One night, two days, and a lifelong hospitality. Welcome to Luxury Orchid Cruises.
Kuya Ronald comes around the corner to check on the guest at Dinh Vu port in Hai Phong City. He serves a welcome drink on this humid day as sweat drips down my forehead trying to contain the kids with a doodle pad. His smile radiated from the corner of my eyes as he’s made his way up to our table to introduce himself. The served fruit juice has sweat itself to a watered down pink drink as I held it with sweaty palms. But Kuya Ronald is as inviting and if not as refreshing to converse with. A wonderful welcoming hospitality to start the journey to majestic Ha Long Bay.
“Filipino?” “Yes kuya”, I answered. (kuya is a respectful address to a male person who is older than you in the Philippines tradition). We go on and talk a little about what region and language we speak before he politely hold the conversation to a pause as he group the passengers to board the ferry that takes us to the cruise ship.
We left Hanoi at nine in the morning to a two and a half hour uber to Dihn Vu port. From there we are tansfered by a tender at 1215 to the cruise ship.
As the wonderful Orchid crew welcomed us with a warm hospitality of international lunch buffet, the intimate small group of 15 passengers was left mesmerized. In awe as we passed the islets of Con Vit area with towering limestone formation casting shadows of filtered light coming in through its shaded lush evergreen forest. My heart pounding as I rest to a scene of pure and raw natural beauty. Fascinated and in disbelief as the calm waters lullabied the thoughts into oblivion and divine submission.
There I was sitting with my family. The delicate food of carefully handcrafted slices appetizing the senses while it painted a reflection of the panorama of wonders before us, collectively indulging in the culture and generosity of Vietnam as we recollect on our travel. A seascape of majestic haze clear up as the twinkling mid day sun play diamond sparkles on the surface of the emerald ocean. This area is untouched and is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. A UNESCO world heritage site.
Ha Long Bay during the magnificent and tranquil sunrise from the very comfort of our own private balcony
Kuya Ronald once again comes around to make sure the whole family is in the best care. He carefully maneuver around to the other table and greets each passenger and their families. How did we deserve so much from a person of genuine charisma. I reflected on his very character. His gratitude to work on this ship while he leaves family behind for many months truly humbles me. How he looked the children in the eye like his very own. His fatherly yet graceful accommodation.
After a colorful welcoming lunch in my palate, we headed up the deck to fully embrace the soft breeze and towering limestone pillars to find a different inspiration and perspective as they peak in a manner bold yet gentle at the same time. We took advantage of the amenities as we owned that space while the rest enjoyed a nice siesta.
We relaxed in the jacuzzi and breathed a sigh as we reflected on the journey, quietly to each in our own space. Only the echoing laughter and giggle heard as the children soak up the quiet afternoon and the upper deck all to themselves.
a local vendor selling wonderful treats
As we enjoyed the playful sun to dry our swim wear, we headed to the deck as local vendors on their own small kayak approach the ship. They each pack a variety of snacks, souvenirs and even jewelry and pearls for sale.
Legend has it that the dragon gods came down to protect the bay from invasion. It dropped several jewels from its mouth to make pillars and barriers to what is now the limestone formations. The dragons is said to be resting in the waters after its descent many years ago where it also got its name, Ha Long- which means “where the dragons descended into the sea.”
Trung Tran Cave. The first activity for the day was a full stop at the Trung Tran Cave located in the middle of Cat Ba National Park with Kim Giao forest around the cave.
We progressed there from the Cat Ba Island using a bus to tour us along the valley and into the cave. Trung Trang Cave measures 300m lengthwise through the mountains. The cave was carved by nature for more than 2000 years. The tour was a moderate activity with stable walkways easy to navigate around with children.
The floating Village. On our way back to the ship at around five, the ship took us to a floating village and observed the locals as they go about their day. The locals thrive in these majestic waters and find a source of trade in the shallow and peaceful diverse ecosystem and aquatic life.
Private swim in the bay. From there we made our way a little further into the more remote and less populated area at Tra Bau. The ship was anchored at this time in the cool and still emerald waters. You can’t help but join the group as they jump in the tantalizing waters for a nice cool relaxing swim.
At around five or six in the evening you get to immerse yourself in the romantic and vivid sky as it saturate the afternoon in your very own private balcony. The beautiful quiet and bold sunset dips down spilling orange hue on the ocean- scattered magenta play into the evening sky. The tranquil serenity is astounding, deafening as you look into your lovers eyes. You will never forget this romantic afternoon with your family as it slowly catch the blue hour and the first twinkle of the night.
The cruise also host a cooking lesson and a wonderful time to enjoy a relaxing massage.
Seven course meal. At dinner time we wear our fine Ao Dai that we hand picked in Hanoi a few days back. A traditional long silk dress worn by men and women with a slit on the side paired with a comfortable pants. The evening ambience with candle lit serenade illuminated the fine silken colors that radiated through the night. Its playful floral character bring as element of authentic parallel to this beautiful orchid cruise.
As the 7 course dinner marched to our table, each one brought a reminisce of Vietnam displayed aesthetically, plated and savored generously, painting a hint of Vietnam elements in our palates. Love and family, the farmland and the seas, all in a cohesive balance as we indulge the generous serving into the starry night. A glass of Vietnamese wine sealed with a dessert treat enhanced the flavor similar to an encore in a fine evening concerto.
We savored the last few hours of the cool late summer night in our sweet abode. An exclusive suite with a 180 glass view of the bay with only the stars illuminating the night and a gentle breeze through its generous balcony. A heavenly retreat to a deep slumber in paradise.
The next morning we woke up early to enjoy the sunrise with an authentic Vietnamese coffee on our very own private balcony. The upper deck hosted a Thai chi exercise in the open and lovely 360 degree view of the bay. After a wonderful breakfast we readied ourselves to an early morning of fun and exercise on the waters.
Kayak excursion. Exploring Ha Long Bay on a kayak with the family surely was one of the best highlights on this trip. It gave a different perspective and serene energy as the many islands of different formation and depth tower around us making for a dramatic yet tranquil space in time. Hear the many different diverse animals that live here echo through the thick and untouched forest and cave formations.
How and why the dragons, sent by the emperors long ago, continue to remain in these waters is clearly why millions of tourist and adventure seekers continue to come back to the bay every year. Ha Long Bay will never be explored in a lifetime. It takes a mindset of the locals to fully immerse in this world all to its own unique landscape. It takes a lifetime to fully embrace its beauty, its many bold sunsets and stories that continue to live in the thousands of particular rock formations carved many years ago.
Our final meal on the ship was a grand feast as the captain and the crew personally came to bid us a farewell. Their genuine smile clearly resonate in these majestic waters as it sits idle only the heart can feel its vibration of a teaming underwater life that mirror the glistening oceans surface. The soft gentle breeze, confident grandeur inlets and picturesque formations bow down before you as you exit this humble wonders of the world.
Thank you Kuya Roland for a once in a lifetime hospitable service you have gifted my family. This grand gesture is a lifelong souvenir I will forever be grateful for. Thank you for the coffee!
The captain, the crew and Kuya Roland next to me as we snap our final meeting in a frame. A true testament to a true hospitality that sealed our Vietnam journey.
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