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Far and away - Halong bay impression

Halong Bay activities

Halong Bay activities

Halong Bay activities

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  • Image © 2008 Bobby King

Determined to find her own private paradise Duc Hanh takes a cycling and kayaking tour to the far reaches of Halong bay


After disembarking the Indochina Sails Cruises onto a smaller wooden boat, we sail towards the shore of Ngoc Vung Island along with my fellow travellers and a bunch of mountain bikes. We are off for a cycling tip across this mysterious island which sits amongst the awe inspiring Halong archipelago. Ngoc Vung (Mother Pearl) island is 50km from Halong City's Wharf.

Once all around the island you could plunge below and find a plethora of pearls, hence the name ‘Mother Pearl' island. The island is 12 square kilometers in area with over 1,000 inhabitants living mainly off fishing, farming, aquaculture and afforesting.

"If you see the island from helicopter, Ngoc Vung looks like a beautiful velvet handkerchief with white edging," says the captain of Huong Hai junk. "It seems to be floating on the water's surface." "Once upon a time, when night fell, the island would have been illuminated by the incandescent pearls below," he continues, lost in his own happy reverie. Too bad, I reflect, that these finite ocean treasures have been plundered.

After we arrive at the island's small wharf we grab our bikes and prepare to cycle to the east side of the island where we've been promised we will find deserted beaches. We take a coastal road that skirts the island's hilly terrain. The road is spectacular. There is never a chance to get bored with stunning views of land and sea.

Off the shoreline fishermen are caulking their bamboo boat with tar or scrapping worms off the panels of their wooden boats. Along the road several women are mending fishing nets or drying peanuts. Up the hilly slopes, children blithely tend to oxen or geese. On the verdant paddy fields farmers pull up weeds or busy themselves with fresh water ponds of fish and shrimp. We're told you can find big fish in these little ponds.

One farmer we meet along the way, says, "Last week, my uncle caught a butterfish weighing over 10 kg." For those worried about cycling on country roads on remote islands, Ngoc Vung boasts fairly smooth infrastructure all round. There is certainly little by way of traffic. Just the odd three-wheeled vehicle or motorbike passes by. Life on the island is simple. If you're after tranquillity, it is here in spades.

"Everybody here knows each other very well," says Mien, who transports goods around the island in his three-wheeled vehicle. "Whenever someone is sick everyone on the island comes to wish them a speedy recovery. Whenever a family has bad luck, everyone is ready to help them.

I have never locked the door to my house. Here we are one big family." The cycle from the wharf to the beach is rather short, just 5km, so even if you're not a keen cyclist you should find it easy enough. There is no need to rush, no need to stress out. We stop frequently and bask in the island's natural beauty.

When we finally arrive at the white sandy beach, it glistens under the sunshine. There is not a soul bathing on the beach. For tourists looking for a remote hidden getaway spot this fits the bill. That of course means you have zero by the way of services - no bars or restaurants, no showers or toilets. But that's why we're here: To escape the crowds and bask in our own little private paradise. We park our bicycles under the pine-trees where a small tent has been set up for us to change into our swimsuits.

Then, one by one, we run for the clear blue waters and dive in. After swimming, sun-bathing and walking along the beach, with heavy hearts we cycle back towards the boat. But the fun isn't over. After sailing away from Ngoc Vung we clamber into kayaks and paddle towards Cong Do, a floating fishing village in Bai Tu Long bay, 25km southeast of Halong city. There are over 50 floating houses and boats nestled in amongst a series of green rocky stacks and islets.

Covered from the wind that sweeps across the sea, all around the floating village the water is extremely calm. We paddle through as the villagers go about their daily business. Fishermen mend nets, women cook up meals or wash clothes while kids jump and splash outside in their watery gardens.

One of the houses is an arresting shade of pink. We can't help but head towards it. The owners, a recently married couple, tell us that they spent VND200 million building the house. They have a baby on the way and previously had lived on a small fishing boat. This pink house on the high seas was where they were settling down to raise a family.

Getting there You can travel to Ngoc Vung island by boat from Halong wharf, but remember there are no hotels, restaurants so make sure you arrange a round-trip! The locals here are very friendly and there may be a possibility of a homestay accommodation with a homecooked seafood dinner. An easier way to go about it is to book a tour.

You can join a three-day and two-night tour with Indochina Sails that includes visiting Ngoc Vung as well as caves, fishing villages, swimming and kayaking in spots all across the World Heritage Site Halong Bay. Shorter trips to the island are also possible. Indochina Sails, 04 984 2362, http://www.indochinasails.com/

Supported by Halong Bay cruises and Halong bay Junks

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Published on 7/6/08

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