Fortunately, considering we were massively over budget due to our recent fine, we were spending the next few days on a pre paid tour of Halong Bay with all expenses paid, belting! We had such a good few days, the tour group was made up of me, Rob, Laura (also from England) and then an assortment of 10 French people. Everyone was lovely and the French people would even speak in English to each other when they were around us, we’re lucky we’ve got a popular language or we’d be in trouble! The first day was spent boarding our ship and sailing around Halong Bay, it’s beautiful but there are so many tourists there, hundreds of boats tour the bay each day. We headed a bit further into the bay and met our tour guide Tung. Bless him, he was absolutely lovely but had all the naivety of a ten year old boy. We didn’t learn much about the rock formations, but we do now know that he’s single, wants to marry a foreigner and something about chicken fighting that no one quite understood. Once we were deeper into the bay the kayaks were unloaded from the boat and we all climbed in, the boat drove off and we had 40 minutes to explore. It was really nice paddling about and seeing all the fishermen at work, but after an hour and no instructions from Tung we were all starting to paddle round aimlessly. ‘Where’s the boat’ we casually asked Tung, his face had lost its cheeky smile as he explained to us that actually he didn’t know. Apparently the boat never moves, but here all 14 of us were, in the spot were we left the boat and it wasn’t there. Poor Tung didn’t really know what to do, he sort of just looked worried for a while whilst the rest of us paddled round looking for boats, it’s a pretty big bay and they all look very similar so it wasn’t an easy task. Two hours passed and there was still no sign of the boat, Tung had explained our predicament to a fisherman nearby who had said he would try to help, he’d already tried ringing the crew from my phone (he hadn’t brought his own) but no one was answering. Just as we were about to kayak off to board another boat to await rescue we heard the toot of a boat horn and there she was cruising the rock coming back for us! The fisherman had found them and told them where we were, apparently we were meant to meet them at the second location poor Tung just didn’t know this, he maintains that they weren’t meant to move and seen as he was the only member of the crew who spoke English no one could defend themselves. Ah well a few extra hours kayaking never did any harm, we were allowed to jump in and swim after that but most people had seen enough of the sea for one afternoon!
After we’d moored up for the night we tried our hand at squid fishing off the back of the boat. It involves a really bright light and a net. All of us tried, and failed to catch a single squid. Then one of the crew members came and caught 4 in one go, once we’d learned the technique it was easy(ish), after another half an hour and lots of blind swinging of the net me, Laura and Rob had all caught one! The rest of the crew had given up a long time ago but we made sure we wouldn’t go hungry! I even tried to eat one the next day for lunch but my new found fishing skill hasn’t changed my dislike for all things fishy, bleurgh it was disgusting.
At the crack of dawn the next morning we joined Tung on top deck whilst he taught us some Tai Chi and Kung Fu. It was impossible to keep up with him but it was fun to try! Then we headed out back in the kayaks, making sure the boat stayed where it was, and went to explore the Virgin Cave. It was pretty cool, a massive cave in one of the limestone rocks, during the war Vietnamese people hid in it because it was so far offshore and now the fishermen use it for shelter if there’s a storm. Apparently over 1,600 people live in Halong Bay on ‘floating villages’, each family has its own tiny boat which they live on day in and day out only going to land to sell their fish. They even have a floating supermarket where they can go to buy supplies! The villagers all seem to have claim to a cave and we had to pay entry to get into this one.
For the rest of our tour we headed to a less touristy bay just north of Halong. Again it was absolutely beautiful, the rocks were bigger here and we were heading to a particularly big one called Quan Lan. We were the only tourists on the island and once we docked up we hopped on bikes and cycled to the beach. After 2 months of being on holiday we’d finally made it to a beach and the bikini could come out!! We played in the sea for a bit before heading to the little rural village where we’d stay. The family that owned the place were lovely, the little Vietnamese boy insisted on Rob feeding him his tea, Rob got him in trouble by letting him eat all the shrimp first and letting him leave the rice, tut tut. Then we learnt how to make Vietnamese spring rolls before tucking into them for tea.
On our last day it was time to head home, we hopped back on the boat for the three hour sail back to mainland but not without stopping for a quick kayak along the way. Five hours on a bus and we were back in Hanoi, just in time to make our 9pm flight to Da Nang, phew!