Tag Archives: Merlin V

Vietnam – Halong Bay

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Our Vietnam tour ended with a two-day boat trip around Halong Bay, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. Well, one day really, by the time we journeyed there and back from Hanoi.

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The weather had been pretty good until now – hot in Ho Chi Minh City and pleasantly warm in Hue and Hoi An, but now it turned seriously chilly. With so much cheap North Face gear for sale we both wisely invested in an additional layer of clothing before the trip.

Our ship, Galaxy Premium, with only 22 passengers on board, was comfortable and more than adequate for our needs, and we were well looked after by the crew and our multi-tasking guide. He did everything from wait at tables to teaching Tai Chi, and from karaoke singing to demonstrating the art of making Hanoi spring rolls.

I was amazed to learn there are some 400 tourist boats cruising around Halong Bay these days. They all have permits and are strictly regulated as to which overnight anchorage to use and which passages to take. Apparently, some time ago an order went out for them all to be painted white, no knows exactly why, but there’s plenty of speculation….

The cruise was both totally relaxing (for a start we weren’t sailing ourselves!) and filled with on board activities and outings. Our meals were delicious.

After lunch we were taken out in kayaks to see the Dark and Light Tunnels of Cat Ba National Park. We also spotted monkeys frolicking on the rocks. The breathtaking karst limestone scenery reminded us of our days aboard Merlin V in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. A couple of intrepid fellow passengers went swimming and later also squid fishing but we chose the warmth inside.

Horror of horrors, a karaoke machine was set up after dinner and we all joined in the merriment. Not too many brilliant voices on board but lots of fun.

I was one of only two people who got up for Tai Chi on top deck before breakfast – what a treat to do this gentle exercise in such spectacular surroundings. After breakfast we visited an extensive cave system (with some interesting formations!) before an early lunch followed by the return bus trip to Hanoi.

And so ended our official tour…Luckily we had booked a few extra nights to explore the city on our own.

 

Midwinter break in Sydney

We took off from Avalon airport (very close to home) at 6.00am on a bitterly cold Melbourne morning in late June and were enjoying the sunshine on the Manly ferry in Sydney two hours later! What a great start to our mid-week break!

I can verify that it’s significantly warmer in Sydney than in Melbourne in winter!    Melbourne's cold left behind

Enjoying the Manly ferry
Enjoying the Manly ferry

For the next three days we caught ferries, buses and trains all around Sydney retracing some our steps from 2003-04 when we spent around four months in Sydney aboard Merlin V. Perhaps most memorably, we caught the bus north to Avalon Beach and wandered along the beach where I’d swum in the rock pool while Gary tackled the surf. It’s funny how your memory works – the coastline was perhaps even more impressive than we’d remembered, while the beach seemed somewhat smaller. (Gary must have these photos!)

...and the beach
…and the beach

The bus had taken us across the Harbour Bridge (always a treat!) which we’d sailed under so triumphantly in 2003 and then over the Spit Bridge, which had opened up for us when we sailed into Middle Harbour. Such a beautiful sailing area and so many memories! I’m always amazed at how much bushland there still is around Middle Harbour and am setting my sights on the 10 km walk from the Spit Bridge to Manly for our next visit….

Lunch out on the balcony in Manly
Lunch in Manly

We also took the ferry in the opposite direction to Parramatta passing Balls Head Bay and several other fondly-remembered anchorages. How lucky we were! IMG_2004

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The Rocks

Our digs were close to Darling Harbour where we found another brilliant lunchtime venue, great for people watching and checking out the boats.

We also explored The Rocks again, always interested in history.

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The Rocks

And on our last evening we finally got to the Whiskey Bar I’d read about on the Net. Hard to find but well worth the effort, the Baxter Inn stocks an impressive array of whiskeys (over 600, I’m told) and is very close to my idea of a perfect venue! Basement location, lots of small crowded tables, somewhat dimly lit, brilliant blues playing and so many whiskeys to chose from. I chose a smokey, single malt Lagavulin from the Isle of Islay for myself and for Gary an Irish whiskey, very much to his taste! High on my list of places to visit again!

Whiskey galore at The Baxter Inn
Whiskey galore at The Baxter Inn