There are no two ways about it, this place is incredible. The four of us stood on the back (well, actually Jordan found a perch on the third floor of the ferry). We enjoyed our beers and gazed out at the stunning view.
Halong Bay is a series of vegetated islands jetting hundreds of feet out of the sea. Each island is different in size and shape. It was amazing to just weave amongst these giants. Most were uninhabited with occasional fishing boats or floating houses tucking in between. As we got further into the bay, the islands became more abundant and the people in boats less so. Most of the islands seemed to climb straight up and out of the sea, hundreds of feet up before leveling out, if at all. Most had no beaches, docks or development of any kind. Halong Bay is truly a magical and mysterious place…
Then there’s Castaways.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to the staff, given an idea of the itinerary and told the rules. It felt like we were at a summer camp for adults. Aside from the usual don’t break things, disrespect people or piss off the bartenders, we got the ever present drinking game rules.
These rules included:
1. only drinking with your left hand or you’ll be called out by someone yelling “buffaloooooo!” And you’ll have to finish your beverage (beer, water or otherwise).
2. You could not say the words “mine” or “ten” without someone asking you to do 10 pushups.
3. The gong was rang three times a day, once at each meal. If you rang it other than that, you bought the whole island drinks. Groups cycled out daily but between our two nights, there were about 100 people each night. No gong rings for this guy.
The four of us were group one: checked in first and were the first for tubing. Our lodging consisted of one bunk bed for the four of us. My wife and I in one bed on top, the two guys on the bottom bunk. I felt bad for Jordan and Dylan on that one. We were the first called to the docks for our tube ride after we dropped our stuff at our beds. We had to trade a little mexican gal to get Jordan back in our group. She was more than willing to tube with her own friends and we were glad to get Jordan back on the team. Maybe we shouldn’t have been all that excited as he was the only one to dump on our epic tube navigation of Halong Bay. It was a fairly short ride but we were glad to see the bay the way the first explorers had – doing 35 mph strapped to an inflatable object, being piloted by dipshits. In all fairness, Jordan had the tough side… not that I dumped when I had that side but I could see why he did.
Next, we spent a few hours on the beach swimming and relaxing before the party began. At first, we all just assumed that dinner was early, I mean who in their right mind would want to buy 60 strangers drinks (50 castaways were out on a boat tour)? At first it was funny. The guy on the mic gave a salute to clearly a very generous guy. He even did a little chant: “dude is a legend…. legend, legend, legend… and he is so beautiful… legend….”. We took our free shots then another gong rang out. Two Canadian gong ringers in a row, two free shots. Apparently the Englishmen on the island felt challenged. Gong… Gong…. Gong… So many gongs, so many “legends”, so many drinks, one after another. It got to the point that if I didn’t like what they were buying, I’d sit that round out. Throughout the night, each of us intentionally avoided several free drinks. The war of the gongs would have to see the U.S. as noncombatants but we were still happy to take part in the spoils of Canada vs England.
If you go for a late night swim, you can see shiny plankton. We’d seen it once before while in Cambodia and it is incredible enough to want another look. Unfortunately, the ocean floor just off the beach is filled with coral. Some got cuts worse than others but by morning one person had to be evacuated and a few more were bandaged. Our group managed to escape with a few small cuts here and there.
The next morning we set off on our day long cruise of Halong Bay. The day was filled with wonderful views, kayaking through a cave, swimming and jumping off the second story deck. Oh, and it was also filled with beer shotguns, guys yelling “buffalo”, drunks and dance music. You take the good with the bad. I won’t lie, though, I had a ton of fun. You can’t beat those views mixed with a little family time and the occasional nice conversation with a new friend. Jordan and I grabbed a few beers to take on our kayak trip through the grotto. McKayla and Dylan paired up as we floated together to another announcement. We held back a little bit to avoid the bumper kayaks that were taking place just in front of us. Besides, going through the tunnel with just the four of us was a little more serene. The tunnel led to an inlet where we were almost entirely surrounded by huge cliff islands.
McKayla and I even got a shoutout in the next set of announcements because apparently we were one of the only married couples crazy enough to book with these labedo seething maniacs… possibly ever? We all enjoyed a slow paddle back to the boat where we later learned that three kayaks were temperarily lost and four had capsized.
Another night of gong ringing, bar games and frisbee followed our boat tour. The highlight of the night was McKayla’s collapse on the beach which led to the longest fits of laughter I’ve ever heard her string together. One of those good, endless belly laughs that just make you laugh harder.
Before I get to our Castaways send off, I just have to discuss one more thing of this “resort” – the smell. The only way I can describe it is the smell of the color yellow. The showers were gross, the toilets were next level disgusting and the collective body odor/sewage made for hands down the most noxious smell imaginable. Usually I stay away from quotes bu a few of the one star TripAdvisor reviews say it better than I can.
“Hygiene standards were lower than they would be in a Colombian prison. Try taking a shower when the floor has floating sewage.”
It was the most disgusting good time that I’d never want to have again, but it’s a story I’ll cherish as long as I live. I’m so glad Jordan and Dylan were there to share it…. BUFFALO!!!! Legend.