If you’re visiting Hanoi, you can’t miss Ha Long Bay. A paradise of almost 2000 majestic limestone rock formations that tower over glistening emerald waters. Looking out onto Ha Long Bay, it’s absolutely gorgeous and easy to see how this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easy to see why Ha Long Bay was declared one of the natural wonders of the world! The water is beautifully embellished with countless charming brown wooden junk boats.
Looking for a Ha Long Bay junk boat tour, we weren’t sure which one to choose. The streets of Hanoi are littered with tour operators, each selling various packages for this destination.
Specifically we knew we wanted to spend at least one night on a junk boat, and preferably with people of similar age, where we could enjoy a few drinks and have a bit of a party in paradise. So we were happy to have met a tour guide from the infamous Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. He told us that their tour ($159USD) would involve a night on a junk boat, followed by a night on Castaway Island – a private island owned by the owners of the hostel… it sounded great so we booked it the next day.
Although the bus ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay only takes 4 hours total (including a stop at a pottery barn from where you can get some noodles and any souvenirs you might like to purchase), it is a lot longer until you are finally able to step into your room aboard the junk boat.The bus was small and cramped and the up-right chairs which didn’t recline didn’t help much in the area of comfort.
After the minibus, we spent a while of waiting for a small motorboat to take us to the “Jolly Roger” (our home for the evening). Our tour group was quite a large one and we were therefore split onto two boats, though we remained on the Jolly Roger.
All of our meals onboard and on the island were included in the tour.
After finding our rooms onboard the Jolly Roger, we were given a shared lunch which included a wide selection of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and rice. (vegetarian options were available upon request)
When staying on Castaway Island, the food we were given was similar to what we ate onboard. Free water was also accessible, although anything else, such as alcohol or soda could be purchased from the bar.
Our accommodation was simple, we stayed in small bamboo huts on the beach. In our hut, there were 6 mattresses covered with mosquitos nets. The accommodation was a far cry from glamour or luxury. The roof of the hut came down fairly low so getting in and out was a bit of a workout in itself. There were other huts accommodating groups of various sizes, including 4-bed, 8-bed and 12-bed huts. The shared bathrooms were a short walk away, though not for the faint-hearted. You have to remember you’re using a beach bathroom, which is shared by a new party crowd every day…
There was however, an outdoor shower just near our hut which was a welcome refreshment from the heat.
Situated in the heart of Cat Ba National Park, Castaway Island is the private island, owned by Vietnam Backpacker Hostels’ owners. From afar, when approaching the island by speedboat, Castaway Island – in fact all of Ha Long Bay – ticks all the boxes of a paradisal destination. Crystal clear, blue calm waters, white sandy beaches, thousands of green forested islets dotted everywhere., tropical weather. Heaven.
On closer observation, you can see the environmental impact of tourists constantly partying there every day – the beach is littered with trash, the waves dragging it out and pushing it all back in. The colour of the sea near the shore was a murky brown colour. To thoroughly enjoy our swim here we had to endure walking/swimming past the rubbish & dirt and swim quite far out in order to find a clean area to swim.
For those who are more active, there were quite a few fun activities that we could participate in throughout the tour.
Tubing was a popular one, in which you’re being dragged by inner tube by motorboat. The aim is to not fall off, similar concept to the Banana Boat.
Wakeboarding was also offered, for all levels, and lessons were even provided to the less-experienced.
Rock climbing gives a fantastic opportunity to take in the breath-taking scenery from up high as ell ). As well as the chance to take in the amazing scenery an amazing height. You will be taken on the other side of the island where you will be given all necessary equipment and an instructor will be there to guide you.
Kayaking was also offered as a relaxing activity both during the day onboard the Jolly Roger and any time we were staying on Castaway Island. This was a wonderful opportunity to visit other areas of Ha Long Bay up close, from different perspectives, and at our own leisure. Great opportunity to visit caves and the nearby floating fisherman villages.
What Was Our Itinerary?
We were picked up from the hostel at 7.30am and were taken to Ha Long Bay by minibus, which took approximately four hours including a stop at a pottery barn, where we were able to purchase some noodles and crisps.
Onboard, we were given some time to find our rooms before enjoying a shared lunch which included a wide selection of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and rice. Following lunch, we had the opportunity of spending a few hours kayaking around Ha Long Bay. A great workout with a great view! Although a couple of the kayaks did sink resulting in a few stranded swimmers, it was overall an awesome experience which enabled us to explore the huge mountainous rock formations and caves.
At 7pm dinner and inevitable drinking games commenced… it should be noted that this particular tour is considered more of a booze cruise! Expect intoxicated backpackers, intoxicated tour guides, lots of nudity, a little bit of vomit, and definitely lots of people having sex. If that’s not for you, then I guess neither is this tour…
Waking up with an inevitable headache, we were served a simple breakfast at 7am, giving us ample time to repack our bags before changing boats & tour guide that would take us to the infamous Castaway Island.
Upon arriving at the island, we were given free reign to choose our accommodation and explore the island.We were given another simple lunch, and left to our own devices for the afternoon, giving us the opportunity to swim, sunbathe or participate in the aforementioned activities.
As the day wore on, more beverages were consumed and by sunset, the evening consisted of lots of drunken swimming, with many naked people running around, or people smoking tuc lao. In contrast to the chaos, when swimming in the sea at night, it was phenomenal to watch the plankton glow a dazzling array of colours as we touched them. If you’ve ever seen Life Of Pi, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
We woke up with the peaceful sounds of the waves gently hitting the shore, although it was to be short-lived as sadly the weather was changing in front of our very eyes. We were warned of an incoming typhoon which meant we had to get off the island earlier than anticipated, and get back onto the boat which would take us back to the Jolly Roger.
The four hour bus journey back to Hanoi in the upright, hard seats of the minibus, felt significantly worse than two days prior, although this could have been avoided with less alcohol consumption… We arrived back to Hanoi in one piece around 6pm.
What Was & Wasn’t Included?
– travel insurance