On our first night in Hanoi, our dormmate told us about a trip she had just been on to Halong Bay that she booked through a hostel nearby. When deciding our rough itinerary of Vietnam, Halong Bay made the short list, but there were SO many options when it came down to how you booked it. You can stay overnight on boats, go with tours, or book it all yourself, including the multiple means of transportation it takes to get there. We were thrilled when we met a girl who had a great time on an organized trip there that was budget-friendly, so we stopped researching and went to Central Backpackers the following morning to book our excursion!
Early the next morning, we met a group of people at the hostel and headed out to catch a bus, then a ferry, then another bus, then a boat….all to get to our own private island called Monkey Island. After 4.5 hours of travel, we arrived at our hostel on the island, dumped our bags in our room, enjoyed a lunch overlooking the gorgeous karsts in the bay, then hopped on our own party boat to explore.
We met our guide, Nathan, who was a hoot and determined to keep everyone’s spirits up and excited. The boat had a top level that everyone jumped off into the cold water in the bay; we had a little fun with snapping pics on the GoPro and inhaled loads of water on the first jumps! After playing in the water, having a couple of beers, listening to music, chatting with our new friends and enjoying the incredibly picturesque views surrounding us, we headed to a floating house that had kayaks for us to use. Nathan led us around the bay, showing us a few of the many floating fishing villages and telling us more about the area.
We kayaked to an island and learned the history of Halong Bay and the meaning of the name – descending dragon. We spent a little more time on the boat, then headed back to the island to shower and get ready for dinner. We were surprised by the feast that was presented to us – barbecued meats, fresh papaya salad, regular salad (we hadn’t seen this in a while and devoured plates full), Vietnamese fried rice, scrumptious spring rolls and more! After dinner, we enjoyed some beers with our new roomies and hung out playing some card games and even a few friendly games of beer pong and flip cup, bringing us back to our college days! Ha!
The next day was a quite an eventful one! After breakfast, we met our guide for the day, Sorry aka Excuse Me (he seriously didn’t tell us his real name, just to call him these and he would respond!), then headed out on a boat for Cat Ba Island, the largest island in Halong Bay. Here, we hopped on bicycles and biked 5k to an adorable village called Viet Hai.
Sorry gave us a brief history of the island, talked about its recent introduction to tourism and all of the improvements made to the island since there is now a steady stream of tourist money flowing in. We then started out our trek up a mountain to an incredible viewpoint where you have 360 degree views of the islands that make up Halong Bay. The hike was grueling and very intense, and in the middle of the day in the heat, it was no easy feat. The views at the top made it so worth it though!
After biking back to the boat, we enjoyed lunch on the boat, then cruised back towards Monkey Island, stopping to swim in the bay and enjoy the cool water after working out basically all morning on our adventures!
When we got back to the hostel on the island late that afternoon, we had a couple of hours of free time until dinner. Kerry headed up t the room to relax and shower up and Jenny was talked into a game of 2 on 2 beach volleyball. It had been so many years since she has played and she still has bruises on her arms from the hard ball, but it was so much fun! Dinner was the same as the night before, but there were no complaints from us, as it was delicious once again! As this was our last night on the island, we all hung out and played more card games, beer pong and flip cup while having some beers before calling it a night.
On our last morning, Nathan talked us into going on a “small trek” to the other side of the island to see the monkeys. We were thoroughly exhausted and not too interested in more hiking, but he swore it was easy. We wore flip flops and had traveling (clean) clothes on, and within 2 minutes were cursing his name, “typical Nathan” (an inside joke between K&J). We trekked up and over many huge boulders and back down to get to the beach where there were monkeys hanging out with other tourists. We didn’t hang out too long before hiking back to the main side of the island where we chilled with our friends until lunch, then boarded the boat to start the first leg (of 4) of the journey back to Hanoi.
Halong Bay is such a beautiful place in Vietnam, and we highly recommend an excursion there for all who find themselves traveling in this part of the world. Our surroundings actually reminded us a lot of the Milford Sound, which we were lucky enough to cruise through in New Zealand at the start of this trip of a lifetime. We made some great friends and lasting memories and for that we are so lucky and blessed!
~Jenny & Kerry