We had been sent the following instructions for the ports of call where a trip was included!
IMPORTANT NOTE: It has not been possible to arrange for group disembarkation times on board the Sapphire Princess. When you board the ship, please proceed to Guest Services and request the below disembarkation times. This is the easiest way to ensure that all passengers in your group disembark at a similar time, so that we do not keep your coach(es) waiting.
- 14-Nov: 8:00-8:30am (your transfer is due to depart Hong Kong Port at 9:30am)
- 16-Nov: 5:30-6:00am (your transfer is due to depart Cai Lan Port at 7:00am)
- 22-Nov: 5:30-6:00am (your transfer is due to depart Laem Chabang Port at 7:00am)
- 27-Nov: 8:30-9:00am (your transfer is due to depart Singapore Port at 10:00am)
We knew these instructions were unacceptable before we had left home and had had to send a letter to the tour agents telling them a) the ship wasn't due to arrive and drop anchor until 7.00am and b) as it was a tender port we might be somewhat delayed in getting off the ship. The answer we got was basically do your best! Not a good solution at all.
Fortunately most of the passengers who were taking cruise ship organised excursions were boarding their junk boats directly from the ship and didn't need a tender. Someone in our group of 69 ( yes the two we'd left behind in Cambodia had successfully made their way to Hong Kong to board the ship) had somehow managed to get a group disembarkation time for us so we virtually all got off the ship at the same time without too much delay. A coach was waiting to take us to our departure place which involved a drive through the local town which seems to be in the middle of a major upheaval, They are planning big things for Halong Bay as a major cruise ship destination as well as land based visits too. A new airport is being built too apparently.
If you are not familiar with Halong Bay, it's considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World as designated by UNESCO.
This is what the tour brochure had promised!
This is what we got!
No... not the one in front, the bigger one behind. Not exactly looking like the brochure photo though is it! Some more deception on the advertising front in my opinion!
There was an armada setting sail on this grey foggy morning.
Apparently it's very common to have poor visibility, especially first thing.
The waters though were pretty uninviting and appeared very polluted which is hardly surprising as 1000 boats are licensed to sail around these waters.
We were heading for some caves where they are expecting more and more tourists to arrive in the future and they are busy expanding the landing stage.
A walk around the circuit to see the illuminated stalagmites and stalactites which were lit up colourfully
then it was off to a rustic fishing village to delve into the culture and customs of the local inhabitants! Well maybe not, we did stop at a man made beach where you could go for a swim and I seem to remember there was a rather incongruous statue to a Russian Cosmonaut built there, not sure why. There were a few gift shops too but no sign of a fishing boat! Nobody fancied taking a dip in the water either it was pretty filthy.
My overall impression wasn't that high, on a nicer day the limestone karsts might have looked better, in fact as we returned to our port of departure the sun did brighten up a bit.
Somehow I couldn't see the waters ever turning emerald green as we had had described in our cruise plan but you never know.
I have a feeling things will only get worse though unless someone takes the initiative to protect what is potentially a stunning seascape. They even celebrate it on one of their bank notes.
200,000 dong! You don't need to be minted to own one though, there are 30,000 to just £1!
In fairness we did get served a nice seafood lunch on board and I did see one solitary Pacific Reef Egret, the only one of the whole tour.
Overhead a few Black kites too making challenging photography in those light conditions.
The Kites of course are scavengers so I presume quite a lot gets thrown overboard from the boats that sail there. One hopes it's just organic matter that gets chucked in to the sea.
It was an OK day, not the best, not the worst. Mind you I could have done without the obligatory visit to an artisan craft centre.
here it was all about cultured pearls which I found rather distasteful when you see what happens to a poor oyster.
Eventually we got back to the tender port in Cai Lan and while most headed straight towards the tenders, Claire and I thought we'd find a bar.
And find we did. One with a grandstand view over the bay, the river and the illuminated bridge.
and the nearby "big wheel" which didn't seem to be operating.
With drinks a fraction of the cost of the ship's bars we stayed quite a while in the company of another canny couple we met there!