14 January 2019
I woke up at 03:00 and checked on Bugsy, only to find she wasn’t in her bed. I almost had a middle-of-the-night panic until I saw that she was sprawled out at the other end of her bed! Satisfied once I’d replaced her in her usual position, I fell back to sleep, only to experience the craziest of dreams, most of which I can’t quite remember, but one involving a plane crash, which left me feeling slightly anxious when I finally woke up! Ian also has lots of weird dreams, so we wondered if it was either something we’d eaten or the lack of oxygen in our room that made our brains go a bit mad!
We didn’t actually get up until nearly 09:00, but were at breakfast half an hour later, where Cornelia was given a hot chocolate by the restaurant manager, and scoffed two pieces of toast with jam, followed by a plate of scrambled eggs that she asked for, having seen my plateful. We are being recognised by all the staff now, who are being very attentive! While I was waiting for my eggs to be made, another manager came over and took my plate and said he’d bring them over when they were ready. At one point, we had three memberships staff cooing over Cornelia and I knew it was all too much for her when she buried her face in her hands and refused to speak to any of them!
After breakfast, we sorted out some laundry that needs to be done. The prices here are way too high, but we don’t really have a choice, and only have a week’s worth of undies etc. I managed to persuade Ian to have a couple of t-shirts washed too, so he wouldn’t keep sniffing the armpits to work out which was the least smelly to put on today… 😂😳
We had half an hour in the play park while we waited for our tour guide to collect us for our boat trip. Cornelia had fun whizzing round on the merry go round, quickly recognising “her swan” by checking that the bird behind had a splat of peanut butter on it. We waited in reception to be collected, but she came to let us know that she was still waiting for the other couple who were booked on the trip to arrive. Ten minutes later, she returned to say that they’d decided to go on a private excursion later instead. Four year olds are brilliant at reducing numbers on organised trips!!
Off we went, on our little boat across to the mainland, where our tour guide introduced us to our driver, Le Van Dung, who took us to Tuan Ghau Marina, where there were literally hundreds of tourist junks moored. Many of these boats appeared to live up to the name “Junk”, and looked as if they’d seen a storm or two over the years! We were handed over to our guide for the day, Lisa, who was a warm and enthusiastic young woman.
We had been told that the boat (which could accommodate 40 people) was unlikely to be anywhere near full. Apparently, ten in total had travelled on it yesterday. Initially, we were seated with a Chinese family and were rather squished on to the table together, but they quickly noticed the unnecessary squashing of us all together, when there were several spare tables available, and another table was laid for us. Again, we were delayed by about fifteen minutes by two passengers who had not arrived. These latecomers joined our table, and the couple from Singapore were very pleasant company for the day.
Lunch was served as soon as we had set sail and our table was filled with an assortment of dishes: seafood salad; (not very) crispy chicken; semi-cooked cold chips; enormous prawns in their shells; an unidentifiable fish (Ian thinks it tasted like mackerel); boiled rice; delicious boiled cabbage; salad; stuffed crab shells; and later on, fresh pineapple and watermelon. It was an interesting feast and, apart from the chicken and chips which were a culinary disaster wherever in the world you may live, it was quite tasty and filled us up enough for the afternoon. We were glad that their food hygiene standards are up to scratch… Ian found the largest rat trap he’s ever seen, resting outside the kitchen, and baited with a prawn!
After we had eaten, we headed to the outdoor top deck (having donned our coats to protect us from the chilly breeze) and enjoyed the atmospheric surroundings. Again, hundreds of boats joined us on the waters, and we were glad that there were only sixteen of us on our boat: some were jam-packed with tourists, and I’m not convinced I would have felt terribly safe on them!
The limestone rock islands are reminiscent of those you find in travel brochures, with fascinating shapes, including the “kissing chickens” (which in Vietnam make an entirely different sound, we discovered during our chat with Lisa!!!) While Ian and I were entranced by the views, Cornelia entertained herself by sliding down the “plank” into the pretend water, much to the delight of our fellow guests! One of a group of four teenage boys thought she was so funny, he asked if he could have his photo taken with her and (following a stern word from Mummy in her ear) she obliged, holding his hand and smiling broadly.
