Think stunning scenery, glistening water, limestone islands surrounding you, a boat full of awesome new friends, a private beach, kayaks, rock climbing, tubing, wake boarding, swimming with bio luminescent plankton, and a whole ton of beer. That’s Castaways for you.
Now, when you’re in Hanoi, there are travel agencies everywhere offering trips from Hanoi out to Ha Long Bay for about 3 days all over the place. You can find them for as cheap as $50USD, or as expensive as you would like to get. We wound up booking our trip through the hostel we were staying at, Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel, for 3 days and 2 nights. We decided to book through the hostel, even though it cost a bit more, and it turned out to be the absolute best decision.
The tour they offer is lovingly referred to as Castaways, due to the private island that you get to hang out on. Our first day we took a 4 hour bus to the port of Ha Long Bay, then spent the day on the junk boat getting to know each other, having a few drinks, and taking in the stunning scenery.
And stunning it was. I took about a bazillion pictures during the trip, though of course they don’t nearly do the bay justice. We stopped mid-afternoon to go kayaking around some of the islands, navigating through caves with bats flying above us and jelly fish swimming below us, and of course everyone bumping into each other and trying to knock each other around.
We then moved away from the jellyfish-laiden location in favour of a more friendly swimming atmosphere, and of course you’ve got 20 backpackers jumping off the boat and having a hell of a good time cooling off in the water. The water was a perfect level of warm, but cool enough to provide some relief from the 35 degree heat and sun that we were in for the entire trip.
Once we had successfully cooled ourselves off, we spent the rest of the evening eating, and playing a few friendly drinking games to get to know each other. My favourite rule on the boat, however, was that anytime someone said the word “ten” or “mine” they had to do 10 push-ups. Sounds easy, right? Well I only ended up doing a little over 100 pushups in about a 2 day span, though some of the guys slipped up more often and did well over 300. 2 days later, my arms are still sore.
After successfully getting to know each other the first night, our boat heading off in the morning to meet up with a transfer boat that would take us to Castaway Island. Now, this is an island exclusively used by the Castaways tour, so we had a private beach, 24/7 bar, and all kinds of activities at our disposal. However, we had to get there first.
We met up with the transfer boat right on time, and chatted with the group just leaving the island as they hopped on our junk boat and we hopped onto their transfer boat. We all said our good-bye’s and they took off. We, however, didn’t.
Within a couple minutes of sitting in the water, well after the junk boat was gone out of sight, we realized there were 5 Vietnamese police officers on our boat, talking with our Vietnamese tour guide, as well as our English tour guide. Conversations went back and forth for about 20 minutes, until our English tour guide, Tiny, informed us that the police were stating that we each needed a ticket in order to take the transfer boat to Castaway Island. In the three months that Tiny had been running tours, they had never needed tickets before. We sat for about an hour as things went back and forth, we even all offered to pay the 30 000 vmd “ticket” price (about $1.50 Canadian) but the police wouldn’t take our money. Confusing. And then, magically, they just smiled, waved, and hopped off the boat. Now, I was expecting some scams in Vietnam, but I wasn’t expecting this one in the middle of a massive bay where we were all stuck. But, oh well, we made it.
The island itself was beautiful. A small strip of beach, clear water, a lagoon and a second beach just a short kayak away, it was a perfect summary of paradise. That afternoon we spent time kayaking, rock climbing, doing the most crazy tubing I’ve ever done, playing tons of beach volleyball and frisbee, and enjoying a few beers on the beach. It was heavenly.
That evening got a bit, let’s say, messy. Not that this was entirely a party tour, but, if you’re looking for a tour to see beautiful sights, and have a crazy awesome time, this is the tour for you. We played a few massive drinking games–think, instead of “take a drink when …” it’s “shot-gun a beer when …”. Needless to say, it didn’t take long until everyone was having a very, very good time.
After games we pushed all the tables in the bar area together to make a dance floor, and this private island became a private island club. We had a fantastic time dancing, chatting, and occasionally dipping into the water to cool off. By far the best part, however, was the swimming at 1:00am. The water around the island becomes full of bio luminescent plankton between midnight and 3:00am, and several of us headed out into the water to swim with the plankton. It was a stunning experience. Each time I moved my arms or legs in the water, it would glimmer. At first, it almost just seemed like air bubbles making light reflect in the water. But when I got far enough away from the beach and the light, it was obvious that the water was glowing around me. Absolutely surreal experience.
We continued to dance and party well into the morning, and the next day everyone was feeling a bit rough. We woke up at 7:00am after a couple hours of sleep, had breakfast, and then headed onto the long journey back to Hanoi.
If you’re in Hanoi, looking for a crazy good time, and heading to Ha Long Bay, I highly recommend this trip. It is a bit more pricey than some other tours you can get, and if you want to go and just relax, this probably isn’t for you. But it is a fabulous time, I made some unforgettable memories and some awesome new friends. Yes we do!