Warning: this s a bit long, and a bit of a rant. But once I started, I couldn’t control myself.
Tuesday morning we left our Hanoi hotel for a two hour drive to Lan Ha Bay, where we boarded the Ginger for an overnight cruise. Lan Ha Bay is a newish part of Ha Long Bay, where day trippers and overnight trippers go to see fascinating islets which dot a large area. We saw advertisements for excursions to this area all over Hanoi, most offering a round trip bus combined with a several hour cruise.
At the advice of our travel consultant, we elected to stay overnight on the Ginger, a luxury boat with twelve spacious cabins. We wound up getting the largest cabin on the boat, a suite with wrap-around windows and a forward facing deck. Decadence strikes again.
We had assumed that we would be picked up by a driver Tuesday morning for the two-ish hour drive, and also on Wednesday to return to Hanoi. But as I alluded to in the last post, our expectation that we wouldn’t see Sunny after Monday was wrong. Sunny and our driver would accompany us to the Ginger, then hang out overnight in a nearby hotel, and take us to the airport the next day. So we needed to plan for four days worth of tips for them rather than two. Not that it’s that much money, and they’re both very nice, but I didn’t really see the value in having a guide sitting in the car with us and spending the night in a hotel. All of which we paid for, of course.
Anyway: we boarded the tender at the check-in dock around 12;10, and 10 of us (1) motored out 15 minutes in the drizzle to board the Ginger.
The Ginger is about a year old, and is really nicely furnished. In addition to our spacious suite, there’s a very roomy dining room, an open foredeck with tables, lounges and a jacuzzi, and a small library. The lousy weather made all of the outside stuff pretty useless.
The first order of business was an orientation session, where Minn (2), the cruise director, outlined the safety procedures and our schedule for the next 23 hours. Lunch would be at 1:00, followed by our afternoon excursion.
Lunch was pretty mediocre, but turned out to be the best meal we would have.
For the afternoon excursion, we read in our itinerary that we would “disembark at Viet Hai Village, a small village on Cat Ba Island, where we hop on bikes (electric car available) for a tour along small paved roads towards a quiet village nestled in a valley. Meet and greet local villagers and see their daily routines at homes, school, and work.”
We didn’t disembark at any village, but past the end of a road being paved, forcing us to walk in the rain along the side to where our vehicle was waiting.
There were no bikes there, which is just as well. It was raining.
If the open vehicle was electric, it was the first one I’ve seen that emitted carbon monoxide from an exhaust pipe.
The road was small. And paved.
When we stopped after about 30 minutes, we were all lead into a covered area to sit on small plastic chairs while Minn explained the geology of Lan Ha Bay. In heavily accented English. To an audience of four Germans, two Belgians, and four Americans (3).
We then were moved about ten feet to a second set of small plastic chairs while Minn showed us various whiskeys and brandies made locally, including one aged with a cobra in the bottle. And another with scorpions. Exciting!
On the way back in our stretch golf cart, we stopped a couple of times to take pictures of ourselves in front of cloud-obscured hills.
And that wasn’t even the worst part of the trip. When we got back, Sally and I went for the complementary massages that came with our cabin. Mine was good. Sally got the trainee, who gave a unbelievably terrible massage. Sally was afraid that the masseuse was going to hurt her.
Because of the massages we didn’t have time to go to the cooking class that the other eight guests seemed to enjoy.
Then there was a mediocre Pina Colada, followed by a mediocre dinner. After dinner we had a choice of activities: squid fishing in the dark and rain, or watching a BBC movie about two guys trying to get to Ha Long Bay from Ho Chi Min City. We passed on both.
Wednesday’s schedule was also interesting. Tai Chai at 6:30, followed by kayaking at 7:30 (4). Three people attended each. Then back to the cabin with time to shower and pack, as you needed to have your bags in the hall by 9:30 when breakfast was served (5). Breakfast itself was terrible – cold French toast, horrible coffee that actually never came, and white bread toast that wasn’t ordered.
Around 11:15 we were back in the tender, heading back to shore.
The rain stopped.
So: this mini-cruise had all the things I hate about cruises: mediocre food, lousy excursions and activities, being herded around in a group like sheep, being on someone else’s schedule and no ability to go and do something on your own. The cabin and ship itself were great, and the crew were pleasant (6) and helpful. And of course they’re not to blame for the weather.
As we were waiting for the tender, Sally filled out an evaluation form. Being the nice person she is, and liking the staff, she gave the Ginger mixed but basically positive ratings. My evaluation would have been less positive. But you know that by now.
(1) The boat has 12 cabins, and was apparently full yesterday. I guess no one wanted to cruise with us. Or they read the weather report.
(2) His name tag said Minnie Minn.
(3) Minn is a really nice guy. It’s not his fault we don’t speak Vietnamese.
(4) We were still experiencing periods of drizzle and heavy rain mixed with a bit of brightening.
(5) The only food available before then was a bit of fruit, reheated croissants and perhaps the worst coffee either of us ever had.
(6) Excepting the killer masseuse.
(7) These are approximately all the local people we saw.