Private Island Living

Private Island Living

When we boarded the boat to leave our private island, I wondered how long it would be before we had our own island again.  We came into having a private island just one day before, but we had made it ours.  Being the only guests, it was ours.

Welcome to Chuatopia, where the Chua dynasty ruled from the 18-19th of the month of the Pig of the Year of the Tiger on the Lunar Calendar.

The day before the guide had questioned us why we were staying in the beach bungalows, telling us it would be “very cold”.  We responded that we wanted to stay on a beach, not in the cookie cutter hotel.  It was only then that we learned we would be staying on an entirely different island than everyone else, where there was no heat and nothing to do.  His questioning led us to doubt our decision.

The decision that led us there was a spur-of-the-moment decision; we had arrived in Hanoi the day before, decided to go to Halong Bay, booked the tour and left within 18 hours of deciding to go.  We made the decision after having 5 hours of sleep on an overnight bus.  Arriving at 6AM, we had to wait to check into a hotel.  To kill the time we visited tour agencies to learn about Halong Bay and Sapa tours.  LOCAVORista suggested that we go to Halong Bay the next day.  Being tired and indifferent, I agreed to her plan, since she seemed to have one.

We realized that all the agencies were selling the same tours. Deciding we didn’t need the headaches of the budget tours or the bells and whistles of the luxury tours, we chose the Imperial Halong Bay Junk.  Having made the choice of tour, we carefully reviewed the sales book and found pictures of beautiful beach bungalows.  We had been led through this same sales book by several travel agents, yet this page had been skipped.  We asked if we could stay there and were told yes, at no extra cost.  At 5PM we booked a tour leaving at 8AM the next day, with one night on the Imperial and one in a beach bungalow.

The many ships of Halong Bay. It seemed as though there was a ship for every tourist during our off-season visit.

The locals live and work on the water, literally. Their homes, schools and stores are on floating villages.

The first day was spent cruising between the gorgeous limestone islands of Halong Bay.  The islands rise sharply from the water and dominate the landscape.  Legend has it that these islands are actually dragons that settled in the area to protect Vietnam from China.  Not wanting to let on to my lack of dragon turning to limestone knowledge I accepted this as fact.  In the afternoon we explored huge caverns before returning to the boat for the evening.  As night descended, so did the temperature, it was really cold.  Among the passengers we discussed whether or not there would be heat in our cabins.  After dinner the crew announced that the heat was on and, to our relief we found our quarters a cozy 75 degrees.  The cold made us fear for the next night on the island where there would be no heat.

Beer on the boat was an outrageous $2 each. Luckily, enterprising locals would row up to boats and offer large beers for only $1. Here is LOCAVORista taking the opportunity to stock up.

In the morning we biked across an island included in Cat Ba National Park and visited a Vietcong surveillance cave before heading to another island for lunch.  It was here, as we approached the pier, that we were told this was where we would be staying.  Once we were on the island we were elated, it was a rare occasion that the sales brochure matched real life, the beach and bungalows were beautiful.  We explored the beach, watched a monkey doing his monkey business, and had lunch.  Seeing that our group was alone here for lunch, we wondered if we were the only people staying there.  After lunch our suspicions were confirmed, LOCAVORista and I would be the only guests spending the night there.  There would be three other people on the island, the staff.

Looking out at the world from our castle bungalow.

With keys to our bungalow in hand we walked past several to find ours.  As we walked we realized we had the best one, the corner bungalow, overlooking the bay and neighboring islands.  The view was incredible, helped by the fact it stood high on stilts, towering above the beach.  We had a sitting area with a table reaching over the water and were amazed at our choice.  Cold be damned, this was a rare opportunity.  Before our guide left he told us we could take out a kayak and visit the neighboring islands, “they are all yours, you will be the only people on any of them”.

After settling in, we took the kayak around several islands.  It was low tide and we had several dodgy moments where we found ourselves stuck on rocks in the shallow water.  Undaunted by getting stuck, we continued on, and got off to see another beach.  Throughout the time on the water we were stuck by the tranquility, you could hear some fishermen talking, but there was rarely an unnatural sound such as a motor.  When a boat passed outside of the inlet the sound faded and nature returned, waves hitting rocks, birds singing, and wind blowing.

As the leaders of our island, our first initiative was to lead a peace expedition by kayak to meet the neighbors. There were no neighbors on the islands near by.

For dinner we were served food for six and managed to finish off only certain dishes.   There was Vietnamese food and rice, but being the king of the island I ate exactly what I would eat if I were a real king: chicken fingers and French fries.  We paired the meal with a newly discovered local beer.  After dinner we sat in front of our bungalow drank beer and laughed at our good fortune.

The bungalow on Monkey Island as the sun set.

The night passed quickly and was not as cold as feared.  Having winter clothes we went to sleep in long underwear and down jackets, much of which we shed during the night.  As we slept, the tide rolled in and we woke to find that the water had risen 5 feet, leaving our bungalow sitting atop the water instead of the beach.  If the weather was warmer we would have been able to jump off our deck into the sea.

The alternative. Had we chosen to stay on Cat Ba Island with the proletariat, here is where we would have stayed.

Our time on the island dwindled until we headed off to meet the others who had spent the night in the hotel.  When we were reunited with them several mentioned that having seen where we stayed, they wished they had been there as well.  We told them about our night, but were grateful that they didn’t stay with us for we had our own private island, even if it was just for one night.

LOCAVORista jumping for joy upon realization that this land was our land.

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» Donna :
Feb 3, 2011

I love it! Nothing more special than having your own island! And your bungalow looks a lot more inviting than the alternative! But I want to know … how the heck did Erica jump that high off the ground??? Oh, to be young again! I’m still envious of your journeys … BUT have started planning my own for the end of March to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Laid out the route (loosely) yesterday trying to figure out what we needed to factor in for drive time. Planning is half the fun I think … although actually going is pretty darn fun too! Oh, and was successful last week in seeing the white deer … will send a photo in email. Keep having fun! Donna

» Kate Ricketts :
Feb 3, 2011

Looks so amazing! Glad it seems to be going so well. Love that list pic of the jump.

» Kerin :
Feb 3, 2011

I love this post! That sounds amazing!! Can we go back there together and stay for longer?? :)

LOCAVORista Reply:

Kerin, we would love to go back in the summer when it’s warmer so put it on your travel list and let us know when we should meet you there.

» dad :
Feb 3, 2011

oh my…….what an adventure……assume travel, will be much like life in that you will remember indelibly the high moments and slowly forget some of the pain in between…….you guys are ready to do one of those master card commercials…..PRICELESS!!…….off to see Nick on friday and see/hear the talking heads, not as dramtic as your life, but life as we know and live it……very cold here tdoay, you would not have made the bungalow without heat here last night……enjoy tet!……be safe……love you…….dad

» Kim :
Feb 3, 2011

Wow, lucky you! What an amazing stroke of luck!

» Mom A :
Feb 3, 2011

A great description of a slice of heaven and enticement to go back to Vietnam.

» Cindy :
Feb 8, 2011

What a wonderful exotic outing. It’s way below zero in Minnesota right now and we envy your location.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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