Move over, honeymooners! Solo travellers can also say AHOY! aboard a cruise ship! ;-)
It was late last year when I found myself booking a Halong Bay cruise package for two…for me, myself and I. It sounded silly— a partnerless lady boarding a luxury cruise ship for a romantic overnight trip along the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I haven’t really traveled alone in a foreign country so when they learned that I’m going to cruise…alone…my friends assumed that I have a mysterious date or I needed some soul-searching. But, the truth was that I just wanted to find out if cruising could also be safe and fun for solo travellers like me.
It was a two and a half hour van ride from Hanoi to the private pier of Emeraude. Surprise, surprise, I found myself in the company of French, Cuban, Colombian, German and Australian honeymooners and couples! I may have looked out of place, but once I saw the breathtaking karsts from the pier, I knew that I would also enjoy this vacation, even without a hubby to share the cold sweet November.
From the pier, we rode a small boat that took us to Emeraude cruise ship, a replica of the French paddle-steamer Emeraude. As we started our cruise, the crew welcomed us with refreshing cocktails on the sun deck.
My room on the upper deck was clean and the space was just enough. I liked its French colonial style. It also has a tiny private bathroom with hot shower.
The view outside the room was magnificent. There’s even a sun bed outside my door.
My favourite is the sun deck with bar lounge and more sun beds! Though the sun was out during my entire stay in Hanoi, this place was still a perfect spot for chilling and sipping a margarita!
Here’s the view from the top deck:
After touring the ship, we had our lunch buffet. Food variety (International and Vietnamese — soup, salad, main course, dessert and fruits), taste and presentation were excellent.
While having lunch, the assistant operations manager, Joy Oberiano, approached me and asked if I’m a Filipina. Hello, kababayan!
There were occasional Vietnamese boat vendors who were selling pearls, mineral water and… American-branded snacks!
After lunch, I availed my free 30-minute foot massage. My masseuse was a friendly Vietnamese who spoke little English. I don’t know if she only knew one sentence but she told me this-- “You’re so beautiful!” Very good English, my friend! Hehehe!
After the relaxing massage, we boarded a small boat going to Sung Sot Cave (Sung Sot Grotto). On the way to the cave, we saw plenty of floating villages.
The Sung Sot Cave has two main chambers. The outer chamber is called “the waiting room.” It has smooth walls and the height of the ceiling is about 30 meters.
The inner chamber, meanwhile, is called “the serene castle.” The formations here are more interesting. The guide would always ask us to use our imagination. Sometimes obvious and sometimes indistinguishable, the rocks suddenly became animals, people, and... plain rocks with awesome shapes. The guide also asked us to touch the “giant turtle” for good luck. When I asked her if it really works, she replied with a smile, “Just believe!” ;-)
There were so many tourists so it was very hard to take a photo without the presence of strangers :-D
The multi-colored lighting inside the cave added appeal to the formations.
For those who are scared of spelunking, don’t fret! Sung Sot Cave is plain walk in the park. All tracks are well-paved, huge and well-lit. The tour was just 45 minutes so it’s just walk-snap-walk-snap until you reach the exit of the cave.
We took the small boat back to the ship, rested a bit and went to Titov’s peak, formerly known as Cat Nang Island. I learned that this was named by President Ho Chi Minh after the Russian Astronaut Giecman Titov, who visited the island in 1962. Coming from a tropical country laden with perfect white beaches, the beach of Titov’s didn’t impress me. We had the option to swim and kayak around the island but with that kind of chilly weather, I decided to hold on to my jacket.
One must not miss Titov's peak. After more than 400 steps, you'll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of Halong Bay. Ooohlala!!! There was no sunset and it was foggy, yet the view was already spectacular. Imagine this same spot during summer!
In the evening, the Emeraude crew taught us how to carve tomatoes and carrots and how to make fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.
After the cooking demo, I was glad to share dinner with nice couples from Germany, Colombia and Cuba. We ended up exchanging stories about our different cultures ’til closing time.
I decided to skip movie night (1992 Academy Award winning French film Indochine) to save on sleep for the early sunrise tai chi.
But the cold weather and the ship’s very comfortable lullaby made me miss out on another activity ;-) I don’t know if it was the wine or the wonders of the Gulf that induced my sleep, but I have to say that this cruise made me experience one of my most relaxing sleeps ever! After freshening up and having breakfast, I chatted with my cruise mates while hanging out on the sun deck 'til our check-out time. It was so relaxing to just gaze on breathtaking islands and islets scattered around while enjoying the fresh sea breeze. Yes, November is not a good time for clear skies and warm weather, but sweet November is also a good month to enjoy calm, cold, relaxing and breezy Halong Bay.
So next time you hear the word “CRUISE,” you may also associate it with solo travellers like me. Tried and tested: You don’t really need a partner in order to enjoy a cruise. A sense of adventure, openness to other cultures, and appreciation of nature made me survive and love every minute of my "honeymooning with myself" ;-)
For more information about Emeraude Halong Bay overnight cruise, check out http://www.emeraude-cruises.com Highly recommended!
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