Sitting in Halong Bay


 We woke up at 7:30, ate breakfast, and got on our bus to Halong Bay. A four hour ride and we were on the Jolly Roger, our junk boat and home for the next 24 hours or so. From here we took about a three hour cruise through the cove where we put up anchor to spend the afternoon and night. We were served a delicious seafood lunch and moved into our rooms in this time. The food was truly incredible and the room was quite nice. I hitched up with Josh the Brit, while Aly and Maryse shared a room. The room was big, had AC, a window with a beautiful ocean view, our own Western bathroom with hot water, everything you could want. It’s amazing how much money I spent for a terribly small room on a cruise ship in the Caribbean when I could get this for a quarter of the price.

I won’t talk to much about the views because I can’t say what a picture can and I took a lot of them. It was the most beautiful place we have been on our trip so far and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We really lucked out with the weather and it was a very clear day. You could see rows and rows of giant limestone hills poking out of the water. They look like limestone icebergs. In the mornings when the tide is low, you can see how much of the rock is eroded out from the sea, and it truly looks like these things are just floating on the water. Lots of great company to go along with it, about 30 people on the boat, and we settled in for a relaxing couple days.

When we finally got to the cove we would be hanging out in, we were allowed to get off the boat and go swimming. Considering we were all on the top deck of the boat, which had three stories, the most obvious way to get into the water was simply jumping off the top. So away we went. Swimming for a while and then back on the boat to put on life jackets and board our kayaks. There is a fishing village nearby which has adapted to profit off the tourist industry. They towed kayaks over to our boat for us to go explore the bay. We were away for about two hours in total, went to see the fishing village and a cave, which had formed by the sea eroding part of the limestone. The fishing village wasn’t too much to sea, but the cave was quite brilliant.

It wasn’t a very big cave, but it was amazing to find this in the middle of the ocean. Also, I’m really into caves. Aly and Maryse weren’t nearly as impressed as I was. We then stopped in the middle of the bay to watch the sun set, which was probably the most beautiful sun set I have ever seen. It went down nice and slowly between two giant rock icebergs, reflecting across the water in between. It didn’t hurt to be sitting in the middle of the ocean in a kayak either. By the time we were heading back to the boat, it was dark out, and everything was sparkling…literally. The only light pollution was from a couple of boats and the stars were absolutely amazing. And the sea sparkled as well because there is algae that lights up when it is disturbed. We kayaked along and just drug our hands along in the Maryse and Iwater behind us to see a beautiful light display.

I got dressed up for dinner, putting my new suit to work, and it felt like a pretty fancy event. More seafood, rice, noodles, and some beautifully prepared salads. Then the nights festivities began. All thirty of us played a couple games together, had some beers, and then hit the dance floor. I wasn’t feeling the European music our Swedish DJ was pumping, so Maryse and I headed up to the top deck to lay on some pool chairs and look up at the stars. I think she was about to kill me due to the fact that I couldn’t stop saying how beautiful everything was all day, but the stars could not be described any other way, so I kept going. We hung out for a while, rejoined the group for a while, then went to sleep. It was a very late night and we had to wake up early the next day, so by go to sleep I really mean went to take a nap for a couple hours. A great day and night.

Almost as great as the following day. We woke up early to breakfast omelets and bacon baguettes prepared by the crew before transferring to a different boat. We departed the Jolly Roger for the Cau Ba Prince which was taking us to Castaway Island. I went and talked with the captain and he let me drive the boat for a good 15 minutes. It was a big pirate ship like steering wheel and I knew where the horn was, so I was basically a professional. All you have to do is dodge a bunch of iceberg things anyway. We arrived at our new home after about an hour, a beautiful beach on one of the limestone islands. There were about 6 huts, each with 6 mattresses in them, a restaurant/bar, and a few bathrooms. The rest was just beach and a volleyball net. We had all day to do whatever we wanted, swim, volleyball, eat, and just relax. There were also plenty of kayaks on the island which were free to use and you could just grab a partner and go explore the bay. On the beach across from our island was a rock climbing company that was partnered up with our cruise company, so we could kayak across and try some climbs.

Maryse is a rock climber at home, so we set across to check it out. Aly climbed up quite a high climb, and I tried the hardest one on the beach, a 5.10D for anybody who knows the climbing scale. There was about a 10 foot long overhang at the top of it, which is why it received such a difficult rating. I made it further than the three people in our group who are actually rock climbers so I was pretty satisfied with myself, but I was still one pull up away from reaching the top. I stayed up there for quite a while, and cut my hands up pretty good in the process. I came down exhausted, but happy with the adventure.

After this, we kayaked back to our island, and on the way we saw some people deep water solo climbing. This is where you free climb a wall (no ropes or safety devices whatsoever) until you get as high as you want or fall off, and then simply drop off into the sea below. Quite an adrenaline rush. We saw one girl get up nearly 40 feet before turning and jumping off into the sea below. They were doing this from a boat and Maryse didn’t want to chance it from our kayak as she isn’t the best swimmer, so we headed back to the island and I switched her out for this guy Ian, from England, who rock climbs at home and was down for the adventure. We didn’t get too far…I don’t think either of us got up more than 6 or 7 feet, but we had a good time trying and I would definitely like to try again sometime. It helps to be in a boat because you can have dry hands when you start and get a lift up onto the wall. Balancing on top of a kayak is hard with the tide coming in, and because the bottom of the wall is eroded out, it’s quite a reach to even get up on the wall to begin. We had our fun, then kayaked back, exhausted, banged up, and ready for dinner. A quick shower than a nice BBQ. There was just about every meat and seafood you could think of served up with rice and french fries. Pretty delicious considering what there was on the island to prepare it.

After this we settled in for another night of hanging out on the beach. Dan is traveling with a guitar, there were a couple people with harmonicas, and Irish guy named James who could sing, and Maryse busted out an incredibly beautiful voice, and we sat around a bungalow singing songs for a good amount of time. We played some games, swam in the glowing algae, relaxed on the beach and looked at the stars, some more dancing, a bit of skinny-dipping, and then repeat. It was quite the night. We were planning on staying up until sunrise and kayaking out onto the water to watch, but when 5:30 came around and the clouds were quite abundant with no signs of disappearing, we headed for bed. We had to wake up in two hours to catch a boat back to the Jolly Roger, then back to Halong Bay to catch a bus to Hanoi.

The next day was uneventful. Just a bunch of really tired people traveling for a long time. We got back to the hostel, showered, ate dinner, and just relaxed. There was a big TV there with about every movie you could think of on it’s hard drive, so we watched some Old School, and then Aly and I were on the road again. A night train to Sapa. Our first train of the trip, and this was a pretty old one, but we were both exhausted, so didn’t mind the bumps and jolts and fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillows. I got my book out, read about a page, and fell asleep. Because of this I left my book on the train in the morning. Apparently I’m good at forgetting things on trains, but thanks for the recommendation anyway Zach. The Moor’s Last Sigh. The first three quarters of it was great.

To visit to Vietnam, you can get electronic visa here: evietnamvisa.org