Reminiscing about one of my favorite adventures while working on the Westerdam in 2017….
Halong Bay is one of the top tourist spots in Vietnam, renowned for it’s junk boat cruises that take you around the 1600 stunning limestone islands and through the ancient caves. After seeing the islands, going to the markets, and trying out the local food (a meal involving whole squab was particularly interesting. click HERE for it), we were on the hunt for something new to do by the end of the season. After googling all search terms based on “unique things to do in Halong Bay” and “what to do in Halong Bay besides a junk boat cruise” we finally stumbled upon a couple blogs with a cool activity beyond seeing the islands or visiting Cat Ba: a hike up the Bai Tho Mountain.
However, this isn’t just any hike. It starts with trespassing through a house and bribing a little old Vietnamese woman who doesn’t speak a lick of English so you can hop the fence to climb Bai Tho Mountain to get epic sweeping views.
The day we decided to do hike was a bit dreary, but we caffeinated up, put on our sneakers, and set out for the day’s adventure. After successfully finding the home, we crept in. It felt odd essentially breaking and entering, but I always assume in that in Vietnam there’s no trouble a few Ben Franklin’s can’t fix.
As soon as we walked into the front door, there was small, yapping dog with a crazed look who, I kid you not, was actually in the process of giving birth. I had never seen a dog give birth, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Three flights up through a dark, open aired home that reeked of trash and urine led us to a chicken coop filled with animals I would never want to eat as well as a few more dogs on the brink of death. There was also an odd assortment of torn up couch cushions scattered about.
We spotted the woman resting on a chair, and she immediately sprang up to begin the haggling process. If she knew English, she certainly kept it to herself and we embarked on a back and forth charades game using fingers and showing bills, finally haggling her down to $2 USD each.
Task one was hopping the barbed wire fence with a caution sign sporting an image of a skull. We weren’t deterred by the daunting entry, and it proved to be the trickiest part of the journey. Hopping the fence revealed a well-manicured path that we easily walked up Bai Tho mountain in under 20 minutes. At the top, we relaxed on some rocks and enjoyed the 360 panoramic views of the islands, beaches, city, and ship before heading back down.
The woman barely moved as we hopped back over, the house smelled just as bad as before, and the growling dog was now protecting four puppies that all looked like runts of the litter. The home, woman, and barbed wire are most likely ploys designed to lure tourists, such as ourselves, into forking over some change.
The theatrics certainly worked and the hike up Bai Tho Mountain made for an unforgettable day in Halong Bay.
NOTE: This hike may have been shut down? In Vietnam, you never really can count on online information being correct.
Hungry for Vietnamese Eats? Check out this post:
While the food scene in South East Asia can be intimidating to tackle with odd sounding dishes and unique ingredients, the food in Vietnam is much more “user-friendly”, and some of the most popular locally made cuisine is what you’d find on a menu in a Vietnamese restaurant elsewhere in the world. Here are 5 dishes to try on your next visit to Vietnam.