was all inclusive, except for drinks and kayaking.
There were two afternoon activities – first, a trip to Titop Island, named after a Soviet astronaut who visited there with Ho Chi Minh and second, kayaking at the Hang Doi Bat Cave area. It was pretty overcast with a few rain drops as we climbed the several hundred steps to the top of the mountain on Titop Island. In spite of the haze, the views were pretty good so we took some photos. The late afternoon kayaking was better – the ship’s guide was helpful, we were in a good group and the skies had cleared somewhat. The lagoon and surrounding waters are very quiet – it was nice to get away from it all as Halong Bay had been very busy. Our guide took some great photos of Jeane and I in our kayak. Kayaking cost $10US extra per person.
Back on the ship, we relaxed with our own cocktails in the room as we cruised toward our anchoring destination for the night. Afterward, we enjoyed a food carving demonstration, followed by a nice buffet dinner. We skipped the movie afterward, “The Quiet American” (I have it on DVD at home) and turned in early.
We awoke at about 5:30 the next morning (Sunday, 4/12), showered and got ready for the day. The ship pulled up its anchor shortly thereafter and we headed towards our next destination, a small fishing village and the Surprise Cave. Coffee and pastries were put out at 6:45. Jeane and I entertained ourselves by photographing the fishing village while we waited for the 8 AM transfer to the Cave. We spent about an hour at the cave, which is actually a series of 3 large caves with the “surprise” being the size and scope of it all. The caves were enhanced with artificial lighting. Steps and handrails were in place where it was necessary to climb. The ship’s guide gave us some history of the caves and pointed out the various formations inside.
We returned to the ship for our final meal, a buffet breakfast which included omelets made to order – not as good as the Metropole’s buffet but fine none-the-less. The ship’s crew requested that we put out our larger bags before breakfast for transfer to the pier. After breakfast we returned to our room to find that housekeeping was already starting to clean it. We used the public facilities instead and retired to the sundeck to relax and settle our bill while we approached the pier.
Our driver was waiting for us at the pier and the ship’s guide helped us with our bags. I gave him a tip and bid him farewell. The one-night, two day cruise had been just perfect. We would not have wanted to stay an additional night. The return drive was fairly quick and uneventful. We made the obligatory stop at the overpriced souvenir place but did not linger. I think Jeane would have liked to have spent more time there but I just don’t care for these places on principle.