One of the main things to do while visiting Hanoi is take a trip out to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Halong Bay consists of thousands limestone karsts and islands.
We had been debating which type of trip to book for Halong Bay, but after talking to a few of the folks in our hostel, it didn’t take long to jump on board with the Hanoi Backpackers Castaway Island 3 day 2 night tour of Halong Bay.
On Tuesday morning, we were greeted in the lobby by our tour guide Ann with sombreros and led to the bus. It’s a four-hour bus ride to get to the boat, so most of us napped or listened to music to pass the time. As we boarded the boat, Ann informed us of the island rules.
The first rule of Castaway Island is you do not talk about Castaway Island (except to say DEFINITELY GO!). Okay, that’s actually Fight Club, but it could apply. Kinda like Vegas, what happens on Castaway Island, stays on Castaway Island.
The first rule was anyone who says the word ‘ten’ has to drop and do T-E-N pushups. The second rule was anyone who said the word ‘mine’ has to drop and do T-E-N pushups. The third rule is every drink must be consumed from your left hand – if you are caught drinking from your right hand, ‘buffalo’ is called out and you have to finish your drink on the spot. Our first buffalo (very early in the boat ride) was taken out of the flabongo, obviously!
While we were cruising around Halong Bay marveling at the beauty, our group of 17 got to know each other…chatting, exchanging travel stories and taking a few polls. Our group consisted of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Holland, England and ranged in age from 18 to 30 (there were actually three of us!). While we were sailing, young Matt (19) asked Danielle and me how old we were and if we were married and had kids. When we replied no, he chimed back with ‘tick, tock.’ We told him we’d throw him overboard if he said that again. We then proceeded to impart our 30-year old wisdom upon him, each giving him some advice.
Our boat stopped for an hour so we could jump off the boat, swim and relax in tubes in the emerald waters of Halong Bay. There was a contest for best jump, which I won by doing a back twisting full off the boat. I won a free beer, which cost 30,000 VND, which is approximately $1.44. Hey, free beer is free beer! The water felt so refreshing and there are very few places in the world that could beat floating in that scenery.
Once we arrived on the island, we were met by the group of 42 who had come out the previous day. The private island is a remote paradise. We slept in thatched roof huts along the beach on a mat, each covered by mosquito netting.
Kind of romantic, in a rustic, your mattress may be covered in sand kind of way. We put our stuff in our huts and joined the other group in the main hut for dinner. Night one shenanigans involved drinking games, flabongos, creating a boy band and dancing on the table. Some folks went swimming in the water and cut themselves on coral. I did not.
During breakfast on the second morning, it started pouring down rain but after about 45 minutes, it stopped, cleared up and turned into a gorgeous day. Day two activities consisted of tubing, wake board, rock climbing and lounging in Cat Ba Bay with beers. I took part in activities one and four.
Night two was my favorite! One of the most fun nights I’ve had in a long time. The night started off in a similar fashion – greeting the new group, followed by dinner, drinking games and dancing. At night, the bay glows green with phosphorescence and it’s sooo prettyyyyy!! I didn’t go for a night swim on the first night, so I wanted to remedy this on the second. Nighttime swimming in luminescent water was magical; perhaps this is the reason why the group may (or may not have) decided to go skinny dipping at midnight.
Sadly, we had to leave the island the next morning. Our group had become a little family! The fun continued with laughter and stories from the past few days, lounging in the sun on the boat ride back and the four hour bus ride back to Hanoi. After we all got showered and resembled somewhat normal humans again, we all met in the lobby for dinner and beers.
I want to be back on the island, doing pushups if caught saying ‘mine’ or ‘ten’ (a lot more push-ups than I’ve done in a while) or watching out for buffalos, particularly when a new beverage has just been cracked!
It truly was a very special trip with an amazing group of folks. One for the books and one I’ll never forget!