By Christopher Goering, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

While in Vietnam, I visited Castaway Island, Ha Long Bay specifically in the Cat Ba National Park. Ha Long Bay is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and now I truly understand why.

What makes Ha Long Bay so special are the hundreds of karst limestone islands that rise straight out of the water like giant pins.  Ha Long Bay is best accessible by flying into Hanoi, then taking a bus ride about 2.5 hours to a 1 hour ferry ride to the biggest island, Cat Ba. Because of the extensive travel necessary to reach the bay and the necessity for a boat to experience the beauty, I suggest contracting with a tour company.

A group ofstudents and I enlisted a  company named  Vietnam Backpackers, for the Hostel’s Tour of the islands. I did not research whether VBH was owned by the Vietnamese or outside investors, but locals ran the hostel. VBH owns hostels all around the country and hosts some of the best tours. They cater specifically to the backpacking community in Vietnam, which is huge.

From my perspective the backpacker’s biggest expectations to travel cheaply and to experience the highlights of a destination in a comfortable manner without having to spend the money on unnecessary accommodations. I would advise that this tour was specifically geared for a younger crowd, as there were many adventurous sports and partying.  They guided us to their private island, Castaway, where there were beach bungalows, a small reception desk, tables, kitchen, and bathrooms. The island seemed to be sustainable and moderately self-sustaining. The buildings were crafted with wood or locally sourced brick, they utilized compost toilets and piles, had a solar farm, and ran generators only 4 hours a night. Although the island itself was sustainable, unfortunately, there was a lot of pollution in the bay due to locals dumping their trash into it.

This company, apart from the New Zealand and American based management teamemployed mostly Vietnamese people with 50% of them from around Ha Long Bay area. We stayed on the island one night.  The next day the guides took around Ha Long Bay by boat where they showed us most of the water and land formations such as caves and pass-throughs. Ha Long Bay is a truly beautiful area, a “can’t miss” even if you just have a short time in Vietnam.