a room of one's own
We set sail very quickly. There was no wasting time. The day was overcast and very hazy but remarkably you could make out the towering rock formations of the bay through the grey. There appeared to be some kind of main entrance into the labyrinth of islands because it seemed every boat in the bay was heading for one particular point. We enter into the thick of islands and get our first up close look at these remarkable peaks. There are altars carved into the sides of many of them, with crumbling steps that lead to narrow landings. Small fishing boats chug along large junks as the passage narrows. Along the bottoms of the islands the sea has cut into the limestone rock as the ageless tides have ebbed and flowed with the moon and bamboo and other greenery cling to the steep sides finding purchase in crevasses and holes. Not long after we enter into the thick of the islands we come across a port in a harbor where many boats are bobbing along in the water or tied up to a pier waiting patiently for passengers. This is our first stop, Hoen Thien Cung caverns. You have to climb up over 160 stairs to reach the entrance to the first room and a three room maze of limestone tunnels and stalactites. Each room gets bigger and more impressive. Unfortunately, the mass of humans passing through over the years has destroyed (inadvertently and purposefully) much of the original glory of this geological wonder. Centuries of water dripping through the limestone and eating it away is ruined by continuous human touch. Many stalactites have been broken off and kept as souvenirs by early century visitors. Millions of oily hands have dulled the luster from the closest of formations as people touch the ancient stones. Still it was impressive and worth the easy climb. The tour only took about an hour and a half. We made out way down another set of steps and onto a thatch roofed pier where our junk waited to retrieve us. We quickly set sail again as we head to a secluded harbor where we will drop anchor for the night. The Columbus Cruise boats are away from the multitude of sketchier looking boats. We paid a bit more for this trip, partly because the food reviews were so good! You can pay more and get an even posher trip (see Bhaya Cruises for posh!), but that was beyond our range, especially for an overnight trip. Because the two of us volunteered to sleep on the sister ship, the Nina, we haven't had a cabin to visit yet. The Nina was supposed to meet us at the pier outside the caverns, but the tide of communication works in mysterious ways, and the boat was waiting for us at the anchorage point. It was small, and didn't have its sails up, so from the outside it wasn't nearly as appealing...we were wondering if we'd made a mistake by being good sports. Kiem assured us it was very roomy inside- only one cabin, so it was really meant to be the honeymoon cruise. They piloted in so the decks were right next to each other, and we stepped on to the little Nina to check out our quarters. There was a sitting room with a bar, all in varnished dark mahogany, and the room was surrounded by drapes- sheers underneath floor length copper silk curtains. You opened a second group of curtains, and there was a king size bed with plenty of room to walk around. The adjacent head was ample in terms of a bathroom/shower on a boat! In the bedroom, you could open French doors and have a magnificent and private bay view!I guess we did alright after all.