After completing the Ha Giang Motorbike loop we travelled back to Hanoi early on Thursday the 20th of December. Here we were staying at Vietnam backpackers who we had arranged our tour to Ha Long Bay with, staying at their Castaways island. When we arrived in Hanoi there were a few things we had to take care of such as getting some washing done, buying a bottle of Baileys for Christmas and finally going to Christmas Street in Hanoi (a street selling all Xmas stuff) to buy some outfits and Christmas stuff ready for the big day. Once we had completed our life admin we then had some lunch before grabbing a few beers from the 5000-dong beer lady opposite the hostel. That night at the hostel there was a Christmas quiz which we took part in with the ingenious quiz name of “Frosty the Blow Man” here we met a guy in our hostel dorm named Shane who was also going on the Ha Long Bay tour with us, so he also joined us for the quiz. Once the quiz finished we continued to party in the lively hostel till around 11 pm before heading out to a nearby club until around 12 when Ollie Fred and I called it a night seeing as we had to be up at around 6 am the following day. We left Connor to party away. 6 am rolled around and we all woke a little groggy to pack our bags, make our way down to reception to check out and for breakfast, before leaving around 7 am for Ha Long Bay. Connor, however, was nowhere to be seen. As 7 am struck and multiple calls to Connor where he didn’t answer, we concluded he wasn’t going to be making the tour and would have to find his own way there! With about 10 minutes to spare Con rocked in rushed to pack his bags and just about made it for the tour after getting carried away and partying in Hanoi.
There was a group of around 16 going on the Castaways Ha Long bay tour, so we all got on the bus and immediately hit it off. Singing songs and drinking a few early morning beers on the way to Ha Long. The Journey consisted of a 3-hour bus, followed by a short ferry trip followed by another 30-minute bus followed by a further 30-minute ferry to the Island itself situated in Ha Long. On the final ferry, we even broke down for a little while due to some old fishing rope getting caught in the rudder. The ship’s captain had to swim down under the boat with a knife to cut the propeller free from the rope. As we arrived at our new home we couldn’t wait for the next few days in paradise. We arrived on the island around midday where we enjoyed lunch, which was great, before partaking in some water sports. Firstly, we went tubing, where the 4 of us laid on a big inflatable ring which was pulled behind the back of a speedboat and zoomed around the islands. Of course, we were also chucked off on many occasion and I’m sure I even got whiplash from the speed at which you got thrown and skimmed across the water. Ollie even paid to do some wakeboarding around the bay which looked very cool and he absolutely loved it. The island even offered him a job to stay and work on which he very much considered. After the time on the water Ollie and I also went rock climbing which was also an offered activity. After the rock climbing Fred and I took a kayak to the opposite island and docked on the beach to take a walkabout. As I stepped on the island I slipped on the rock which gave Fred a good laugh. After the water sports, we then had a massive game of volleyball with everyone on the island (including the islanders who were on their second day and had came back from there cruise). After the big game, we had dinner before partying the night away with everyone on the beautiful remote island in Ha Long.
The next morning, I awoke in a bed that was far too sandy for my liking but with a morning view that soon made the sand forgotten. I rolled over to enjoy the view of the bay that was out the window next to my bed. After waking up around 8 am and having some breakfast we then had a cruise of Ha Long Bay for 10 am. Before this begun though I had enough time to slip into my Santa outfit which I had brought from the Christmas street in Hanoi. Here I took a few photos and made a video (where I ended up very Irish) to send people back home on Christmas day. After cruising through the bay for around 20 minutes we anchored up and everyone quickly jumped from the boat to cool off in the water. After some time enjoying the water we then got into kayaks to enjoy a paddle around this part of Ha Long Bay. We stocked up on a few beers for the ride and set off about 10 kayaks in total 2 per kayak. I was still fully dressed in my Santa outfit and I’m sure it was quite a sight for everyone who passed us seeing Santa Claus kayak through the bay. The tour lasted about an hour with the guide giving us a bit of history and background on the bay. Once we were all back on the boat we then enjoyed a spot of lunch before the boat set off and the party ramped up a little on the now booze cruise. We made our way around the beautiful landscape of Ha long bay with it 900+ islands (obviously we didn’t see them all). After another hour cruising we stopped in different bay where we once again could swim. Here Santa finally took a dip and my trouser soon disintegrated in the water haha. The beard, jacket and hat survived a little longer but were soon also ruined. While we were anchored for a second time Ollie and I decided to swim about 100 m from the boat to a little island. Here I got some good photos from my Go Pro looking back at the boat. After this swim, I fancied a bigger challenge and Fred was up for it, so we swam to an island even further away, where a fisherman was also working. The swim must have been a good 300 m maybe more and lasted about 5 – 10 minutes. Safe to say we were glad to reach dry land. Although the shore was lined with coral, so I cut my thumb and Fred his foot. After the swim Fred said he felt a little sick, maybe the mix of a few beers and the workout hit his stomach, so it was here Fred was sick in the sea, which made me laugh a lot. Neither of us though fancied the swim back to the boat so we managed to get the fisherman to take us back in his little row boat which was so kind of him! What a lovely man. I’m glad we swam to the island as it meant we got a lift back in this little old wooden rowboat by this Vietnamese fisherman. The ores to the boat were tiny and his technique strange but it certainly worked as we soon arrived back at the main boat to massive cheers from all those onboard. The party carried on a bit longer before we made our way back to the Castaways island. Here we enjoyed another hearty dinner before once again enjoying a night of partying on the beach and island dancefloor in front of the DJ booth.
