A Heart-and-Soul-Healing Cruise in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Just when I thought, my first solo travel would be so tragic, dramatic and traumatizing, surprisingly and delightedly everything turned out really well. Last year, I embarked on this solo journey as I heal my soul. I never thought that I would have the courage to this all by myself, but I guess, sometimes you just have to be brave enough to face your fears and conquer them.

Ha Long Bay

I applied for a 10-day vacation leave at work, and  luckily, my boss allowed me and so I planned a Vietnam-Cambodia trip visiting Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh Cities. It’s not as adventurous as it may seem to many, but to do it for the first time and all by myself – planning itself was already a challenge.

Confusion, a little of sadness, cold feet and anxiety attack as I board my plane from Manila to Hanoi, Vietnam. It was 10 in the evening, and along with some Vietnamese speaking co-passengers, who I can’t understand at all, I just know that I have to do this trip for the reasons (1) almost everything about this trip has been paid already (2) almost all of my friends are excited for me to do this solo trip and (3) I just need something that’s good for my soul…and heart.

This island reminds me of Moana

Aside from tons and tons of drama and unintended expenses, having your heart broken is not easy, I tell you. Hahaha!

I arrived at Noi Ba International Airport in Hanoi past 12 midnight. My pick-up was already at the gate of the airport when I exited, so he immediately helped me with my luggage and transport me to Hanoi Panda Hotel, where I’ll be staying for the night.

I found Hanoi Panda Hotel through agoda.com. I Googled about the place and I was just so lucky that I was able to get a direct contact details to the owner, who happily arranged my itinerary for this leg of my vacation. For this trip in Ha Noi, I’ll be staying my first two days at the world renowned UNESCO World Heritage, Ha Long Bay, which is 2-3 hours away from Hanoi City.

I paid a total of US$200 for this packaged tour - this includes my 5-night accommodation with breakfast at Hanoi Panda Hotel, overnight stay with full onboard meals and drinks at Apricot Ha Long Luxury Cruise in Ha Long Bay, including entrance tickets to some of Ha Long's famous sites, land transfer to and from Noi Ba International Airport, and land transfer to and from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. This is the most affordable that I found online, so I guess not bad, eh?

I was scheduled to be picked-up at my hotel by 7:30 the following morning and arrived at Ha Long Bay port at around 10:00 am. I’m not sure if it’s just the tour that I got, but I noticed that most of the tours seemed organized. The reason I said this is because I haven’t seen any tourist who gets mad, waited so long, or seemed lost during my trip.  Our van made a quick stop by in this souvenir shop along the road where I was able to buy the traditional Vietnamese hat, Non La, which was used in most of my photos.

Cruise guides met us at the pick-up point, and after a few minutes, they led us to Apricot Ha Long Luxury Cruise to board. For the entire stay, I had a chance to meet some of my fellow tourists – one Argentinian couple, one Swedish girlfriends, and one Vietnamese family consisted of seven members. Being the Filipino that I am, I started a small chat with each group until the foreigner group - the Argentinian couple, the Swedish girlfriends and I – became one group. We share one table during mealtime and chitchat about our travel experiences. The Argentinian couple and the Swedish girlfriends are both on Asian tour. It just saddens me to hear that they do not know where the Philippines is. Anyway, because of this, I introduced my country by sharing some stories and pictures, which somehow enticed them, I think.

For our first day, we spent most of the time cruising the Bay, experiencing an excellent accommodation and such a relaxing view. This was never been a part of my dream destinations, but I’m so thankfully that I get to experience all of these even by myself. By lunch, I had my first festive Vietnamese meals. I know it wasn’t that much, but it sure filled me up good.

After our lunch, our group was taken to Titop Island, where I was able to get this breathtaking view. It was one of the islands where Wi-Fi is available, so I was able to check my inboxes and left a message that I’ll be off the grip during the whole cruise. We spent a good time at Titop Island, where most of the tourists enjoyed the water and the sand. As for me, I find the place okay. I’ve been to El Nido in Palawan, Philippines before this trip, so if I’ll compare, the water here is not something that I will enjoy. But on the other hand, the view from this side was great.

We were brought back to our cruise ship afterwards where we were able to freshen up. I stayed in a single room with private bathroom. The room was pretty small but will do for a night. It is also air-conditioned and has windows that you can enjoy. After an hour, we were called back to the deck to enjoy the sunset with glasses of wine and fresh fruits. The sunset wasn’t that magnificent then because the rainy season in Vietnam is just starting, but it was nice to still see colorful sky by dusk.

By night, dinner was served by around 7, and karaoke machine was set up right after. I prefered to stay at the top deck where cold air was enveloping the whole place. A few minutes after, our guide called us out again to drink beer and introduce us to traditional Vietnamese way of fishing. Sadly, we caught nothing. Hehe. I hit the bed after an hour and called it a night.

Bathroom inside my room

Since my iPhone clock and alarm is still set at Philippine time, which is one hour ahead of Vietnam, I woke up at 5 in the morning, Vietnam Time. I tried to hit the snooze button, but my mind immediately thought of where I am, so I started the new day a little early.

Other guests in other ships were doing some Vietnamese exercises, while our ship was still quite when I went out of my room. But after the few minutes, the kitchen started making sound, to which I assume, breakfast is about to start. The breakfast that we had reminded me of our traditional Filipino breakfast, which made me feel at home. 

Right after our quick breakfast, we were asked to transfer to a smaller boat, to head to our next destination, the Kayaking Area. This is my first time to do kayaking, and though I was a bit nervous, I’m happy that I was able to finish this one without turning my kayak upside down. Haha!

Kayaking Area

After that thrilling activity, we were asked to return to our boat to visit our next destination, the Ha Long Bay’s Amazing Cave. It was indeed amazing. With those colorful spotlights strategically placed all over the cave, it became so theatrical and photogenic. Good thing we went here next because heavy rain started to pour and the thick dark clouds covered most of the ships and islets around the bay.

Amazing Cave

View outside Amazing Cave after the Rain

It took us some 30 minutes to go around the Amazing Cave, but since the rain hasn’t stopped yet, we have to wait a little longer til it’s safe to go down the staircase from the cave. When we reached our cruise ship, we were told that we could freshen up again or just stay on the deck before the little cooking demo they’ve prepared for us.

I took a bath real quick, packed up my belongings and immediately went up to the top deck to see some more of this peaceful paradise. I dunno what, but I guess nature has its own magical way of cleansing one’s soul – and I really felt it. I couldn’t more thankful for this experience.

As much as I want to stay longer here, I have more cities to see, more people to meet and more dishes to digest. Our cruise here at Apricot Ha Long Luxury Cruise ended with a cooking demo of Vietnamese Spring Roll – one of the many dishes I enjoyed during this experience.

Vietnamese Spring Roll

Listening to Goblin's Soundtrack

By 12 noon, we unloaded Apricot Ha Long Luxury Cruise and found ourselves at the docking area waiting for our service bus that will take us back to our hotels in Hanoi.

This experience is invigorating as it is truly, truly memorable. A great start for this amazing journey…to happiness again.

Thank you, Ha Long Bay!

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