The Monkey Island
After spending a starlit night aboard in the Halong Bay we embarked on a journey to the Monkey Island. It took us about two hours, which included a 45-mimute stop at a secluded bay for swimming, much to our surprise, because just the day before we were informed that we would be unable to go swimming due to overpopulation of jellyfish in the Halong Bay.
Needless to say, the water was absolutely amazing, though I managed to graze my foot a little when I foolishly decided to swim to a small beach across the bay and somehow had not realized that there were razor-sharp corals just outside the shore. Just my luck!
The next hour was spent removing very brittle glass-like shards still lodged in my foot using nothing but a pair of tweezers on a boat that was rocking back and forth.
It was just before we arrived at Monkey Island beach we managed to squeeze and pull out a total of 10 shards.
Upon arrival to the Monkey Island there was a bit of a confusion about how we’d get to the actual beach. Our crew somehow assumed that we’d be OK with disembarking the boat using very narrow wooden plank steeply going from the deck into the water followed by a jump to a nearby slab of concrete. It was only after all passengers refused to follow, the crew fetched a small fishing boat to safely take us ashore.
We spent the next 45 minutes on an amazing beach with powdery white sand with several monkeys running about or attempting to steal things. Incidentally this was our first actual beach-time since we started travelling in September.
After being herded back on the boat six of us, two Canadian girls, a couple of English lads, Julia and myself were taken just round the corner to the Monkey Island Resort, our final stop for the day where were checked into probably the smallest hut we have ever seen. Think Harry Potter’s broom closet with just enough space for a double bed and a couple of feet space next to it.
We quickly put away our stuff and then spent the rest of the afternoon beach-bumming around finally feeling like we’re on well deserved break from all the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and being bossed around for the past few days. The resort is quite small and fairly quiet with nothing much to do apart from a 5 minute hike to a nearby viewpoint with some really nice views of the resort.
After watching the sunset we got ready for our dinner, which, by the way, was absolutely amazing and included oysters. Probably the best dinner we’ve eaten since our adventure.
Bonfire or no fire
Nobody really knew what the program for the evening will be. There was an expectation of a party hanging in the air and because an outdoor bar was being built on the beach and hotel staff was also putting together a bonfire. The term “bonfire” is quite an overstatement though. This was basically a bunch of dried bamboo branches completely drenched in petrol.
Minutes passed and there was no sign of a party going on, though this did not stop Julia and me from buying couple of cocktails to get the evening going. The cocktails weren’t the cheapest with around 100-120K Vietnamese Dongs (about 4/5 dollars) for one cocktail and no happy hour! Cue bottle of vodka promptly poured into a small water bottle. We decided that we were not going to pay ransom to the resort clearly milking the fact there was no other shop or bar for miles so we just kept the cocktail glasses and simply kept topping them up with aforementioned vodka and soft drinks, which we still had to buy at the bar.
Then suddenly someone lit the bonfire and we found out that both bonfire and the outdoor bar were built for a group of backpackers who were staying in the dorms on the hill. Did I forget to say that the resort also had dorm? Yes it had and it was the biggest dorm I have ever seen with thirty (that’s 3 0) beds.
Anyway, our little boat group ended up watching the dorm people sitting around the fire with one girl who obviously nominated herself as the chief fun controller, probably because nobody else really cared. It was quite difficult to make out what exactly was happening because we were not sitting close by but from what we understood the chief fun controller was passing around some sort of stick allowing people talk. It all seemed very awkward and it was really amusing watching that poor girl trying too hard.
The bonfire did not last very long, after all, it really was just a bunch of bamboo logs and few litres of petrol so the moment the bonfire was reduced to a pile of smoking ash everyone dispersed as quickly as they could and that was it.
We then heard that there was a party going on in a bar under the dorm but when we came there it became very clear that the “party” was a karaoke organised by resort staff for resort staff.
We then spent the rest of the evening drinking, chating and playing cards.
Leaving the paradise
We were woken up the next morning by the sound of a gecko running on the outside wall of our hut. Still feeling the side effects of our vodka session last night we climbed out of bed, packed all our stuff and quickly went to grab some breakfast. We only had 20 minutes before we were supposed to be thrown out of this little paradise.
Our taxi boat arrived right on time and soon enough we could only watch the resort get smaller and smaller as our boat quickly made way out of the bay.
The sight of the resort diminishing on the horizon reminded me of a booking.com advert where a father jumps out of a boat and swims back to a resort they just left after a booking fantastic holiday. For a second there I contemplated making a swim for it.
The taxi boat was taking us to the Cat Ba Island where we were supposed to board the ship we had left yesterday before making our way back to Halong City. The journey to Cat Ba offered us some really amazing views as well as a glimpse of a local floating village.
Boat hopping for pros
What we did not expect though was the way in which we were supposed to board the ship once we have arrived to Cat Ba. Rather than following the normal way we were expected to jump from the taxi boat to the kitchen area of the next ship, meaning we had to take a giant leap to a platform about one meter higher with no handles, our backpacks on our backs, shoes in our hands and all this while the taxi boat was moving in all directions.
“Just jump!” were the last words of the captain as the gap between two boats widened. After a bit of struggle we managed to climb on board. Much to our surprise, this ship was only supposed to take us part way before we’d change ships again!
After about an hour of peaceful cruising of the Halong Bay waters we changed ships again, this time to the ship we started our journey on. By 11 o’clock we were ready for the final part of our programme, making spring rolls. It was quite fun and informative. Did you know that before a Vietnamese couple gets married, husband’s mother spends some time with her future daughter-in-law checking up her cooking skills including her skills at making spring rolls?
The rest of our journey was really great, enjoying our lunch and the last views of Halong Bay as we approached the harbour. One would think the great feeling would brace us for what was coming – another 4 hours of nerve-racking bus journey back to Hanoi, which kept everyone well on their toes.
Halong Bay, did it meet our expectations?
Now that the dust had settled did seeing Halong Bay match our expectations? Maybe. We are extremely grateful that we had the opportunity to see Halong Bay and cross it off our bucket list. Many people never will get that chance.
Don’t get me wrong, Halong Bay is absolutely beautiful and the trip itself was worth the money. Seeing the Surprise Cave, watching sunset from a kayak or being able to sleep on a boat and watching star-filled night sky above the bay were unforgettable. The people we had met were great and we will have a lot to remember for the rest of our lives.
But at the same time we simply could not help the feeling that we already saw very similar rock formations in Thailand two years ago during a day trip to from Phuket to James Bond Island.
However, it was the whole package that made the trip so enjoyable and given the chance we would definitely do it again.
If you have missed the first part of the Halong Bay adventure click here.