Tim and Lindsey
Paradise in Lan Ha Bay
Day 747 – 750
Four nights in Paradise, well, Lan Ha Bay to be exact, on a Floating Homestay. What a wonderful time, fabulous scenery, delicious food and wonderful new friends.
Our bus trip from Hanoi with Daiichi Travel took us on a ferry for Cat Ba, and finally to Ben Beo Harbour. Thoughtfully, the Airbnb host had sent us a photo of a taxi-boat driver who would pick us up, and there he was; his whole face lit up with a smile when he met us. What a smooth and well-organised journey.
We paid our 80 dong fees to enter this national gem and sat relaxing on the little wooden boat, taking us on an hour’s sail around the beautiful karst islands and domed limestone hills that crescendo from the calm waters. Our taxi boat journey cost £5. I reckon we would have paid more for a boat tour.
We arrived at Inner X-Stay, a Floating Homestay in Lan Ha Bay and was immediately welcomed by Duc, part-owner of this houseboat, plus some of the other guests. Straight away, we knew we were going to have an exceptional time here.
The place consisted of three platforms. The main one had eight tiny rooms, just enough for a double bed and an area for luggage, the shack for a kitchen, bins for recycling and a space for eating. The other two platforms were covered with hammocks to relax on. One had a toilet and shower, and the other had several kayaks tied to the side to be freely used.
We relaxed, chatting with other guests. What a great group, mainly from Germany and the USA, including a young couple, Daniel and Kashara who immediately felt like kindred spirits. They had both been homeschooled, Daniel in Africa and Kashara on a boat. We loved chatting with them; they were so fascinating yet humble with it. Their next plan is to convert a Dodge van into a campervan and travel to 50 USA states. Daniel was even trying to work out how to split a waterboard into three so that it was easier to store.
It was dinner time, and the food kept coming out; calamari, huge mantis shrimps, tofu, rice and various vegetables. Our host Duc was a fabulously funny story-teller. He shared that there are three things that a man looks for in a wife in Vietnam: pale skin, a good cook and a kind heart. If she has all three, then the marriage dowry costs more. He told us that his
Cousin, who was on the houseboat with us, had to pay his future father-in-law two water buffalos, goats, sheep and a multitude of other things for the hand in marriage of his beloved. But sadly, once married, he discovered that her Mum used to do all the cooking and she was mean-tempered, so he would often stay here on the boat to getaway. (After a disturbed night’s sleep from some thunderous snoring, I am not surprised she has a temper!)
After collectively clearing up the dishes and before bedtime, Duc called us over to the water. He dipped his hand in and whirled the water around. It was like magic; a show of sparkles, just like the hand sparklers we have for Guy Fawkes that we swirl around, writing our names in the air with the sparks. So how are these formed in the water? Bioluminescent algae, I am informed.
The next day we went for a long kayak. It was such fun paddling passed the floating fishing huts, many with baskets to catch cockle clams. We had heard that there was a small opening for a lagoon. At first, we couldn’t find this but then spotted a low tunnel. Could this be it we wondered? As we rowed nearer, we realised that we could sail through by ducking. Let’s hope the tide doesn’t come in. We had found the lagoon, and there we were in solitude apart from the twittering of birds and the sun beaming down on us – bliss.
That evening, I helped the Cousin prepare food for dinner, peeling and slicing potatoes, chopping onions and cutting green beans. He was very particular how he wanted it done. Dinner was a bit late – I wonder why.
This next morning I was up early for a glorious sunrise. Photos never seem to do justice to the richness of the colours. I did pop back to bed afterwards. 5:30 am is far too early for me to stay up.
Over the next few days, we did more kayaking, found slivers of deserted beach to rest, with butterflies flitting around us. We sat eating tangerines that we bought from the lady that rows her wooden boat around, laden with snacks, fruit and vegetables. Energy restored, we enjoyed meandering around the towering limestone karsts in the mill-pond sea. Occasionally we would see a cruise ship bringing tourists in where they only had time for a quick twenty-minute kayak. I admit I felt a bit smug.
Back at our floating home, people came and went, and each evening, with Duc not here, I gave the magic sparkle show for the newcomers. Sadly no one agreed to jump in the water; those algae would have had a field day!
Amongst others, we met a lovely couple from Normandy, a sweet young English couple, Kate and Joe, who are going to live in Canada for the next two years, Timothy from Switzerland who had just started an eCommerce business, and Alan from Surrey with his partner Agnes from Poland, who we could have and nearly did chat until the cows come home. They have been travelling for several months, and it was great to swap stories and share travel ideas.
They also came and went, and the new arrivals were from the USA, including an incredible couple who are both forest firefighters. What brave souls, jumping out of helicopters, digging trenches to stop the roaring fires from spreading. I always thought these type of people would be big and burly, but Chris and Chelsea were about our builds, but with a lot more sturdier muscle.
What a wonderful time. Yes, the place was thrown together a bit rough and ready, but this gave it a rugged charm. If you don’t like roughing it, then this is not the place for you. If you can, then this place is paradise in Lan Ha Bay.
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