On my two night cruise with Cristina Diamond Cruises the disappearance of my iPhone 6, our boat getting lost in thick fog and the incredible people I met, made it an experience I will never forget.
The Journey to Hon Gai International Harbour
It was a 5 hours drive from Hanoi to Hon Gai International harbour, with a 1/2 hour rest stop in a place selling an unappealing vast selection of sculptures, clothes, paintings etc. However, it was interesting hear these were mainly created by disabled people.
When I left the bus, at the end of the journey, I realised my iPhone 6 no longer appeared to be in the bag I had put on the rack above our heads. The bag had been left unattended while we had been at the rest stop, along with the rest of our luggage, but I was assured the bus would be locked during this time.
The Cristina Cruise Boat/My iPhone
When we got to the Cristina Cruise boat we were allocated our cabins and I searched my bags for the iPhone 6. When I could not find it, I contacted our Tour Guide (Uy) and he made numerous ‘phone calls and helped me try to use the iPhone locator but the ‘phone was offline. We used his Blackberry, because the ship’s WiFi was so poor.
By the time I got to the buffet lunch it had been decimated by the large group. I got some vegetable curry, noodles and satay chicken. It was OK but my mind was on the missing iPhone.
Back at my cabin I noted the small balcony and large/impressive shower. Other than the better shower, it did not really look any more luxurious than my Mekong Delta cruise boat. I then went onto the sundeck to rest while answering more questions about my missing iPhone.
The sundeck, proper staircases and easier ways to get on and off the boat were an improvement on the Mekong Delta boat.
Just before we were due to go on our afternoon excursion, I was told my iPhone had been located under the carpet on the floor of the bus. This made no sense to me but I decided just to be grateful it was being returned the next day.
Vong Vien Floating Village, the Pearl Farm & Swimming in Ha Long Bay
The excursion was being rowed in a bamboo boat around the Vong Vien floating village, seeing an oyster farm and then swimming. The oyster farm was fascinating. We were given a demonstration of how they ‘impregnate’ the oyster and allowed to pick an oyster to see if a good cultured pearl had grown (which only occurs in 20% of the oysters).
Next it was swimming off Ban Chan beach in Ha Long Bay, in the mist. This was brilliantly surreal, if a bit cold. The incredible rock formations look very like the ones I saw in Phuket but the activities were sufficiently different to make the further cruise worthwhile.
It was interesting to talk to the other passengers on the beach, learning an Irish couple had brought their adopted Vietnamese daughter back to Vietnam for the first time to visit her orphanage again etc Back at the Cristina Cruise there was wine and a gathered for another chat.
Dinner Back on The Cristina Cruise
Dinner was a set menu and an odd succession of dishes with intricately carved vegetables. The spring rolls, carp with dill and dragon fruit were excellent but it would have been nice to get a clean plate for dessert. Conversation with a Danish father and daughter, and a group of three Australian guys, was stimulating and interesting. A good dinner in many ways.
After this we tried our hand at squid fishing, a frustrating but fun experience with you being able to see the squid, with the bright light from the boat, but not catch them. Then I went back to the sundeck to drink wine while chatting to the thoughtful Australians, the intellectual Danish girl and the brilliantly cheerful Irish, family again, while some older French passengers line danced.
On the second day I woke at 6:10am to find more heavy mist. I went to the sundeck to watch TV shows, downloaded when I was in Perth last year, on my MacBook Air, as other boats around us moved off and people tried Tai Chi.
Breakfast was at 7am. The watermelon juice was warm and the breakfast pho bland but with chillis that were too hot. Some customers were moaning about noise from the generators during the night, which had not been a problem for me.
Then we said goodbye to the ‘one night’ customers and I, and the two other remaining passengers, went on our excursion for the day.
Kayaking & the Thay Cave
We joined the passengers of another boat on a further day boat. As soon as you met this Australian, New Zealand & Irish group you knew you were in for a fun day.
We have a laugh over coffee and then headed off to kayak and explore ‘Thay’ cave on foot. With all the mist still around it was another ethereal experience. They were double kayaks and so I was with Phong - a Tour Guide guy who was funny and told me he caught a squid the previous evening.
Lunch on the Day Boat
Back at the day boat there was an incredible lunch of vegetable salad with boiled eggs and then fish (a deep sea oily fish), crispy ginger pork, tandoori chicken, nasty chewy squid, a baked potato, fried rice and then fresh watermelon (no clean plate again). We drank wine with lunch and then headed upstairs.
A Fun Afternoon in the Fog
We spent the afternoon drinking beer and chatting while the fog closed in. It was such an incredible group of people with a guy who develops Apps who had one that could help www.sifrew.com.
Our boat delayed setting off because of the heavy fog but eventually made the journey with a lookout screaming instructions, to enable us to avoided hitting islands and the horn being used to prevent a small fishing boat ramming us. It was a nerve-racking, but funny, ‘adventure'.
It was 4pm by the time we got back to back to our deserted boat. Eventually the other group came back from their day out and my iPhone 6 was returned by the new Tour Guide.
There were numerous children, and teenagers, with the new group and it had a very different dynamic to the night before.
2nd Dinner Back on the Cristina Cruise
Dinner that evening was the three remaining passengers (the Danish father & daughter) and me on the end of a table with two large US families.
We shared the same food as the previous night from the US family (eg the brilliant spring rolls) with new pork, beef, fish and chicken dishes. The staff were touchingly keen to ensure we enjoyed this food and I had a real heart to heart with my new Danish pals about life, relationships, family, friends, 'life anchors' etc. An even more perfect night than the day before. We split some wine and had a ball.
Last Day (Day 3)
On the last day I woke early again (6am) and this time the fog had cleared and we saw an incredible sunrise. Unfortunately, it did not photograph well. The breakfast soup was no better but I ate it outside on the balcony with a stunning view. Then it was back to my cabin to relax and pack.
Vietnamese Cooking Class
That morning the activity was being taught how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. I watched from a distance and heard the immortal phrase “same, same but different” again. Hearing that always makes me smile. I was given the spring roll the Tour Guide made to try, as we cruised around Ha Long Bay.
We ended the time of the boat with a ‘Vietnamese family lunch’. It was fun to have one last meal with my new Danish friends before the drive back to Hanoi. However, I would describe the food was more interesting, than excellent, this time.
🐻🐻🐻🐻 (4 out of 5 ‘teddies’) - the stress of the incident with my iPhone would have lost the cruise more ‘teddies’ if it was not for the incredible passengers I met and the surreal scenes in the fog. Tips:- do not leave your valuables unattended; request a cabin on the highest floor, to reduce the risk of generator/engine noise; and do not expect the WiFi to work.