In conclusion our time on the Castaways Ha Long Bay tour was great, but this was absolutely due to the group we were with as everyone had such a good laugh together. All together there were 5 Irish, 2 Aussies, 2 Dutch, 1 American and then 9 English including us 4 and we got on like a house of fire. That certainly makes or breaks the tour if you get a good group and we really did. I would defo recommend the island to those looking to combine seeing this amazing natural wonder whilst also enjoying a party on your own remote island (plus can afford the price tag as it was a little expensive but hey it was Christmas).
Sunday the 23rd of December rolled around, and it was time to say goodbye to everyone we had met on the island but promised to meet up in the future. Here most people were heading all the way back to Hanoi, but we were stopping on the Island of Cat Ba which is the hub for Ha Long Bay. The Two Aussie boys were also doing the same. We arrived in Cat Ba and mainly chilled out for the day with the two Aussies getting over the last few days where we had little sleep and rest. Christmas Eve came around and this was the day where we all had to do our secret Santa shopping for one another as we decided prior it would be easier to keep secret and funnier if we just had the day before to shop. Fred and I set out as a pair while Ollie and Connor went out later as they were feeling a bit under the weather with Ollie having a dodgy stomach. After Fred and I had finished our shopping we then hired a moped for a few hours to allow us to ride up to the old cannon fort that was built on the island during WWII. Here we enjoyed the sunset with a few beers (although Fred knocked mine over almost as soon as I opened it). The sunset was non-existent though due to the amount of cloud. After the sunset, we explored the various components of the old fort like the ammunition depot and the two old guns still there.
We arrived back at the hostel in time for our Christmas dinner meal that night. Unfortunately, Ollie didn’t make it due to his bowel movements restricting him from moving more than 5 m from a toilet. Unluckily for him, he really missed out as the hostel laid on a feast with turkey ham and beef, mashed potatoes, gravy! Basically, all the trimming, but they didn’t have stuffing! Still better than we were expecting, and it was so lovely with everyone from the hostel being there, around 30 of us enjoying some Christmas spirit. There was also free wine and sangria although the sangria was most certainly not from Spain, pretty sure it was just fruit juice with rice wine. There was even a Yule log for dessert. Sorry Ollie, but we ate enough for you. After eating our fill Connor Fred and I made our way out into town not wanting to break the Christmas tradition of going down the pub on Xmas Eve. The town was pretty lively with bars and that being open. We barely spent a penny all night as well getting served free beer in most places we went. We even bumped into a very intoxicated woman from the Czech Republic who thought Connor was Indian which was utterly hilarious. After the clock struck 12 in Vietnam signalling the start of Xmas day we headed back to go to sleep to eagerly await what our secret Santa might bring us in the morning.
Christmas morning in Vietnam was a little different to back home but a pleasant change none the less. The Bailey’s was opened, and the Christmas songs started playing not wanting to break too many traditions. We then exchanged our secret Santa gifts and by gifts, I mean nothing of any use to anyone. So, Fred had Ollie and gave him some nappies to help with the dodgy stomach and then a lovely dress for him to wear on NYE. Ollie had me and I was lucky enough to get some lovely speedo type pants, a new shit shirt and a typical style Vietnamese hat made of Bamboo. I had Connor so got him a tiny flannel to make up for his lost towel, a tin of spam as he has gone vegetarian, a packet of cigarettes as he has quit but every time he smokes he must buy me a beer and finally a pair of baby socks and shoes as his foot swelled from the bike accident. Finally, Connor had Fred where he got him some beef jerky to help with his gym progress and a mini Hulk cuddly toy to use as motivation. After we exchanged gifts we had some breakfast at the hostel before heading to the beach, after the beach, we headed to Oasis Bar 2 which had a pool and enjoyed some drinks and food. We were also joined by the two Aussie lads we met on our Castaways tour. That Evening for our Xmas dinner we all fancied something different so opted to have massive pizzas which Fred and I then followed up with banana splits. Finally, to finish off Christmas day we headed to the Aussie boy’s hostel to enjoy a few final beers with them and share some final Christmas spirit together before going our separate ways. Overall Christmas was tame as the island was a little dead and it was probably the only time so far we kind of wished we were back home. Still it was nice to experience something a little different. Plus, when the magic of Christmas has worn off at home and everyone is miserable in January we shall still be having the time of our lives around South East Asia, so we aren’t too bothered.
Boxing day involved us leaving Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba island to start our journey down south where we shall eventually arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. The first leg down south was by overnight bus from Hai Phong, the mainland just off Cat Ba island to Hue which is just south of the former demilitarised zone during the Vietnam warm. We boarded the bus at 7 pm on boxing day although we didn’t depart until around 7:45. We arrived in Hue at 10:30 am on the 27th after a 15-hour journey. Overall the bus was better than I expected, and the sleeper seats were reasonably comfortable. I managed to get a broken 7-8 hours sleep. The funniest moment of the journey was when we randomly stopped about 3-4 hours into the drive and people started to get off the bus. Fred and I were awake so looked around to see what was happening as it appeared there was nothing outside. It was at this moment we saw a man squatting and taking a poo, at which point Fred and I cracked up and then joined the man for a wee ourselves seeing as there was no toilet on the bus so thought we best make use of the pit stop.
We are now in Hue where we spend a few days before making our way to Hoi An to celebrate the new year. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas!