I have seen many amazing things so far on this trip and Ha Long Bay has just added itself to my list of favourite sights.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the top travel destinations in South East Asia. It has an area of about 1,553km squared and consists of up to 2,000 islets, most of which are limestone. Ha Long comes from Sino-Vietnamese and means Descending Dragon. According to local legend, when Vietnam first started to develop as a county they had to fight off intruders and the gods sent down a family of dragons to protect them. The family began spitting our jade jewels which turned into islands and islets to form a wall against intruders. These jade jewels also give the beautiful green colour to the water.
There are many ways of seeing Ha Long Bay and they can be anything from 45 minutes to a week. We decided to do the Castaways tour with our hostel, Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. It was 3 days long and I don’t ever want to discuss how much it cost but it was so worth it!
We were up at 6am after an awful nights sleep. I couldn’t sleep until gone 1:30am and then was woken up every time someone came in from a night out. At 5am we were all woken up by one guy (who was high as a kite) pissing on another guys bag. The room was stuffy and smelly anyway and bags were just everywhere and this was the last straw: we were definitely getting an all girls dorm when we were back!
We had breakfast and checked in and just after 7am we were on our way! 25 of us piled onto a bus for 2.5 hours then a boat to Cat Ba Island then another bus and then a final boat. At every stop our guide shouted that it would be out last opportunity to buy Pringles and Oreos so most people stocked up (yes, of course there were Pringles and Oreos on the island so I don’t get the joke?).
On our last boat I learned what a shotgun is (although I didn’t want to attempt it – especially at 10.30am). Our guide handed out beer cans but before giving them to us he cut a hole in the side. You then put your mouth over the hole, tilt your head to the side and then open the can and the air flows through so you can down the whole can in 3-5 seconds.
After sailing past all the floating fishing villages we arrived at Castaways Island and were given a welcome talk. It began with all the health and safety instructions and how to check in etc and then moved onto rules of the island. The main two being you can’t say the words M.I.N.E and T.E.N. If you do, you must do 10 press ups. Sound simple? Not if you’re Ammun who managed to build up 50 press ups in the first half an hour! As we were taking a big group photo, someone hit the gong that was hanging on the wall. We’d been told that the gong means one of two things; that breakfast, lunch or dinner way ready or that someone was buying everyone on the island a drink! So the guy that hit it chose to buy us all a shotgun of beer to do before lunch. However Ammun and I weren’t going to attempt it again and drank as much as we could before finding a way to leave the can on its side without rolling around and spilling the beer.
After our buffet lunch we all checked in to our dorms and then were free to do whatever activities we wanted. There was volleyball, kayaking (which Ammun did) and rock climbing (which I did). There were two sections of the rock we could climb so I went for the easy one before attempting the harder one. It was the first time I had ever rock climbed on real rock so my hands were very sore afterwards but it was worth it for the view! Apparently only 50% of people make it to the top of the harder one as there is a section half way that is nearly impossible. I struggled a lot and needed a bit of help from the guy at the bottom holding the rope so that I didn’t fall off the wall but I made it to the top and the view was incredible! Unlike on the easier one, I paused for a moment on the top and enjoyed the view as the other group arrived back from their booze cruise.
We continued the afternoon with what seemed only polite: drinking more beer. I also got to play my first game of round the world ping pong. I thought it was just a fun thing to do but turns out you have lives and lose one every time you miss. I wasn’t very good until the last game when I (by some crazy miracle) got to the head to head at the end but went out then. I was very satisfied with second.
After dinner, more drink tokens were exchanged for beer and Ammun and I joined a game of flip cup (because two American college students destroyed us at beer pong). The game started with about 10 of us and slowly built until we needed two tables to fit everyone and it all got a bit too crazy! I think flip cup is my favourite drinking game because it’s competitive and involves everyone – but mainly because it’s competitive and my parents definitely raised me to be competitive! We then went and danced the night away on the small dance floor which was really fun. The DJ had a pretty good playlist going on that suited every music taste and we had a great time!
Despite not going to bed until the early hours of the morning, we were woken up at 7.30 by the gong and a spoon being bashed against a plate to call us for breakfast. Of course, none of us actually got out of bed at 7.30 but we ever tusks rolled out of bed and had breakfast while some people did wake boarding. I really, really wanted to do it but the list had filled up and there was no waiting list.
At 10am, sorry, T.E.N. am, the day really began and we all jumped aboard the boat ready for a day of drinking and seeing Ha Long Bay. Once again, we were given a talk explaining all the rules of the boat. It began with the health and safety and then once again moved on to the other rules. The same rules applied as the island but wish he addition of buffalo. You can shout buffalo at someone if you ever see them hold or even touch a drink with their right hand and they have to down it.
About midday we all hopped off the boat and into kayaks (and whoever got the few life jackets first got an extra layer of warmth). We raced to the first cave with the threat that whoever was the last had to ring the gong! The water was beautiful. It was a stunning emerald colour but so clear that you could see coral and fish swimming around. There were moments when we were very close to getting stuck on the coral as it was so shallow. We both still have sea urchins in our feet causing us pain so the last thing we wanted to do was need to get out and save our kayak from being stranded and get cuts on our feet too! The water was too shallow for us to get into the second cave so we stayed in a small bay and enjoyed the sights while our guide told us some facts about Ha Long Bay and then we played some drinking games.
Once we got back on the boat we all ate lunch while shivering. I wore my towel like the Virgin Mary to try and warm my head up but it didn’t do much good. That’s normally my go-to with a blanket when I’m cold at home! After lunch was when the real drinking began. We exchanged more drink tokens for beers, shouted buffalo at each other and played other drinking games too. We then reached a small island that had a sandy bay and our guide told us that if we swim to the island and flash our bum, we can have a free drink. Two of the guys were straight in there and raced to the island before doing a naked lap and then two girls slowly talked themselves into going too (with a bit of gentle persuasion from us) and they took their bikini tops off while covering themselves. Sadly, it was all a joke and no one was allowed a free drink but it was quite amusing for all of us! I would have loved to jump in and swim to the island too but a) I’m not a very strong swimmer and b) I was already freezing! About 4 o’clock we headed back to Castaway Island, pumping the music and dancing as we arrived.
We had been told that all water sports will be done at 8am the next morning before we leave but three other girls and I really didn’t fancy that but really wanted to go tubing so we persuaded the guides to let us go straight out while we were already wet and cold. We had to wait for the speed boat to come back in so we waited underneath the one shower that was giving out hot water, all huddled together like penguins! Eventually we got to go tubing and it was so much fun!! It was terrifying though because every corner you wonder when the inflatable is going to flip and tip you all off. I thought that was he whole idea that they try and throw you off but somehow I fell off twice and the other girls stayed on the whole time! At least I can say that I have not only swam in Ha Long Bay, but I have drunk a good amount of it!
I attempted everything to get warm after that. I waited for Ammun to finish in one of the few hot showers before washing my hair with warmish water and then I snuggled in bed with all my clothes on which didn’t do much either. Even 5 of us in 1 bed was an improvement but didn’t fully warm me up so there was one last option: food and alcohol!
After dinner we held a talent show night which brought all kinds of talents from handstands to singing to magic to one girl pouring beer into a cup that was on another girls head who was doing squats (yes, she did get covered in beer) but everyone who took part got a free drink of their choice. The night ended with one guy making ringing the gong part of his act so we all did yet another shotgun. I actually attempted it this time and didn’t do as badly as I thought I would! Maybe it’ll be a skill that I’ll perfect over summer with my brother…
After the absolute devastation of beer pong the night before, Ammun and I thought we’d get some practice in. Somehow, a beer pong talent arose within me and I was absolutely smashing it! I was winning even though one of the bartenders who was pretty good joined Ammun! He then thought he’d be a bit of a glory hunter and changed to my side but left his talent behind somewhere and hardly got a single shot in when he was on my team! Luckily, I still won and celebrated my winning shot!
One thing I was disappointed that I didn’t get to do in Koh Ta Kiev was see plankton but Ha Long Bay has made up for it. The sea was glistening every night with little bits of glowing plankton and I was fascinated. I was also a bit tipsy so I thought it would be hilarious to pick up as many as I could and put them on a guys arm. I was so in love with the plankton that I can’t even remember which guy it was. If you somehow are reading this, I’m sorry for being a weirdo.
The night went on until late and there was a lot of singing and dancing and Ammun and I eventually warmed up enough to wear shorts. I feel like a good night of dancing has been a long time coming and there was just the right amount of people there to have a great time.
The last morning was a very slow morning. Once we were woken up at 7.30 by the same loud bangs, I realised that I felt very sick. Not like a hangover sick, like a I-drank-way-too-much-sea-water kinda sick. So I was very quiet for breakfast and ate only mashed potato at lunch (which was only 2 hours after breakfast). I also sat very quiet on the journey back and slept a little on the first bus. Annoyingly I couldn’t sleep on the second boat because the nice seats were full and we were sat on makeshift benches in the outside bit.
Eventually, about 5pm we made it back to Hanoi just in time for free beer but I wanted nothing more than just to lie in my bed. Despite the cold giving me an awful cold that has developed into mild sinusitis, it was an incredible few days that I will never forget. Our group was so nice and we got along with most people so well.
I don’t want to say thank you for the amount of snot now coming out of my face but I do want to say thank you for an amazing time Vietnam Backpacker Hostel!