Following on from our rainy, grey approach to Ha Long Bay aboard Diamond Princess we waited a little while before attempting to get ashore. We’d seen the excursion boats nuzzling up to the ship so knew that for people taking organised trips around the thousands of islets for which the Vietnamese bay is famous there wouldn’t be any contention for the ship’s tender boats but we figured there’d be less sitting around if we let the initial rush of people wanting to flee to dry land die down.
The other thing you have to figure into your estimations when wondering when the best time to head for a tender boat is just how many Elite passengers are on a Princess ship and how likely are they going to be to want to get off the ship quickly. Once you’ve accrued 150 days aboard or completed 15 cruises you reach Elite level loyalty on Princess, one of the perks of which is that you can queue-jump for tender boats. You can see in the information from the ship’s Princess Patter below that Elite guests were informed to head to the library while the rest of us picked up tickets and waited in one of the dining rooms; whenever a boat would be ready to accept passengers Elite members got first priority and however much space was left was taken from the remainder waiting with their tickets.
After waiting for the first couple of boats to head to land we gathered our things together for the day and made for the dining room with Vietnamese landing cards to hand, picked up our tickets, and sat down for probably no more than ten minutes before we were called to head downstairs and off the ship.
Tender boats tend to have some seating on top while most passengers are inside the vessel. It’s the luck of where you are in the queue and what preferences the people in front of you have as to whether you can get up on top but as someone who always travels with my camera in hand I will always choose an outside view from the tender boat journey if it’s available and luck was on our side at Ha Long Bay. It can be cold if you’re outside even if the ambient temperature is high but the benefits of uninterrupted photo opportunities plus getting to disembark the boat first once you reach your destination are worth it.
We were then on our way, very slowly at first until clear of Diamond Princess, then a little faster on the way to land. It was still overcast but the prospect of rain seemed to have completely vanished and we could feel the gathering warmth. There were a number of different types of small vessels out on that stretch of water with us but it’s always hard not to be most impressed by the cruise ship herself especially when you get that prow-first three-quarters view.
Our short journey ashore took us alongside a long pier. We couldn’t work out if that was just used by ships that could get in a little closer to shore, perhaps those smaller than Diamond Princess, or whether it was in the process of being built to eventually supplant the need for tourist ships to use tender boats at all. You can see it in the photo below and in the short video clip of us using the tender boat.
The tender boat from the cruise ship took us to West Ha Long (Bãi Cháy), passing under the cable car that forms part of the Dragon Park theme park in the city. Taking a free shuttle bus provided by Princess Cruises, the prominent cable-stayed bridge would be the route by which we’d take the short trip across to East Ha Long (Hong Gai) in order to take in some of the sights on foot and that will be covered in the next post.