After numerous attempts at finding a decent well priced trip around Halong bay we opted for the 2 night Dugong tour, where I shared a cabin with Cal, which consisted of dark glossy wooden walls,floor and ceiling, a plastic bottle nailed the to ceiling and our very own rubber slippers. It was an enjoyable few days with Cal in our room, we shared overpriced Oreos from the lady on a row boat outside, late night reading sessions where he read out his blog and imaginative conversations about why there was a bottle nailed to the ceiling.
The first day of the trip began with a buffet lunch, which was surprisingly good; squid, rice, fish, fried morning glory, vegetables and so much more. It was a very structured trip, with timed activities and designated ‘chill time’. The beginning of the day was spent kayaking around the bay, the first stop was a cave which was pretty impressive and sparked several Gollum poses and impressions by me and Roxanne. Roxanne and I shared a kayak, with me taking the rear I thought I did a great job in steering us into a little cave for an adventure, which turned out to be very small and shallow, resulting in a 12 point turn, lots of grunting and pushing our oars on the rocks to retreat back out of the small entrance. The afternoon stop was at a little beach, my first beach in south-east Asia. I humoured the tour guide Tai, as he offered to teach me how to swim (I already know) resulting in me lying on the sand pretending to swim, before running off into the sea alone. It was only a brief stop before we headed to a large cave, which has been restored to accompany tourists. It had lit up footpaths, information signs and decorative lighting, which although impressive took away the natural charm of the cave. We spent around an hour in the cave, pointing out various shapes in the rock formations, including monkeys, turtles and as Tai the guide pointed out a giant phallus sticking out into the roof of the cave, lit dramatically by bright red lamps, it did however provide some great view points out over the bay. The day ended with our snuck on bottle of vodka, a few drinks on the deck and late night squid fishing. We got a few bites but were unable to actually retrieve them from the water. It was a busy day which was eventually finished off with a slightly drunk Cal, Roxanne, Andrew and I sitting on the deck of the boat discussing life, spirituality, philosophy, ethics and morals.
The bay itself was beautiful, unfortunately being the tourist trap it is there is now quite a bit of litter and oil like residue in the water. There were lots of boats around the area we spent the first day, and I was grateful we paid a bit more for the 2 night trip which went further in and away from all the boats. I can see why the limestone formations are one of the natural wonders of the world, there are so many of them, they were impressive and went on for as far as the eye could see.
The second day began early, with a buffet breakfast and slightly fuzzy heads. It was time for more kayaking, this time I shared with Cal, who treated me to a personal tour guide of the bay, including some pretty imaginative stories behind each rock. Whilst kayaking a giant thunderstorm broke out, the thunder was relentless, crashing all around us, with lightening lighting up the sky every few minutes and the rain hammering down on us. Despite being soaked through, cold and unable to see where I was paddling to, it was so exciting. Kayaking through Halong bay in a thunderstorm has been one of the highlights of my trip so far, my heart was racing, I was screaming in laughter and also fear of capsizing, and just felt ridiculously alive. We had left our big boat that morning to spend the day on a smaller boat, with less people to access more secluded areas, after a thunderstorm has pounded down on you the last thing you want is to be sitting on a small, cold and leaky boat with no towel or warm clothes. We sat on the wet cushions, being dripped on and staring enviously at the American chap opposite who had a towel, hoodie, dry trousers and even snacks, cursing our lack of organisational skills. After yet another tasty buffet lunch, which did a great job of warming us up, we headed to a Pearl farm. It was interesting to see how the locals prepared and treated the pearls. I made a fantastic impression as I stepped off the bridge into the workers area and slipped on the wet floor, I went crashing into a hanging plastic sheet protecting the workers from the wind, screaming as I went. Luckily it didn’t pull down as I clung on for dear life, and it provided Roxanne and I great amusement for the rest of the day.
The evening was a quiet one for us, after long hot showers and another great buffet we retreated to our cabins for Oreos, reading and general relaxing in our beds. There were however 5 European men above in the dining room having what can only be described as a competition on who can stomp to music the loudest, with a mix of tacky pop-hip-hop blasting until the early hours we were craving for the curfew which had so far been enforced in the rest of Vietnam.
With a final early morning of 7:30 and buffet breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit we packed our bags and headed to the dining room for a spring roll making class. It was pretty basic and involved a competition for the best spring roll. I was pretty excited to eat mine as I had managed to control the spring roll addiction for the last week.
It was here that our trip finished, we spent the rest of the time on top deck, relaxing and taking in the views one last time as we made our way back to land. I had made a last minute decision that I was not returning to Hanoi with my 3 friends, instead with a heavy heart I said farewell and jumped in a taxi, ready for a trip to Cat Ba island for rock climbing. Feeling nervous but excited, It was time for me to go solo again.