The trip I took to Ha Long Bay in October 2014 may turn out to be the single most important tour that I ever take. They say you meet the most incredible people when you travel the world and this is definitely a confirmation of this, but more on that later.
When you google Vietnam, one image constantly pops up and that is of Ha Long Bay, the UNESCO World Heritage site. Ha Long translates to ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon, sent from the jade emperor charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible.
I visited Ha Long Bay with 4 of my best friends after 5 days experiencing the polar opposites of Hanoi and Singapore (both brilliant, just in very different ways).
During my research into Hanoi and Ha Long Bay I came across the 2 night, 3 day ‘Castaway’ Island trip which is run by one of the main backpacking hostel in Hanoi. I love being the tour guide and having some idea, if not set in stone on what activities I want to do in each city I visit. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is too great to look back and say ‘I wish I had done that’.
The trip divides opinion, not one for a couple looking to walk the beach in the moonlight but one for a group of travelers looking to party!. So, it wasn’t hard to convince 5 lads to take the proverbial plunge and book this trip prior to entering Vietnam.
Note; the trip, which includes everything bar drinks was available for about £120. Update: this price has increased to about £150 – August 2016
Day 1 – Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
The trip starts early and departs from the Downtown Hanoi Backpackers Hostel at around 7.00am. The trip to Ha Long takes 4-5 hours and includes 2 boat trip and 2 coach trips as you travel through the Cat Ba National Park.
The last boat doubles as a booze cruise / chance to tour around the islands of Ha Long Bay. As soon as the boat had departed Cat Ba the first beer was skulled (pierced and chugged) as a welcome to the festivities. One thing that the boat did enforce was a number of drinking games. Say MINE or TEN and down you go for 10 of your finest push/press ups. Some were better than others. Some were so oblivious they accumulated 30/40/50 press-ups in unison.
The tour was excellent and we also had the opportunity to swim around the Bay and even do some Yoga on a beach within the bay. This was lead by a follow Ha Long Bay’er Adi who started the practice and was happy for us all to join in.
After the 2-3 hour boat tour we entered the Castaway Island to the sight of a butt-naked, 20 stone Australian… A sign of things to come?
The island is one of 1000s that make up Ha Long (bay of 1000 dragons??)and is literally just a beach, 100m in length with 5/6 accommodation huts (with 8-10 beds each) and a larger but for eating, drinking and partying. The huts are basic but comfortable enough with the amenities you would need. Electricity is restricted (bar the main hut) to peak times. BUT do you need much when this is your view from your balcony?
The food is served twice a day (breakfast and dinner) was relatively basic but well received and plentiful! I can imagine it can get quite repetitive. As the lights go down, the alcohol consumption peaks! Drinks are expensive compared to Hanoi and the mainland but cheap compared to the UK (about £1 a beer). The main dining area turns to a party zone, with drinking games, dancing and for those who want to; a midnight swim out on the the pontoon which is circa 50m into the bay.
It was after this midnight Swim when I first met my girlfriend Samantha Josephine Ellan (who now lives in Manchester with me) properly, we had interacted on the boat but she had taken a nap and awoken at about midnight. We spent the rest of that night talking and getting to know each other.
Sam was traveling with her friend Courtney and the two were definitely the highlight of my trip.
Day 2 – Exploring the Bay
Day 2 awoke with sore heads after a late late night!. The morning didn’t consist of much but I did take an early morning swim out onto the same pontoon. To enjoy some peace and quiet, a period of reflection and to witness the beauty of Ha Long Bay which is simply staggering.
The day started with saying goodbye to the people (including the naked man – who had put some clothes on) who arrived the day before us. Before the new crowd arrived we took full advantage of the facilities on offer. My day consisted primarily of a kayak trip out into the bay with my friends. We didn’t get too far from the karsts at the back of the photo above before heading back. There was also the options of water sports which we passed on but we did have a group wide game of volley ball on the beach.
Bar the kayaking where we were apart (probably gossiping) Sam and I spend the entire day together, from dawn to dusk. The night was pretty much a repeat of the night before but with a new group of people who had just experienced the same trip we had done the day before..
There were a number of highlight of this night which included my friend (James) Parry having another Yoga ‘off with Adi from the day before on the beach and about 6 hours later, fast asleep on a bench on the terrace turning over in his sleep, falling off the bench to an almighty thud, only to wake; slightly perplexed and walking straight to the bar for a drink.
Day 3 – Heading Back to Hanoi
Day 3 began and the Ha Long Crew were well and truly shattered, shadows of our former selves. The boat picked us up after breakfast and we took the 4 hour reverse trip back to Hanoi.
A final shout out to everyone we met on those 3 days. 2, Courtenay and Sam changed my life and I remember everyone else with much fondness.
Would I recommend this trip? I think it depends, would Sam and I do the same trip as a couple, probably not but would I recommend it to any solo travelers / group travelers / single travelers / anyone looking for a fun time. ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY!!