Our final morning of our all to brief cruise on Halong Bay began with a visit to Soisim Beach, where we walked up 200 steps to the tiny top of a tiny mountain. There were quite a few of us gentling jostling for our turn in the 2×3 metre ‘turning circle’ at the summit. The views were lovely from the top, in every direction, thanks to the rains the day before. Looking behind us (away from our landing beach) showed just how many boats are doing the rounds, lugging tourists to and from all the top spots. The atmosphere where ‘our’ 3 boats were moored (the 3 Halong boats), was one of privacy and seclusion, so it was quite a shock to make this little trek and see on the opposite side of the island, a bay where about 17 boats were anchored, shoulder to shoulder. I quite liked doing it the way we did with Halong Cruises – yet again the perks of cruising on a smaller vessel.After our descent from the tiny mountain top, we watched on while our newfound Canadian friend went for a dip in the cool water – the rest of us standing on the white sand in several layers to protect us against the cool temperatures of the morning. Crazy man!
Our goodbyes to our new mates were done over breakfast and emails were swapped with the plan of trying to meet up again in Vietnam if our tight itineraries allowed. It’s good to do the farewells before disembarkation, because that ritual really is about ensuring nothing is left behind, finding luggage again after the porters have done all the hard work and locating our driver!
The drive back to Hanoi seemed to take longer, and while we were eager to forge ahead, the driver needed a break (and food), and so we stopped at a similar gigantic souvenir shop to the one we visited on our outgoing trip. We both availed ourselves of the clean western toilets on offer, as well as sharing a vegetable noodle dish for lunch while we waited to continue our journey.
Once in Hanoi, we really only had a couple of hours to kill before our driver collected us again to take us to the airport. We left our luggage at our trusty Hanoi Elite Hotel with the exemplary staff and strolled around the corner to one of their sister hotels in the Elegance group, the Essence Hanoi, for a more substantial meal than would be supplied by Vietnam Airlines for our evening flight (especially since we were unable to request a vegetarian option online when booking). This hotel is larger than the Elite, and so has a good-sized restaurant (Essence Café) with service that couldn’t be faulted and food that was filling and tasty.
At the airport we paid to use the Vietnam Airlines lounge and managed to get a small amount of internet action, but no luck with Facebook – the unofficial ban by the Vietnamese government is more than a pain in government buildings such as this!
We had a smooth flight – exit row seats are always a bonus for those of us who usually have to travel economy! We didn’t arrive at our hotel until about 10pm, but it was a warm and friendly greeting, just like at our previous hotel – these little boutique places really know how to treat their guests! Ding, the driver who collected us from the airport (one of 2 in the employ of the hotel), had outstanding English and a great sense of humour. Our room at the Orchid Hotel is spacious and nicely appointed, with a little balcony and a large bathroom (AND robes!). The next test will be breakfast in the morning!
We cruised aboard the Halong Jasmine, with Heritage Line.