We began our tour to Halong Bay in a group bus during pouring rain the likes of which you see in Southern California maybe once every ten or hundred years. After about an hour we finally got some sunshine and enjoyed the scenery on our way to the coast. It was short lived though as the rain returned with a vengeance and seemed to get worse the closer we got to the ocean. After a few hours of driving we finally arrived at our first ferry to a secondary van. We had to wait inside the only nearby structure while our group guide ran out into the rain in order to determine which boat rocking helplessly in the waves was ours to board. After waiting for a half hour or longer we were finally escorted to one of the less dilapidated looking passenger boats. We were surprised no one got hurt trying to get on as the boat’s up and down rocking made the task of getting on a very serious game of timing and coordination.
During our boat ride we could not see anything out of the windows between the condensation and the torrential rain pummeling the windows, making it look like we were in a biblical level flood. After making it to our destination we felt grateful no one needed to vomit from all the rocking, but once more we had to wait in a nearby warehouse type structure while our group guide found us our new bus to take us the rest of the way. After waiting for about an hour we hopped on to one of the busses he motioned us too. Once everyone was seated and comfortable our guide apologized and told us this was not the correct bus. So off we went back to the structure to wait another long period of time before the correct bus was found. We do not think it was our guides fault and he seemed to be trying very hard to make sure there was not a second mistake like that. He would run out into the rain himself to check with each new arriving bus to see if ours had finally arrived. Once we finally hit the jackpot and found our wayward transportation we boarded and headed to the dock that would take us to the island where we would stay for the next two nights. By luck or divine providence the torrential downpour had subsided by the time we had made it to the next dock. We secretly prayed the weather would remain clear for the remainder of our stay as we waited for our final boat to our island destination. We were fortunate the rain let up for the rest of our stay but we had heavy clouds in the sky basically the whole time.
When we arrived to our island getaway we were greeted with some watered down welcome drinks that used a local fruit for flavor. We then proceeded up a derelict series of steps that would later claim a chunk of Ross’s toe toward our 30 bed room which contained the hardest beds we had slept on to date. The view from the bathroom area and pretty much anywhere else wads spectacular, though. After getting settled in we headed back to the boat to begin our adventure.
We started the second half of the day with a tour of the surrounding islands and fisherfolk via kayaks. The fisherfolk in the area lived out on the water 24/7 on man made islands of air filled plastic barrels and planks crafted over them. Within the islands were netted areas to keep their catches live and fresh when there was no need to sell them. On the islands were also guard dogs who were not keen on strangers but their true purpose was not to prevent human thieves but bird thieves. The dogs were kept to keep away eagles that would otherwise swoop into the netted areas and grab the hard earned catches. Interestingly, like the people, the dogs spent almost their entire lives on these floating islands and would get lansick when taken ashore. They would get dizzy and were even known to vomit when brought on land. After the kayaking we boated to a bay where we had time to swim and relax to tunes until returning home.
That night the locals who worked on the island had set up a rhythm game. They had long bamboo poles that pairs of people would hold at either end and they would move and clap them together to the beat of the song they were singing. You are supposed to make your way from one end to the other like an intense game of hopscotch. Being a rhythm game Natalie’s whiteness showed but she managed at least one run that wasn’t entirely embarrassing.
The following morning we headed to a different island to explore by bike. The path along water and jungle was beautiful but damn was it hot and humid. Ross was sweating enough to make it looked like he fell in the water, and that was before we started biking. When we got to a small settlement we dismounted and walked on foot through the forest to a cave used by the natives to hide from oppressive regimes in times past. We also got a chance to dangle our feet in the nearby river for a wild fish foot cleaning.
We headed back after but not before another free swim time. This one was slightly more problematic than the day before because there was no ladder back on to the boat. The captain merely instructed us to get back in climbing up the bumper tires on the sides. While neither of us had been in a gym in quite some time believe us when we say it was a lot harder than it sounded and a lot harder than it looked. Even Ross barely got up and not without scraping up his body on the rough wood of the boat. A few on the boat couldn’t get up at all and had to swim to a nearby island in order to get on the rocks and them jump on the boat from there.
Up to this point we had been super stingy with our money with regard to alcohol which was not included in the price of the tour. Fortunately our natural charm had made people curious how awesome we could be a little buzzed and we were treated to a few free drinks and even got some sneaky hard alcohol from one of the tour guides we had befriended.
The final day we climbed to the peak of the island, probably one of the more dangerous activities of our trip. To get there involved some actual bouldering at points and the rock formations were incredibly sharp. Fall the wrong way and you could easily lose some fingers or a hand just bracing yourself. The view and ultimate photos were worth it in the end and it was a great finish to our trip to Halong Bay. Our return trip to Hanoi was mercifully less eventful besides when someone on the boat tried to open a window on the boat and instead of letting in fresh air, the entire window popped out of its track and fell into the sea. After returning back to dry land, we got ready for our last couple days in Vietnam before heading off to Hong Kong.