It all started when we were picked up at our hotel by our cruise company, Viola. We were immediately welcomed by our guide for the trip, Hoi also known as Lucky, and given prime front row seats for the ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay.
Having spent 2 full days in Hanoi and taking a couple of taxis and of course walking around the bustling streets we had a fair idea of what the 3-4 hour drive was going to be like. Oh how wrong were we!
Several times I said to Matt that people driving in Vietnam must be some of the calmest people around because it definitely isn’t a stress free environment. The horn is used for everything; overtaking people, overtaking people overtaking people, to warn bikes that you are coming up behind them, to tell people to get out of your way. I don’t think a minute went by without the sound of a horn going off somewhere.
As for the overtaking; people overtake people everywhere, for someone like me who HATES overtaking even on a 4-lane highway, this makes for a rather stressful journey. The other thing worth mentioning about driving is that it is not uncommon to just drive in the middle of the road, as in on top of the centre line, even if traffic is coming towards you, nor is it uncommon to drive off the road to get out of peoples way.
What made this journey most memorable though was a couple hours in traffic just stopped. Our driver and guide got off the bus and after many phone-calls and talking with other people in the same situation as us we were informed that a truck and trailer had crashed on the bridge at about 4am that morning; 6 hours later it was still no where near cleared up and was blocking traffic in both directions.
Thankfully our driver/tour company were on top of things and we went some back way, unfortunately it did mean spending another 1.5 hours on the bus; not ideal when traveling with kids but thankfully our kids were entertainable with a steady supply of snacks and movies on the iPad.
The most interesting part of the trip was when we had to cross the river. We drove to this small village where we had to get off the bus. Lucky found a local that was willing to let us all use the bathroom if need be, of course Eden needed to go so we lined up, but before it was her turn the ferry was ready for us. It was probably a good thing because I am not sure how Eden would have felt about using a bathroom located in a shed that housed cows.
The ferry was like a floating dock where all the vehicles and people drive/walk on and it is pulled across the river by a rusty old boat! Poor Eden, who knew we were spending the night on a boat thought this was that boat!
After crossing the river we jumped back in the bus and were on our merry way. Then something happened which Clio talked about the entire trip, and still does since being home. I would say that this is one of 2 highlights of the trip for her, the second occurring a couple weeks later in Cambodia. Our bus, that was flying along these back roads slammed on the brakes so that a Mama duck and about 50 little ducklings could cross the road.
The rest of the trip just went by in a blur of passing cars, bikes, trucks and of course the continuous sound of the horn.
When we finally arrived at Halong Bay our boat & crew were patiently waiting our arrival and after a short boat ride which was made that much longer by a screaming Clio because apparently lifejackets are just not in style, we were welcomed on board.
Before I get into talking about our cruise let me first talk about the company we went through, Viola Cruise. I did a tiny amount of research and ended up settling on Viola, they aren’t the cheapest company around but they also weren’t the most expensive either. Even with the 1.5 hour delay, that was completely out of their control, they did everything in their power to get us to the boat with minimal delays. As it turns out all Viola cruise buses made it there (by going this back way) before the majority of the other companies; after all everyone was affected by the truck and trailer crash.
Lucky and the crew had to reshuffle things a little since the timings were now off but we got to do everything they advertised and did not feel like we were cheated out of 1.5 hours at all!
Ok, back to our cruise! We were welcomed onto the boat by the crew and given some welcome drinks then sat down to a delicious, buffet style lunch, before being shown to our rooms.
We had a triple room (a double and twin bed) and all rooms had their own showers with ample hot water! Once we were settled in the room it was time to go back on the little boat to take us over to Sung Sot Cave. Yes Clio flipped out over the life jacket, again.
Eden did a great job at climbing 700+ steps to get to the cave as did Matt who was carrying Clio! We were guided around the cave by Lucky, who told all sorts of interesting tidbits about the cave as well as Halong Bay and even Vietnam. Afterwards we jumped back on the little boat and headed to the beach where we all went swimming. The kids absolutely loved this.
When we arrived back to the big boat the sun was setting and we were greeted with wine, juice, fruit and mini-muffins; it was just beautiful lounging out on the top deck watching the sunset over such a beautiful place.
Later that evening we sat down to a gorgeous meal prepared by the two cooks on board. I can not sing their praises high enough; the food was amazing, delicious and all the finishing touches were outstanding, with so much detail; there were flowers made out of vegetables and even a net made out of a carrot to cover the fresh fish.
We later found out from Lucky, that the crew only get 4 days off a month! The cooks prepare the menu based on what ingrediants are available and change it up when needed. They also work incredibly hard, when lunch is over they go straight into preparing dinner & our meal that night took them about 6 hours to prepare for all 26 guest on board.
By the time dinner was over it was definitely time for Clio to head to bed after such a long, but exciting day. While Clio and I called it a night Matt & Eden attempted to catch some squid, unfortunately the conditions weren’t ideal and no squid were caught but they still had a blast.
The next morning we had the option to have a tai chi lesson on the top deck as the sun was rising; which we ended up skipping in favor of more sleep, but I did hear about a few people doing it.
Breakfast was buffet style serving both Vietnamese and western food and of course it was delicious. Then it was time for kayaking. I would have loved to do this but with Clio and her strong dislike of lifejackets we decided it would be better for us to stay back while Matt took Eden.
When they returned it was so fun hearing all about it from Eden; she was super excited to tell me about the monkeys (some even had babies!) that they saw climbing over the rocks; I think Matt even got a little footage which I can’t wait to see.
Before lunch the 2 cooks showed us how they made the amazing carrot net and flowers that accompanied our dinner the previous night before Hoi showed us how to make fresh spring-rolls; which we then got to have a go at making followed by eating!
Lunch was another amazing meal, I believe we were served a traditional wedding menu! For every 3 people a huge tray was brought out with a variety of sides, soup and meat dishes, all of it was really good!
After lunch, bills were settled, rooms were checked out of and we lazed about until we made it back to the port to head back to Hanoi.
I wasn’t that excited for Halong Bay, I am not really sure why, I figured it would just be really touristy and therefore lose some of its beauty. It was touristy but the beauty definitely was not lost. We adored Lucky who in return adored the girls and all the crew were fantastic, we loved every minute of our Viola Cruise experience and highly recommend this company.
Oh and as we rode the little boat back to the port Clio had yet another meltdown, this time because Matt took too long to put the lifejacket on; I guess she decided they were fashionable after all!
Linking up to Tiny Expats