Halong Bay: Kayaking to Monkey Island

“Booooooommmmm!” sounded the ship’s horn as I turned around and saw a massive ship hurtling towards us.

We, by contrast, were in a little kayak in Halong Bay and up until that point, neither I nor my paddling partner Anna, had realised we were in the path of a giant ship. That handily seemed to be speeding up as it descended upon us at a rate of knots.

“We can make it,” said Anna, reasonably calmly, “just paddle faster…”

Our little kayaking trip had started out quite uneventfully. We’d been told we could paddle to Monkey Island, an island in Halong Bay where they’d imported a couple of species of monkey to amuse the tourists.

I studied primates as part of my degree and am pretty obsessed with the creatures, and having never had the chance to see one in the wild, I jumped at the chance to go to the island.

We hopped into our kayak in the middle of the bay and paddled in the direction of a couple of limestone rocks ahead of us. We passed through the gap in the rocks, then turned to the right – before us was Monkey Island.

Our destination was an enclosed lagoon, accessible only by kayak or small boat, through a low arch in the rock.

Limestone rocks jut out of the water in Halong Bay

We kayaked through the cave into the lagoon and as we were passing under the arch, an American kayaker told us there were some monkeys on the cliffs to the right.

We headed in that direction, but despite keeping our eyes peeled (possibly more peeled than they’ve ever been before), we didn’t see any monkeys.

Undeterred, we slowly made our way along the edge of the cavern, looking out for the slightest movement. Still no monkeys.

Finally, after kayaking at a snail’s pace and keeping the eaglest of eagle eyes on the rocks around us, we had to admit defeat. If we’d stayed any longer, we’d have lost the rest of our group.

I’m not going to lie, I was gutted, especially as we’d been so close. I’d been stupidly excited about the prospect of seeing a monkey in the wild. If we’d only arrived five minutes earlier, we’d have seen them…

We kayaked back out of the lagoon to rejoin our group, then headed out to the right, to slightly choppier seas where we could see oil tankers in the distance. We then looped around a limestone rock and snaked our way through a very small, very narrow opening in the rock.

Out the other side, we were kayaking straight ahead when we heard the booming ship’s horn.

Realising there was no way the ship was going to stop for us, we paddled as if our lives depended on it (and let’s face it, they did) as the boat inexplicably quickened its pace and began parping is horn with increasing frequency (really not helpful!).

As I looked behind me, I realised the two kayaks behind us hadn’t been as foolhardy as us and had stopped on seeing the ship.

We made it – just – and I descended into hysterical laughter, unable to believe what had just happened. As the ship passed us, we waved at the passengers onboard, who waved back at us, probably wondering what on earth had possessed us to take on their ship.

Gathering ourselves, we continued kayaking back towards Monkey Island, where we were to disembark.

The sun was setting and the light fading fast, so we hurried up and got out of our kayak just as it was getting dark. As I stood on the dock, one of the other kayakers shouted and pointed up at the limestone cliff before us.

There hopping across the edge of the cliff, were the shadows of the monkeys. Not quite what I was hoping for, but still, I finally saw a monkey!

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