Yesterday, we explored Halong Bay in kayaks. OK, maybe not ALL of Halong Bay as it is 1500 square kilometers with 2,000 stand alone limestone islands, called karsts. Known as one of the most picturesque place in Vietnam, Halong Bay is a UNESCO heritage site.
We stayed for five nights on Cat Ba Island which is a laid back island town on the southern end of Halong Bay. Technically, Cat Ba Island is on Lan Ha Bay and part of a different province. Lan Ha has the same charm of Halong without the huge number of large tourist boats. Floating fishing villages still dot the landscape of Lan Ha Bay, and secret caves and private beaches can found around every corner.
The day was overcast which to me was bittersweet. While it certainly kept the heat down and sunburns to a minimum, I’d wished my photos could have been a bit clearer. The bay was beautiful and each time we turned a corner, my jaw dropped yet again.
We headed out in the morning for about 30 minutes on a two level motor boat ride to pick up the kayaks and find a good place for kayaking. Also on our boat were a dozen or so rock climbers. Apparently, the karsts of Halong Bay are a huge attraction for Deep Water Soloing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the lingo, deep water soloing refers to rock climbing without gear, above water. Smaller boats take the climbers out to bottom of the sheer vertical cliff sides and let them climb as high they want. No safety gear is used. If you fall, you simply drop into the deep ocean. Further, if you do make it to the top of one of them, getting down is a breeze. One step takes you directly down in seconds.
Needless to say, we didn’t disembark with the climbers. Instead, we headed out with a small group of twelve international kayakers, paddling in tandem kayaks across the bays. We followed the guide to a small cave in the rocks, and he disappeared. We followed behind, paddling hard against the current flowing against us, trying not to hit the side of the caves and focusing on the light at the end of the secret tunnel.
In a minute or two, out we popped into the most beautiful private lagoon. The large lagoon was completely surrounded by tall 150 foot cliffs. We were completely INSIDE one of the karsts. It was calm, quiet, and amazingly beautiful. In no time at all, we had all hopped out of our kayaks for a swim in our private lagoon. Stunning!
After more paddling, we headed back to the boat for lunch. It was a delicious lunch of spring rolls, tasty fish, veggies, tofu, cooked potatoes, and watermelon. The boys took advantage of the stop to jump off of the upper deck of the boat.
In the afternoon, we went back out on the kayaks. This time was a little more laid back. We first paddled through tunnels in the karsts and pulled up on a private beach.
There was a low tunnel we crawled / climbed through, out to the other side, to another private beach. (We learned these beaches and the secret tunnels only exist during low tide.)
From that beach, we swam around the corner to another beach where we did a little five minute jungle climb that took us back to our original beach. Elio had forgotten to bring his shoes on this part of the kayak trip. Since the limestone rocks were extremely sharp, he rode Yoda-style through the jungle while Nathan did a little Jedi training. It made for some cute photos.
Finally, we ended the afternoon paddle by hanging out on a private beach whiling away the afternoon beachcombing before heading back in the big boat and then to Cat Ba Town. A great last day on in the islands!