Our first stop was at a floating fishing village by Ba Hang Cave. The village is now apparently abandoned, but the fishermen are shipped in every morning from the mainland. You could choose whether to kayak around by yourselves, or take a bamboo boat which would be rowed by a villager (exclusively, it seems frail-looking old women who were probably not old and certainly not frail!). We opted for the latter, and were glad to have done so, as we were treated to a superb voyage through the cliffs into some beautiful lagoons, which would have been serene and peaceful and quite spiritual, had it not been for the several dozen other boats, with passengers all donning their hi-viz life jackets! We can’t complain – we were amongst them – but it did somewhat detract from the ambience of it all. Similarly, the volume of floating plastic rubbish was sad to see. We understand in summer that there are three times as many boats, and were glad to be visiting in winter!
Being delayed by other people became the theme of the day, as we were missing one family for nearly half an hour! We have no idea where they went, but they did eventually return, seemingly oblivious to the inconvenience they had caused in terms of less time for our subsequent activities. 🙄
We set sail again, this time arriving at Dong Thien Cung, a magnificent cave. Lisa asked if the group wanted to visit two caves, or just stick to the main touristy one. Ian and I both shot up our hands at the opportunity to visit both (and hopefully escape the flow of human traffic), and we all trekked slowly up the impressive staircase that had been carved into the rock. Cornelia was terrific, and walked the whole way. This was particularly impressive, given the number of adults who needed to stop to catch their breath. We were quietly very proud of her.
The caves are staggering and have incredible formations, which have been really well-illuminated to maximise the “wow” factor. The second cave (Hang Dau Go) was even bigger and was not discovered until 1996, by a fisherman who chased a monkey into a hole in the cliff. The hole is still visible, and we had a real sense of how incredible it must have been to find the enormous cavern which contains a source of fresh water, initially used by the local fishermen. Apparently, at the time, several thousand fishermen lived in floating villages around the islands. Lisa told us there were now fewer than 200 people living in the Bay. She pointed out many of the stalagmite/stalactite formations which looked like various objects/things, including a pair of elephants, a turtle, and a breast, which led her to tell us a cultural tale… This was hard to follow, but the moral was that in Vietnam they customarily wee outside, and frown upon public displays of affection. As Lisa put it: “Pissing for outside, kissing for inside”. So, that’s a new word for Cornelia’s vocabulary…! 😳
By the time we had completed our circular route through the caves, Cornelia’s heels were starting to rub, and she was very happy to get back to the boat for her plate of pineapple. Annoyingly, they had cleared away our almost-full bottles of water, and were going to charge us for another bottle. Ian brought me a cup of black tea instead (which was free) and we stubbornly declined any other drinks. Which was probably a bit silly of us, really, as they were less than a £ a bottle… And we were thirsty!!! 😂🥴
The crew also showed us various souvenirs and trinkets, but we weren’t buying anything today. However, Cornelia was very happy to be given a Vietnamese figurine by the boy with whom she had had her photo taken earlier, and she has named the doll “Lisa”.
We spent the rest of our trip up on the top deck again, enjoying the views (complete with very atmospheric late afternoon sunny haze), until Lisa asked us all to go back inside, as we were shortly to dock. The marina was far less crowded now, and we were soon reunited with our driver. He spoke good English and gave us a couple of recommendations for our next few days, including a cookery school and a day trip to Hanoi. (He gave Ian his card, and said that if was interested in a driver to take him to Hanoi, or indeed anywhere else, he should give him a call.)
Back at Vin Pearl, Cornelia (at her request) went straight to kids’ club, while Ian and I killed half an hour at the gym. I tried out a elliptical machine that I have not come across before, and although I enjoyed it well enough, I am definitely a runner at heart! We collected Cornelia and after Ian and I had showered (Cornelia had requested a bath after supper), we went back to our usual spot in the restaurant for the usual selection of a la carte items. We want to try the buffet one night, but we are always too full from lunch to justify the expenditure and the amount of food we might consume!
Cornelia was very tired, and agreed to have her hands, feet and face washed before bedtime. This ended up being a quick bath for her, and I added some bath salts (courtesy of the hotel) which she enjoyed very much. She snuggled up on our bed for a story with Daddy, and although she fidgeted for a time, she didn’t demand our attention, and eventually fell asleep. Ian and I weren’t far behind her – there’s something soporific about sitting quietly in a warm dark room!!