Kayaking in Halong Bay


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Getting on the wrong tour in Halong Bay, Vietnam turns hard luck into good luck.

Recently we caught an overnight bus from hectic Hanoi to beautiful Halong Bay. Comfy sleeper seats the tour lady had said. Plenty of room to stretch out. Save time from traveling during the day.

A great concept for petite people. The local’s average height must be a lot shorter than mine. The bus was packed. Unfortunately, my legs couldn’t stretch out in the squeezy foot compartment. I felt every fast corner and screechy halt the driver made that night. Still, it probably was better than wasting a day in Vietnam on just travel.

We got dropped off at a backpacker resort in the early morning. I overheard other travelers talking about a tour so I followed them. My friend Jack was very keen to see some monkeys for the first time in his life. We planned to visit Monkey Island. That’s what I thought I booked us in for.

Away on our journey, the tour guide outlined the itinerary. He didn’t mention Monkey Island, so I asked him. No, he said, we’re not going there. Those monkeys aren’t natives. They’ve just been imported for the tourists from foreign countries and it’s terrible. Fair enough I thought, but did we endure that bus ride for Jack not to see any monkeys? We had to leave the following morning.

Sensing our disappointment, the guide said that if we are lucky, we may see the local, native and rare monkeys while we’re kayaking. Jack is a firm believer that whatever happens in his life is for a reason in perfect divine timing. So we had good chances of seeing these native ones. I also liked that this tour we somehow ended up on was a bit less touristy.

An hour or two of cruising on the deck, into the middle of Halong Bay, past stunning limestone inlets, put us in a lighter mood. It was a wonderful day with perfect blue skies. The water was warm and serene, too deep to see the bottom. Our group jumped in tandem kayaks and set off paddling through many caves. We did loops in gorgeous secluded bays with vibrant jungle hills. It looked like the monkey’s private paradise. I watched the trees, keen to see telltale signs of shaking branches.

Trying out my animal communication telepathy, I asked any monkeys in the area to please come out and play for us. On the way back to the boat for lunch, we finally came across what we were looking for. Cute little ones with long tails and punky strips of white hair swinging in the branches close to the edge of the islet. Jack was totally stoked. We sat in our kayaks trying to take photos. They had no time for posing, too quick for my phone camera’s focus.

The moment was just to be enjoyed, I guess. Eventually, we made way for gathering kayakers to get a closer viewing. They couldn’t believe it.

Back on the boat, our backs felt sore from the kayaks hard seat. After lunch, we padded up with life jackets and set off on another adventure. A local tour guide found it hilarious to lead us on a mission crawling under sandy caves on our stomachs.

Houseboat in Halong Bay

Off into another part of the majestic bay, we alighted on a floating homestay and family fish farm. The main attraction was an enormous 100-kilogram groper that lived under the wooden planks. Being a bottom feeder, they had to pull his net and bring him in for a closer look. He was quite the sight. The family treated him as their pet. They believed he was a bringer of good luck.

Our guide told us the story about a Chinese tourist offering them thousands of dollars for the groper which they turned down. The fish had much more value than just money. They loved him. His presence was believed to attract an abundance of good fishing and weather. It was an interesting tale considering the poor and simple conditions the fishing family lived with. Obviously, they were happy to grow their business naturally. I admired that.

Junk boats at night

At the end of the day, we were satisfied with our different tour. It was more in alignment with our souls than a party on an island with imported monkeys.

The number of tourists coming in Junkets and luxury cruises sailing amongst the calm limestone islets was mind-blowing. The only downside was seeing floating rubbish and plastic in this amazing part of Vietnam. What an absolutely incredible place it would be as a pristine environment.

I hope that in time with more education and management, the health of the water, the fish caught for our meals, providing local income and lifestyles, is more respected.

Here’s to less littering and more comfortable kayaks in the future.


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