Halong Bay and Mr Monkey

Joining the Amazon rainforest, Iguazu Falls, Jeju Island, Komodo, Pueto Princesa Underground River and Table Mountain, Halong Bay makes up the Seventh Natural Wonder of the world.

After a 4 hour bus journey we arrived at Halong Harbour and we were ushured onto a small barge like boat which would ferry us across to the main boat which we would be staying on. Flimsy and battered life jackets were thrust into our hands and we were signalled to put them on. Little did we know how close we would come to needing them!

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As we sped across the water, looking at the many white painted tourist boats that were floating around the harbour we were suddenly thrown forward as another barge boat carrying tourists ploughed into the back of us. Unable to understand Vietnamese, I can only imagine the meaning of the many foul sounding words that came spewing from our guide’s mouth directed at the other boat. In fact he was so cross that he failed to realise that we were now careering towards another, and much sturdier looking goods transporter boat. Next thing we had crashed into that too. The front of our boat splintered and the small boy at the front of the transporter boat was nearly knocked into the water. Not sure whether to laugh or cry we all exchanged worried glances as the driver offered us an off hand “Sorry everybody!”

Once safely on board of the main boat we settled into our rooms and had lunch which consisted of rice, fresh fish, salad, fruit, an assortments of meat and noodles. As we ate we admired the stunning scenery- jagged rock formations jutting out from the sea, covered in dense forests and secret caves. Once full we headed over to check out one of the caves.

Halong, which literally means “descending dragon” is believed to house the dragon spirits that rose up to help the Vietnamese people fight against their enemies in times of war. The caves, in the eyes of the local people signify the belly of the dragons. Our guide showed us many interesting rock formations inside the cave, our favourite being the “penis rock”, which Ed then posed in front of in a rather conspicuous position.

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I stroked the “lucky turtle” which I was told would bring me good fortune, so fingers crossed!

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That night back on the boat we had a rather boozy session of kareoke with the other people on board. Avid fans of Kareoke, the Vietnamese took it very seriously, clapping each other on even when they were shocking. The ice was definitely broken when two Vietnamese men decided to take it upon themselves to serenade us with “Barbie Girl”.

After the singing and a few more beers later we decided squid fishing was a must on the agenda. Along with a group of American guys we watched as a bright light was placed in the water to attract the unsuspecting squid. Unfortunately, our fisherman had taken advantage of the cheap bar and staggered around scaring off anything that came remotely close to the boat. With no squid and thunder grumbling in the background we went to bed.

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The next day we headed to Cat Bah Island, the largest in Halong Bay. Here Ed and I decided to try a trek through the forest. With a local man from the Island named “Mr Monkey” we set off on our ascent. The climb was much harder than we expected and under the thick blanket of the forest the humidity was a killer. Feeling like we were Bikhram hiking and sweating more than we had ever sweated before, we struggled to keep up with the surprisingly agile Mr Monkey. Every now and then he would shoot off ahead, climbing up vines and swinging from the trees while calling to the birds. The next minute he would be back on the ground, desperately fanning us with his make shift fan in an attempt to stop us passing out.

After walking, climbing and shuffling on my bum, we finally made it to the top of the peak. And what a view greeted us! A rickety tower stood alone on the hill top. Mr Monkey ushured us up, with comforting words of  “5 people only or it break!” With a fear of heights, I cursed myself as I slowly stepped up the creaking metal stairs. Two thirds of the way up I met a guy who said “I wouldn’t go up there if I were you, it really isn’t too safe.” That was all I needed to hear and back down I went as Ed continued up to the top to capture the perfect photo.

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That night we were staying on a small remote island in a group of bungalows on the beach. As we pulled up in the small boat, we were both dumb struck with how idyllic the small resort looked. No more than 15 wooden bungalows curved around a small cove on the stunning island.

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The scenery more than made up for the simplicity of the bungalows and the facilities of the hotel. Once settled in we swam across to a neighbouring island which had a small patch of beach that was perfect for sunbathing in privacy. The only thing that could have popped our bubble was the jelly fish I found on arrival. With the swim back not looking so appealing, we laid in the sun before braving the waters again. Escaping sting free we returned to the resort to enjoy a barbeque on the beach with a few very friendly primates!