Ha Long Bay

image We cruised for three days through the maze of islands that is Ha Long Bay. One moment we’d be in wide open water, the next we sailed through a pass and discovered another bay. I have to say that I had no idea how big the déjà vu provoking archipelago was. Seemingly there were hundreds of islands in every direction.

I signed up for the 3 day / 2 night cruise in Ha Long Bay at my hostel in Hanoi. It cost USD$130 so it was on the more exp side of things (I’d seen quotes for $110), but the package certainly did not disappoint. The bay on the other hand wasn’t really as nice as I had expected though. It was very different in fact.

In my head, I imagined hundreds of tiny pillars of rock, spires sticking out of brilliant blue water and sailing through them in small Vietnamese motorboats. Seclusion, slow pace and getting right up close to the rocks. Instead though, most of the islands were long ridges of rock, the water was an opaque green, full of rubbish in places and we rode in big steamer sized boats. Ha Long Bay does not look like this at least not where we went.

That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable though. We had a lot of fun. I think I just would have appreciated places like Palawan or Krabi much more. In fact I think the photo link above might actually be Krabi instead of Ha Long Bay.

And so it begins..

We left the hostel at 8am. Having had little sleep, I slept most of the 4 hour bus ride to the boat. We joked about our low expectations of our boat as junk barges went past, but in the end our boat was pretty luxurious! Tiled bathrooms with a hot water, aircon, proper beds, three stories, with AstroTurf and sun lounges on the top deck.

We sailed off and it took maybe 40 minutes before we started entering “the bay” behind a bunch of other boats.


Entering the bay or maybe just a bay, I don't know, there were so many

The mood was chilled, the breeze was cool and we sat for some lunch. The food was great! In fact it was great all tour except for one breakfast at the island.

At about 3pm we stopped for kayaking. I paired up with my roommate, Julian. I’m pretty sure the British are strong in rowing at the Olympics, so we made it our mission to uphold that suspected but unconfirmed reputation. The others may or may not have been competing with us, most likely not, but we kicked their asses nonetheless!

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Me taking photos of the kayaking while Britain showed off their Olympic prowess

After kayaking we finally had a chance for a well earned swim. Kayaking was tough work and it was cruel that the refreshing water was just below us, but unreachable without capsizing the boat. As it always does on these kinds of cruise boats, things quickly escalated to jumping off the roof. Nothing like a good thrill!

Only the French and French Canadians were wild enough for crazy front flips over the balcony. Pretty ballsy! And all captured on GoPros of course.

From there the challenge extended to rock jumping. It was a great idea except for the 100m swim to get there and the razor sharp rocks that shredded everyone’s feet.


The rock of jumping

Dinner and drinks ensued as we moored for the night in “the bay” (which bay?) near Cát Bà island. After a failed attempt at King’s Cup with 24 people it was deemed necessary that beer pong, boob pong (that was a new one), flip cup and dancing formed part of the shenanigans.


Sunset while we were moored in the bay

Some how Julian and I came back from a terrible start to beer pong. Maybe it was the morale boost from my fluke shot off the ceiling or maybe we had reached that sweet spot in drunken abilities.

Boob pong as it turns out heavily favours those more bust-gifted. I think I lost 3 games without even making a cup. My moobs were just not competitive against the girls’.

We also learned that our guide Long “Snake” (for some reason he insists it’s pronounced lung) was as sneaky as his name sounded. He was quite happy to egg us on with drinking games, pour us rice wine and try to get us drunk, but he shied away very quickly when losing flip cup! He was a good sport in the end though and to be serious he was quite funny through out the whole trip.

The next morning we said bye to some of the overnighters and transferred to Cát Bà island. The bus ride was about 40 minutes to the other side where we boarded another smaller boat.


Waiting for the next boat on Cát Bà island

Why I’ll never know, we stopped by some more sharp rocks for rock climbing. I was quite happy just to read my book and spare my fingers instead. I think everyone lost interest fairly quickly and so we carried on to our private island.

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Ah the serenity!

Like the party boat, it was far more beautiful than any of us had imagined. Our bungalow was on a small strip of land sandwiched between two beaches. Hammocks were plentiful, as was sunshine. The best part was that we had arrived early and so we had hours to play beach volleyball (which I’m once again reminded – is awesome!) and enjoying the water.


We had the whole day to play volleyball and kayak

One of the residents was a ridiculously cute cocker spaniel-like dog. Apparently her name was Bon Bon (like French candy maybe), but it may as well have been Sandy given the state of her matted ears and fur. Bon Bon loved the attention and a good swim. A true dog’s life on the island!


Bon Bon loves ear scratches

The afternoon was super chilled. Some used the hammocks, some paddled out across the bay and I tried to make Ha Long Bay look beautiful (it was hard).

That night we played card games and loads of Categories. I really need to download the Heads Up app we used after we had written all over the cards. It was hilarious! Who would have thought that placing a phone displaying random words on your forehead could make a crowd go mad.

The person guessing always looked stunned, startled or maybe a little bit terrified at times as the crowd flailed about making strange noises. The language barrier made things even more funny at times too. I’m not sure what was more fun, this or Alice’s crazy English drinking games.

The last day was pretty uneventful. The blue skies were gone and we were left with a stinking hot and hazy morning. There was a cooking class on spring rolls, which I assumed was pretty self explanatory, so I just read my book and enjoyed the view.


Watching the world go by

So we sailed back, drove back and whilst the party continued on later in Hanoi, that was it for Ha Long Bay.

There were only two stops in Vietnam and from there it was time to head to Malacca in Malaysia.


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