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Sunday 28 Jul 2013
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Castaways

Yet another early start, but this time for a 3-day trip to Halong Bay.  I probably wouldn’t have chosen this particular trip, as it was very much a party boat, but Simon and Josh had talked about it all the way from Luang Prabang.  It turned out to be a great weekend.

On the bus there, we recognised Jason, who'd inadvertently become our beer pong adjudicator in Siem Reap.  He and Sally had been volunteering in Cambodia and were now travelling for a few weeks.  The party reps filled the coach journey by getting everyone to admit an embarrassing story and awarding prizes for the best, or worst, story.  It is amazing (and cringeworthy) what people will admit to a coach full of strangers!  We reached the port in the middle of a monsoon downpour and had to wait as they ferried everyone out to the boats in small groups.  We were last and got drenched, but got to know Jason, Sally and a British girl called Selina in the meantime.  Selina and I then shared a cabin on the boat.  There were three big junk boats for our group, with cabins on the lower two decks, a bar on the third and a sundeck on the roof – which saw very little action given the weather!  After a really good lunch, we started playing cards and cracked the first beers.  The party reps introduced a few drinking rules and the stage was set for a messy weekend…

First stop was kayaking around the iconic limestone karsts that make Halong Bay so famous.  The three boats moored up and we paddled off in pairs, following the guides between karsts and through tunnels underneath them.  The rain had stopped for a while and we got a glimpse of what Halong Bay could be like without the grey misty clouds.  It was beautiful, but it didn’t take long before the scenery was forgotten in favour of all out water fights, races and kayak acrobatics. 

Back onboard, we were all directed onto the end boat of the three where we could safely (?) jump off the top.  There are always a few people who can do impressive flips and somersaults into the water – and then there are those who try and fail miserably.  We all winced as a few people hit the water badly and cheered for those who got it right.  It was as much as I could do to hold my nose and jump off feet first, screaming all the way down.  Jon, Carl, Simon, Josh and I jumped off together so one of the others could take a group photo of the remaining Kom Da Brush team (and I screamed all the way down on that one, too).  The boats then motored along to our overnight mooring, still tied together, while we carried on partying on the roof.

After dinner, the party reps took over and set up two long tables down the middle of the bar, with a line of cards right down the middle and split us into two teams.  Each card had an action and as each person pulled a card at random, the reps ensured they were carried out.  Before too long, there were people wearing marker pen moustaches, crawling under the table, swapping clothes with the opposite sex and shouting challenges to the other table.  Add to that the rules about left-handed drinking and not saying the word ‘ten’ (or having to do ten push-ups as punishment) and you get the idea…

Messy, but in spite of my reservations, SO MUCH FUN! Sally and Jason were nearer my age and we got along brilliantly. We thought we’d grown out of this kind of ‘enforced’ party, but it turns out that we can still party with the kids now and then.

Needless to say, there were some very sore heads in the morning.  Things only got worse after breakfast when we were offloaded onto a much smaller fast boat and bounced across the choppy waters for 90 minutes to the island, where we had our own private beach and camp walled in by limestone karsts.  Accommodation was a row of open-sided dorms, with mosquito nets on each bunk and a woven wicker box for a pillow.  There was also a big open-sided palapa covering the bar, kitchen and long dining tables.

There were lots of activities to choose from: tubing, rock climbing, volleyball, kayaking or just lazing on the beach. There was a floating pontoon a short swim out from the beach and another island just across the bay.  It was a really beautiful spot when the sun came out long enough, but it still rained most of the afternoon.  I tried Volleyball (terrible!) and tubing (being dragged around the bay behind a speedboat while trying to cling onto a large inflatable disc).  The latter was a lot more fun, but terrifying too.

After dinner, the reps got a variety of (drinking) games going at different tables, including several games of beer pong.  It was a much more relaxed night than last night on the boat, but still fun.  People could move from one game to the next or sit around chatting.  Anyone could plug their iPods in to the speakers for a few tunes, so the music became a very eclectic mix as the night progressed.  It’s quite something to hear 50 drunken people singing Michael Jackson’s 'Man in the Mirror' at full volume, when the majority weren’t even born when it came out.

Some time after midnight, the inevitable happened and we all piled into the sea for a spot of night swimming.  The water was full of bioluminescent plankton and it looked amazing with so many people splashing around.  Just clicking your fingers underwater produced a spray of glowing sparks.  A few of us swam out to the pontoon and lay there, watching the stars, putting the world to rights.  It really was a beautiful place and turned out to be a really great weekend. 

We should have gone back out to our junk boats and sailed back to the port today, but the approach of a big storm meant we were instead taken around to the end of Cat Ba island, one of the biggest in Halong Bay, and put on a coach for an hour.  The junk boats met us on the far side of the island and ferried us back from there to avoid the worst of the weather.

It was a much quieter ride back to Hanoi, where we checked back into the hostel and collected our backpacks from their store.  Josh and I were both flying out the next morning, while Simon, Carl, Jon and Selina were heading north up to Sapa for a homestay and some hill trekking.  If I hadn't already booked my flights to Borneo, I'd have been tempted to join them.  They were getting straight on a nightbus so we waited while they ate and then waved them off.  The original Kom Da Brush team was now down to two. It was an appropriate ending to a month of travel and partying through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with a great group of people.  I’m going to miss them!

We had dinner from one of the excellent street restaurants and got a few games of slap cup going in the hostel bar after the beer pong tournament.  I left Josh heading out with the crowd and called it a night.

Vietnam.  You have been amazing!  I will definitely be back again.

 

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