I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. Here I was, in the middle of the beautiful Halong Bay, and I was hating it. Or was I? I couldn’t quite decide.
On the one hand I was on an idyllic secluded island miles away from any form of civilisation and yet, whenever I started to appreciate that, the illusion was broken by someone running around naked or shouting ‘Shotgun’ and starting a mass beer-downing contest.
I was on a Castaways tour. The infamous and debaucherous three day tour founded and run by Vietnam Backpacker Hostels. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and it certainly wasn’t boring. It just wasn’t quite how I had envisaged spending my long-awaited visit to Halong Bay.
There were other things tainting it too of course. There were arguments between friends and the first of many bouts of homesickness that would plague me over the coming months. But in short, I just didn’t want to be there.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun – because I did.
I did my very first ever rockclimbing lesson. Although it turns out that a crippling fear of heights does not lend itself well to clinging to the side of a rock face. The result was me being frozen in one spot for at least 10 minutes whilst repeatedly shouting “get me down from here!” After much coaxing from the instructor and much to my surprise I managed to make it to the top, proud but then a little embarrassed when the next guy, AKA mountain goat, scrambled up it with ease.
We spent a day booze-cruising around the bay, eating a delicious barbequed lunch, drinking beers and swimming in the crystal clear water. We kayaked in little secluded coves and through narrow caves full of bats. We relaxed on a white sand beach, swam under the moonlight and drank well into the night. Sounds perfect you say? Well yeah, it was in a way. I suppose this was the ‘love’ part of my whole experience.
My dislike of it was something more intangible. Some feeling that it wasn’t where I wanted to be. That I didn’t want to spend what was possibly going to be my only time in Halong Bay wasted and throwing up in a toilet. I could do that anywhere if the mood took me.
There are a few places and experiences during my trip around Asia that I look back on and think “I really didn’t appreciate that” or “I really didn’t make the most of it”. Times when I felt homesick and all I really wanted was to be back with my family or times when I was tired and moaning despite being in some beautiful place living the life I had always dreamed of.
And whilst I look back on those few moments and think that I would go back and do them differently now, Castaways isn’t one of them. I know that even if I went back now I would probably feel exactly the same way I did the first time round. And I say that at the risk of being lynched by all the die-hard Castaways fans out there. It just wasn’t for me. And I’ve realised that is perfectly okay.