Published: January 28th 2012January 25th 2012
I woke up early in the morning to start getting ready for the upcoming 3 day Halong Bay trip. I had decided to go with the hostel’s trip as they were one of the only nes running, and they weren’t charging excessive “Tet” fees.
After a breakfast of French bread, there was a large group of 66 crowded in the hostel. After a short spiel, we headed off in about 5-6 buses. The trip there was uneventful, punctuated by a commissioned stop to on of the common tourist stores (read: trap), where everything was 50%-1000% more expensive. After a 45 minute long ’20 minute stop’ the caravan of buses headed off to Halong City to the wharfs. I slept most of the way.
The wharf wasn’t much to speak of. The small docks were crowded but most passengers boarded directly from land onto little ferries taking them to their specific cruise boat. This was the case for us. It was a little slow open air boat that weaved through the 100’s of boats anchored in the waters, to the outer edge. Virtually all the boats looked the same, as converted Chinese junks, although most did not
have any sails (famous in the pictures), although a few did. Apparently there are as many as 7000 boats that cruise the bay.
The bay area itself is pretty massive, containing 1000’s of islands, big and small,; several fishing villages, a small town, and lots of little waterways snaking through.
We arrived at our boat, the Jolly Roger. This was the main boat of the hostel, and it seemed that they had enough people to fill 2 extra boats which I believe they hired from cruise companies. How it seems to work is that travel agencies/hotels belong to certain groups of coordinated entities (larger ones like the hostel can operate by themselves). The coordinated entities then hire out boats from cruise companies for the specific length and itinerary that that was offered. There are other boats that have specific equipment that the boats will then hire for a specific time, specifically kayaks. It’s quite the operation that is happening.
Our ferry docked on the back of the Jolly Roger, and with an anticipated excitement we all boarded, walking by the rooms to the front, up to the second deck which had the common area and the bar.
The third floor was open-topped with a few deck chairs scattered around. The temperatures for the whole trip were quite low so we didn’t spend much time up top.
Our guide explained the ‘rules’ of the boat. The most broken and enforced one was called ‘Buffalo’. where if you were caught drinking a beverage with your right hand someone called “Buffalo!” and you were to finish your beverage. After lunch we were shown our rooms. They were actually quite nice. each with a private bathroom. There were some doubles, some twins and some four bed rooms. After throwing the stuff into the room, we headed to the top deck. All the guys and a few of the girls jumped off the top of the boat, about 6-8m , into the quite cold water. One guy tried a front flip and was rewarded with a very red back when he over-flipped.
Once we were all back on boat, a ferry towing a large bunch of kayaks docked beside our boat. I grabbed my waterproof camera, and a few beer, and hopped into the kayak. All three boats emptied their passengers into kayaks, as we kayaked around with plently of
collisions as the enormous entourage of over 35 kayaks were paddling through the water. We snaked through a couple of the small (but high, limestone islands. We went through a couple of caves. We ended up hopping out at the mouth of a fairly large cave climbed up to the top inside. And then we kayaked to a floating fishing boat/tourist boat dock. The kayaks were collected in a slow process. There were a number of fish net cages; most were empty, but a few had fish and one had cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are not actually fish, instead they belong to the molluscs (snails, octopuses and the like). It looks a bit like a squid, except with an enlarged and hardened head, with waving protrusions for fine motor control, with reduced tentacles around the mouth. When a tourist scared them they quickly expelled water from their mouth opening, using their tentacles to propel and guide themselves quickly.
We boarded onto another ferry that took us back to the boat. We all had hot showers, and relaxed until dinner. Dinner was served and after, the guide set up a game, which I can’t remember what he called, but I knew as
sociables. By the end of the game, I had been “Stephen Hawking” and had switched clothes with someone else. After the guide tried to explain a game called fuzzy duck, but too many people were screwing it up, so we switched to one called Paranoia a game that is about awkward assumptions. Then they just blasted music and most just started to dance.
I woke up to the very loud bell sounding in my room, with someone yelling breakfast. Breakfast was a cold and unappealing omelet. Shortly after we were boarding the Catba Prince boat which ferried us for about 1.5 hours weaving through the beautiful islands, through several fishing villages and a few boats. I stayed on the top roof for the most part snapping many pictures.
We arrived at 'Castaway beach' on some random island in the middle of the cluster of islets. It was a small disconnected beach about 500m long, and going back about 20m. On the beach was a series of open air structures, including a bar/common area, a group of floors with roofs for sleeping with mattresses thrown on, an area for cooking
with the various equipment as well as fooseball and ping pong tables, and the living quarters of the local Vietnamese staff and their family.
The motor boat was down, so we couldn't do any of the motor sports advertised (we got a partial refund on returning). I ended up playing fooseball, ping pong and volley ball for the first part of the day. I then had a nap, as I was getting sick. Afterwards there was rock-climbing but I was too sick to really partake (and it was pretty cold). So a group of us played card games. People kept joining until there was about 20 people playing in several games of Presidents.
Later in the evening there were more games. The first was a bit of a probability/guessing game involving cards. It was a bit slow. The second was Paranoia again, which went better this time as we had a much better guide, Frisbee.
I headed to bed early but it was quite chilly, especially with the open air huts.
We woke up to the gong sounding, no one wanting to get up. They had bread out for breakfast and then we
hopped onto the ferry to go back the same way out to the main boat. I took a few more pictures along the way. We reached the main boat, docked, had lunch and sailed back to Halong City.
Along the way we had a different guide, who was, suffice to say (and this is a gross understatement) quite disturbed. We heard the 'tame' stories of the night before and what he did, and we were all quit shocked and grossed out. Once back on land we crammed into a mini-bus for the 4 hour trip back to Hanoi.
I got back to the hostel, booked a bus ticket for the next day (no buses run on Tet), got a hotel, and then wandered out for some grub. I found a street food place, sat down and had fried beef noodles. I wandered around the lake for a bit before heading in for the night.
There are more photos below