After spending a few days in Hanoi we made a side trip to Lan Ha Bay, the lesser known (and less crowded) neighbor of Ha Long Bay.
There are a great number of options for cruising Ha Long and Lan Ha Bay, ranging from short tours to multi-day trips. Some of the boats offer rustic accommodations while others are like floating luxury hotels. We decided to book a three day, two night voyage with Peony Cruises, which tends towards the higher end.
The cruise included transfer from our hotel in Hanoi; we were collected at our hotel and traveled in a comfortable van for the two hour trip to the departure port.
At the port we checked in and waited; when it was time to board we headed to the tender boat.
The Peony is a relatively new ship and everything on the board was sparkling. The boat has 24 cabins and can accommodate about 50 guests. On our trip the boat was only about 2/3 full.
We were in two connecting rooms; each had a double bed and a padded bench that doubled as an extra bed.
Our bathroom had a huge window and a large bathtub!
While our rooms were very comfortable; we preferred spend most of our time sitting on deck where we could take in the 360-degree views as we cruised through the bay.
Ha Long Bay and neighboring Lan Ha Bay are comprised of thousands of tiny islands which are primarily made of limestone. The eroded limestone takes many different shapes ranging from narrow towers to large domes.
After cruising for a while we were offered the chance to go kayaking and get a bit closer to the karst hills.
Back on board, we cleaned up and took part in a mini cooking class, making fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.
Later that evening we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets that we saw on the whole trip.
Early the next morning we ate breakfast then transferred to a slightly smaller boat for an excursion to Cat Ba island, one of the few inhabited islands in the area.
We had the option of riding bicycles or taking motorized carts on a tour of the island. Since it was a hot day and they didn’t have great bikes for the kids, we opted to ride the cart to the interior of the island.
On our tour we passed by rice fields and jungles. Reaching the village, we stopped at a small cafe for a drink. Later we visited the home of a local family and sampled some of their rice whisky.
Next we did some more kayaking, and found our own private beach.
We had a nice swim.
Back on the main boat, we had fun jumping off the rear deck.
After dinner we tried our hands at squid fishing. The boat crew placed a bright light near the water to attract squid. Our fishing pole consisted of a metal barb tied to the end of a bamboo stick. The squid do not bite the barb, instead we were supposed to use the barb to snag squid when they approached the surface.
After waiting a while for the squid to show up we began to feel like this was going to be a fruitless endeavor. One of the crew even said it had been months since anybody had caught anything. But, a little later a solitary squid finally appeared and our oldest son yanked it from the water! After snapping a few photos we put the lonely squid back into the water and it went on its way.
The next morning it was time to head back to the port. We soaked in the amazing views of Lan Ha Bay one last time.
In our next update, we travel to the charming ancient town of Hoi An (and make our second visit to an emergency room!).