A Story of Dragons and Plankton

View from our island balcony

A landscape formed by an ancient dragon, hidden lagoons, glowing water and being castaway on an Island.

Our bus to ha long bay arrived just before lunchtime and from the bus (3hours) we hopped on a very small boat which took us to our ferry. We had lovely two man cabins in which we dropped our bags as the ship left the harbour. The ship had three levels, our cabins at the bottom, a restaurant in the middle and a sun deck on top. During lunchtime we got to meet our fellow travellers over a lovely sea food meal. There where about 20 travellers that quickly divided into two groups, those who spoke English (by no means just people from English speaking countries) and the francophone.
As the ship moved further from the mainland giant towers of rock started to appear from the water, each taller and more striking than the next. They would often be several hundred meters high and all where covered in a green cloak of shrubs that managed to cling onto the ragged cliffs. The farther we got into the bay the closer these towers became.

These towers caught the clouds and fog which gave the bay an eerie feeling. The three of us got to experience the bay even closer as the ferry stopped and we got given Kajaks to explore this area. As we paddled towards the towers and got closer to the cliffs we could really visualise the height of these mountains as we were dwarfed in the face of them. We continued to paddle towards what appeared to be a dead end however it turned out that there was a cave we could just about fit through that lead us to a hidden lagoon behind a short tunnel. This lagoon was incredibly beautiful as it was completely surrounded by the cliffs and could only be accessed by Kajaks. During this Kajak expedition we were able to witness a stunning display of nature as two sea hawks where gliding trough the air, one of them even catching a fish out of the water. There where also flying fish that would jump out of the water and then glide for a few meters in the air before gracefully diving in the sea again. As we returned from the boat we spend sometime jumping of the top deck and swimming in the sea before drying and heading to dinner. After dinner we enjoyed the “party” aspect of the cruise in which there was apparently a ‘no own alcohol policy’. As we had not complied with this policy we got told off by the barman on the boat (which was fair enough, he wanted us to buy his drinks). The barman however found me later at night and gave me a tablet of free cocktails (ironically made up of the same ingredients as our self brought drinks) to share with jamie and harry and to apologise for getting angry. (In Vietnam everything runs heavily on reviews, TripAdvisor and other such websites are very important for a business here and I assume he did not want us to write a bad review. Which of course we would not have done anyway because we had a lovely time).

Waking up in the morning was amazing as I could gaze at the mountains without having to leave my bed as the ship was making its way through the bay. We checked out of our cabins and relaxed on the sun deck for a while playing cards with some Scots. We passed some floating fishing villages, which are very interesting to look at but also somewhat enjoying because although they live in a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most beautiful places in the world they throw all of their trash in the water.

After lunch we left our ferry and went on a slightly smaller boat that only had two levels, a seating area and a sun deck. This boat took us to one of the big rocks rising from the water and we were told we could climb it and jump down if we wanted to. The climb was very tricky as we were only wearing Flipflops and had to use all four at all times. After a bit of climbing we reached a ledge that we could sit on and prepared to jump. 14 meters looks a lot higher when you are standing on a cliff towering over a boat and looking into the deep blue waters below, but as it would have been impossible to climb down we jumped. At that height only a few Belgians joined us, the rest spend their time jumping from the boat. As we got on the boat again and drove away I could see a sign on the other side of the rock we jumped from saying “No Jumping . No climbing”.

After a a while longer abroad we could see the island that would be our home for the night. It consisted of two mountains about 100m in height and a small gap in the middle that had beaches on both sides. We then got on an even smaller boat and landed on the south beach. In the middle of the island was a big wooden building with a bar and a restaurant on the ground floor and our sleeping quarters on the top. After fashioning a fishing rod out of some tree that was growing there me and harry took a two man Kajak on the south beach out for a paddle. Before we left we were told to keep left as that way we would stay in the sheltered labyrinth of the rocks instead of heading to open sea where the current would take us to china. The water was very shallow and we could see that some years ago someone paced a lot of baskets filled with rocks in the water to stimulate the growth of a reef, and we could see the first pioneers of this new habitat, some plants and sea cucumbers. It would be interesting to see how this microclimate will develop as succession takes place.

On our little journey through the calm waters we were accompanied by the eerie sound of birds that lived in caves in the mountains. On our journey through the waters we passed several untouched beaches and even found a small wreck of a shipping vessel. After about 30-45 minutes of paddling we discovered the north beach, which we were happy about as we thought ourselves lost in the maze of the bay. Once we saw the beach we decided to paddle to it instead of heading for Chinese waters (an idea we flirted with for a bit). Rejoined with jamie we played a few card games before having the brilliant idea that one of us should take a styrofoam mattress and float to the beach on the next island that was a good while away. Jamie decided that he was up for the challenge got on the mattress and headed off. Me and harry ordered some cocktails while enjoying a magnificent sunset over the sea and the mountains, and of course the ever smaller dot in the distance that was Jamie’s head. (Don’t worry, in case he started drifting to china me and harry had a Kajak ready to save him). Reunited for supper we then enjoyed a sort of beach party which was lovely.

Very late that evening we decided to go for a midnight swim in the ocean which was very fun and refreshing when suddenly we noticed something peculiar about the water; it was glowing. All around us there where tiny glowing dots that made it look like we were swimming in a sea of stars. It was a truly spectacular sight and I decided to get my diving goggles to get a better look. When diving deeper and looking up I could see the area around the people swimming above me in a bright mass of intense blue light. The plankton lit up when there was movement so the more we moved the brighter the water got. Swimming in the deep blue water with the light of the plankton under the deep blue sky, with the light of the stars surrounded by the green mountains is something we will surely never forget.
Rather annoyingly the girl that was sleeping in the bunk above mine decided to wake up really early and in doing so woke me up as well. It was around 5 in the morning and I was struggling to go back to sleep so I decided to go for an early morning swim in the sea. Before I jumped in the water I set up my camera to capture the sunrise as it was still completely dark. After a lovely swim I looked up at the hut we were living in an saw Harry leaning over the balcony, I thought that he was enjoying the view, the light glimmering in the sea or the waves rolling in on our beach. This turned out to be wrong when I saw him vomiting eruptively over the balcony down onto the beach below. It turned out to be food poisoning. Maybe a bad oyster, who knows.
After breakfast we take a variety of boats and busses to Hanoi. We staid there till our bus left for Hue.
Ps. I hate cockerels, in Sapa and on the island those bloody chicken would always wake us up really early in the morning.
Also if you are interested look up the stories and myths of the creation of halong bay.
Ps. Two things I forgot to mention: we had a cooking course on the ferry back and learned to make spring rolls. And also the ferry crashed into three other boats on the way back, once so hard they thought the front would snap of and shouted at us to get into safety. I assume that ferry drivers have less training here than in Europe.


5 thoughts on “A Story of Dragons and Plankton”

      1. Nice, have fun !
        PS. If you get the chance to go for a night swim do so, the glowing plankton is spectacular.


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