Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam: Castaway Island Adventure

Welcome Guest Writer, world traveler and my good friend, Neelam Modi.  

In 2012, Neelam "retired" from his corporate job and set out to see the world. He reached 28 countries in 444 days. I've asked him to share some stories from time to time. He is a HugeParty and receives my strongest vote of confidence.  With that, here is his first post...

Is Hạ Long Bay a HugeParty?

Sure… the junk boats are cool, the lime stone mountains suddenly jutting out from the bay are awe inspiring, the 1-3 day boat cruise along the bay can be relaxing, and the sunsets are breath-taking, but a HugeParty it most certainly is not…

UNLESS...unless you take the Castaway Cruise to Castaway Island…now that’s a 3-day, 2-night non-stop HugeParty.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Starting in Hanoi

You start in Hanoi, Vietnam. You can stay almost anywhere, there are hostels aplenty. But if I were to recommend a place, it would have to be Hanoi BackpackersDowntown. It is the quintessential party hostel in Hanoi/Vietnam; it is the hostel that puts on almost all the party trips/treks for North Vietnam out of Hanoi; and the hostel that puts on the Castaway Cruise.

I would recommend spending one night at Hanoi Backpackers before the cruise and having a smash up with your other hostel mates in Hanoi (they do a great pub crawl almost every night), but save some of your liver for the next 3 days.

Things got a bit crazy in Hanoi

The Journey to Hạ Long Bay

The next morning be prepared for a 4-hour bus ride and 3-hour "junk" boat ride to Hạ Long Bay. This is one of the smallest/rinky-dinkiest boats you will see, but by far the most fun. Your first mate will lay down the rules for the next 3 days and you’ll be off – drinking, eating, diving off the boat…the HugeParty begins.

This “3 hour tour” of Hạ Long Bay is essentially the same that you would see on any of the other cruises, except that you go much deeper into the bay and find yourself “stranded” on Castaway Island – named after the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway” for a 2-day/night smash-up.

Castaway Island Smashup

When you get to the island, you will join up with the group that arrived the previous day. They will “initiate” you onto the island – a series of drinking activities to ensure your liver is warmed up for the next few days. The party ends when you say it ends…meaning it goes until there is no one left standing.

Breakfast the next morning starts somewhat early as the previous residents of the island turn-over the island to your crew and take-off back through Ha Long Bay. The day is spent hanging out on the beach, playing drinking games, beach volleyball, kayaking, swimming, wake-boarding, water skiing, eating, rock climbing, napping and just enjoying the day.

As the evening comes around, you are now the residents of the island and the cruise comes back with a boat full of rookies waiting to be initiated at your hand (you determine how you will initiate them – as long as there is drinking involved you’ll be fine) and the evening follows the previous one, with a half new crew.

The next morning you ship-off the island back through Ha Long Bay (drinking and partying is still encouraged if you have it in you) and a 4-hour ride back to Hanoi and Hanoi Backpackers.

Read more here after the jump...

What to Expect?

  • Phosphorescence - At night, take a few minutes and head down to the water for a quick swim. Go swimming in the phosphorescence, when your body hits the water, it will glow an almost radioactive green. Really cool and a bit psychedelic!
  • The Truth - You can do this trip in 3 days and 3 nights; or even 2 days and 2 nights, but to really do it, give yourself a good 4-5 days/nights (including 2-3 nights in Hanoi). Do two-nights on the island; the party the second night is better than the first…not to mention the day of hanging out with your new friends and last night’s hook-ups is worth the price.
  • Pack Light – You don’t need more than toiletries, a towel, a few t-shirts, swimming gear, a flash light and some flip flops. Leave the rest at the hostel. Also, bring something you can rest your head on; they do not provide pillows. Bring cash, because while the cruise and island include food, the alcoholic drinks are on you (bottled water is free; drink a lot of water).
  • Cost - Hanoi Backpackers posts rates on their website. Castaway Cruise is $250usd for 2 nights includes cruise, accommodations (really a hut with a very thin mattress) shared with 8 others (it's close quarters, but you shouldn’t really be sleeping anyway), meals and a GREAT time.
  • Avoid!!! - Airport Taxis & Too Much Equipment - Use Hanoi Backpackers travel arrangements from the airport to the hostel, it is much cheaper than your own taxi (and usually they coordinate with other travelers to share costs). Avoid bringing too much electronic equipment to the island; there is only power for a few hours a day and you don't need it.
HugeParty on Castaway Island!!


You’ll meet people from all over the world – Europe, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, South America, Asia and if you’re unlucky there might be an American or two on-board. Some of the best people I’ve met on my travels were from this trip (still talk to them a year later and have met up with several of them in other places in my travels).

Get Adventurous

Rock climb; you’ll get scrapped up, but it’s worth being able to tell people you scaled the mountains in Ha Long Bay. Bring a Go Pro if you can; the scenery and action shots will be worth it. Kayak to some of the rocks around the island; take pictures, hook-up (it’s about the only bit of privacy you’ll get), and veg-out. Also, wake board, water ski and tube. If you have to pick one (if there are too many people), pick tubing.  

I briefly mentioned it before, but there are a few, yet strictly enforced, rules once you get on the boat. The strictest of these rules is drinking with your left-hand at all times; if caught drinking with your right hand (usually by someone yelling out "BUFFALO", you will need to chug your drink followed by a second. As you can imagine, most of the other rules also have to do with drinking penalties - it's only fair that I mention that this experience is really not for the lightweight partiers; if you're not a HugeParty; not the experience for you.

Ha Long Bay "Castaway Island" Crew

Travel Quote?

“How useless is a phone anyway; who even uses that app anymore?” –Josh (the Irish lad I met on Castaway Island after 3 days of drinking)

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  1. Halong Bay was one of my favorite stops during my 3 month trek through SE Asia back in 2005. I did not check out Castaway Island. Sounds like a great time. I would love to do this trip when I go back.

  2. I am always quite intrigued by backpackers. Our accommodation preferences are different but our roads traveled are similar. I wonder if the "take away" is the same.

    My colleague traveled to Hanoi and had many vivid tales.


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