The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/172316143 (this one’s pretty cool if you look at it on satellite view)
The chat: Having stuffed ourselves on the classic SE Asian backpacker’s breakfast (and indeed lunch and dinner) of banana pancakes, we met the very relaxed owners of Blue Swimmer who rent out boats of all descriptions. Without as much as a hint of a disclaimer, deposit or instruction, they let us paddle out into the Gulf of Tonkin, merely suggesting we should aim to get back by dusk. It wasn’t as if customers hadn’t got lost before – we were given a laminated sign in Vietnamese that stated in capitals – ‘HELP -I AM LOST – I NEED TO GET BACK TO CAT BA TOWN’.
The trip was truly special – as soon as we left the harbour, all signs of tourism melted away, and it was just us, a few sea eagles, quite a few (big) jellyfish, and lots and lots of limestone karsts. . The kayak’s diminutive size allowed us to paddle through gaps in the karsts, into little lagoons, and right up to and indeed under the sheer cliffs of Ha Long Bay. Finding ourselves a deserted beach was easy- there are hundreds of them, and as we chewed on our sandwiches we reflected once again on how lucky we were to experience such beauty. The photos really don’t do it justice – magical!
Re-fuelled, we set off again. Our map had by now completely disintegrated, and navigation through the multitude of apparently identical karsts proved difficult. Like a watery maze, some channels were dead ends and others seemed to head in the right direction before veering off. By 3pm, we were very slightly anxious, but with the help of some friendly fisherman (but without resorting to the HELP sign) we found ourselves back on track and paddled into the harbour, blistered of hand and aching of arm. 23km was a long way to paddle, and our upper bodies, not used to exertion on the bike, certainly knew about it that evening.