Post 7 of the South East Asian Adventure series. View the rest of the series so far here.
Our second day sailing round Vietnam’s heavenly Halong Bay was even more amazing than the first. Having a full day and night out at sea allowed us to discover golden beaches, secret coves and floating villages unseen by day-trippers, and unlike anything we’d seen before. Our activity levels kicked up a notch too, as we walked, climbed, swam and kayaked our way through this ethereal paradise.
We woke up refreshed after a great night’s sleep in our cabin, which was just as well because tai-chi on the boat’s top deck was scheduled for 7am! Steve was unwilling at first, but joined in when he saw how many of us were taking part. It was fun to learn, but a lot harder than it looked! My sub-standard core strength and balance failed me on several occasions.
We finished the session with some ‘mutual massage’, where we lined up to pummel the shoulders and back of the person in front of us. The older Taiwanese lady was clearly more experienced in massage than the rest of us – I got such a pummelling from her that by the end I had no air in my lungs!
A morning in paradise
We had a large breakfast buffet before docking at another island, this one with a beautiful golden beach and a steep path up to its peak. We decided to conquer this climb first and were rewarded with an amazing 360-degree view from the top, with pointy grey and green islands strewn in every direction.
Afterwards we lay a towel we’d been provided with on the sand and went to swim in the sea. The water was deliciously warm, probably the warmest seawater I’ve ever experienced, and it was extremely easy to float in. I felt like I could have floated there in the sparkling water all day, drinking in the gorgeous sights on every side. All too soon we were brought back to the boat for lunch (which, to my relief, was more meat-based today).
Kayaking through caves
We didn’t have to miss the beach for long, as the afternoon held something even better: kayaking! We paired up into two-person kayaks and began to follow our guide in his. It was my first time in a kayak and I was very nervous, screaming at Steve every time he shifted his weight and made the kayak rock! But we soon got comfortable and developed a paddling technique. I managed to skive off the paddling by stopping at intervals to take photos.
Our guide led us through several dark cave tunnels, one in which people were diving for shellfish. The ceilings were so low we kept hitting them with our oars, and the spaces so narrow we kept hitting each other’s boats! Between these caves lay secret grottos in which tall rock precipices covered in lush, untouched vegetation loomed above on every side.
Our own desert island
Our sense of wonder reached fever pitch when we landed at a deserted beach, uninhabited except for a small temple and several stone statues. After having a look around this we all waded into the warm, sparkling water, whether we’d brought swimwear or not. I had no choice but to swim around in all my clothes, and I didn’t care one bit!
The floating village
The day’s adventures didn’t end there: next we were taken to a fishing village, which was very different to what I’d been imagining. Not a single part of this village, save one small temple, was on land. Every building floated, either as a boat or as a crude boxy structure on a slatted wood platform.
A local woman rowed us slowly around the village in a simple six-person boat, her only communication being to hand us wide-brimmed hats that we felt a little awkward wearing (is it still cultural appropriation if it’s instructed by the person whose culture you’re appropriating??)
When our guide said we had just enough time left to visit a farm, we wondered what type of food would be growing there. Not one of us guessed that the farm’s main product would be jewellery. The pearl farm stood in the water unattached to any land, comprising a few wooden buildings joined by boardwalk. A woman took us on a guided tour in which we saw each stage of the pearl production process, from creation to being set in jewellery. It was really interesting. We had the opportunity to buy pearl jewellery at the end but it was far outside our Vietnam budget!
Cocktails and card games
Back at our boat it was happy hour again and we sat on the front deck drinking two-for-one cocktails while playing cards with Surih and Naiha. It was so much fun! The endless sky all around us faded softly as we chatted and laughed, and it was perfect. We stopped play only to climb to the top deck to take some sunset photos.
We continued chatting throughout dinner, which was the meatiest (and, in my opinion, the best) we’d eaten yet. Once our dessert plates had been taken away, our guide announced what we’d be watching as part of the boat’s ‘movie night’ – we couldn’t believe it when he said it was the Top Gear Vietnam special! We stayed to watch it for a bit with the Taiwanese girl, called Winnie – who, to my amusement, commented that Clarkson, Hammond and May were “cute”!
One last cave
The following morning, everyone chose a lie-in over a repeat of yesterday’s tai-chi. We had a light breakfast before going to join many other tourists in being ferried through a cave in a boat, which felt like a bit of a non-event after yesterday’s amazing kayaking trip.
Back on the boat we were treated to a large brunch spread that included delicious omelettes and noodles cooked to order. After that there was just enough time to pack and pay our bar bill before the boat landed and we were bundled into taxis going back to Hanoi.
We were sad to leave the beautiful boat and our new friends behind – but glad to be taking away memories that will stay with us forever.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2016. All rights reserved.