The little brown monkey really wants the banana. But my son has thrown it into the water at the edge of the lagoon instead of onto the rocks.
We’re sitting in a rowboat with five other guests from our Intrepid Family Tour of Vietnam along with our guide Duc Ngyuen. Duc told the kids to bring bananas to the lagoon because there may be monkeys.
To get here, we jumped into a rowboat with a local rower and paddled through a cave.
The green lagoon on the other side is encircled by towering limestone cliffs dripping with dense forest.
Huge black birds circle above as the breeze swirls. But no one is watching them. All eyes are on the monkeys.
The little one is stretching out its hand over the rocks and into the water, trying to scoop the banana towards himself. But it’s too far.
Suddenly, there’s a splash. The little monkey has jumped into the water. It swims towards the floating banana, scoops it up with one hand and paddles back to the barnacle-encrusted rock.
As the crowd cheers, he expertly peels the banana and pops it into his mouth.
On the cliffs above, a whole family of monkeys delight the crowd in rowboats and kayaks bobbing on the water below. Some adult monkeys recline “budda-style” on tree branches, others scratch and pick at bugs on their skin and if you get too close, some will open their mouths in a show of aggression.
We keep a safe distance for us, and for the monkeys.
The lagoon trip is one of the optional activities on Ha Long Bay section of our Intrepid Vietnam Family Tour.
Judging from the look on the kids’ faces, it was the highlight.
“That was so cool, you totally missed out, we saw so many monkeys,” one of the kids tells the others as we climb back on board our junk cruise boat – the Bien Ngoc 06.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage listed area about 160km (or four hours drive) from Hanoi Vietnam.
Legend has it that after the local fishermen were attacked by raiders they prayed to the gods to protect them. The gods sent a dragon who swooped through the sky dropping pearls. Each pearl then turned into an island providing protection for the fisherman.
In reality, the thousands of towering limestone karsts were formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. Larger mountains simply crumbled into the sea as the rocks dissolved.
The Vietnamese Government limits tourism in Ha Long Bay to protect the environment. Now only 500 boats can enter the bay on any day of which 150 can stay overnight.
Expect all the boats to leave and return at the same time. You will be part of a flotilla of tourists and this is the only way to see Ha Long Bay.
As our cruise departs we eat lunch of spring rolls, oysters, curry, rice and watermelon.
The first stop is Sungsot cave, which translates to “amazing cave” in English.
Dozens of other boats arrive at the same time as ours so the crowd is thick as we climb the stairs. Expect some tourists to push ahead in the line. We tell the kids to stick together “like sticky rice” to avoid anyone getting lost.
The temperature and humidity drop significantly after you enter the cave. Duc points out the stalactites and stalagmites and explains to the kids how they are formed. We have fun spotting formations in the shape of animals such as elephants, bats and even people. One formation is quite rude, so only the adults get the heads up on that one, with many giggles ensuing.
The Vietnamese people leave dong notes in the mouth and on the body of a stalagmite in the shape of a turtle. In Vietnamese culture, the turtle is considered a symbol of longevity.
We spot our first Ha Long Bay monkey on the boardwalk back to the jetty. A large adult male has scampered down the sheer cliff faces to steal crackers from a bin. He hisses at anyone who gets to close to him.
After the cave, the Bien Ngoc 06 powers across the bay to a small man-made beach. We all dive into the cool water, which is a sweet relief from the humidity. My son has brought his handball with him so we all take turns tossing it around in the water.
The netted beach is safe to swim at but we did find quite a few jellyfish floating in the water.
The beach bar sells cool drinks, ice-creams and fresh coconuts.
My daughter has been talking about her wish to “go on a tropical holiday and drink from a coconut” for about a year. We give her 50,000 Dong to make the dream a reality. Her smile is broad as she watches the man chop off the end of the coconut and insert a twirly straw. She’s so happy with the coconut that she takes it back on board with us and asks the staff on the Bien Ngoc 06 to refill it with Fanta for her dinner drink.
For the adults, the 110,000 Dong cocktails are a delight. That’s about $AUD6. (Although other parts of Vietnam are even cheaper). I order a pina colada and head for the rooftop deck to watch the sunset over the islands as we head for our night mooring.
Even though dozens of other boats are around, it still feels pretty special to be in Ha Long Bay overnight.
Check out what it’s like to do an Intrepid Vietnam Family Holiday in our video:
Getting there: Ha Long Bay is four hours by bus from Hanoi and is one of the stops on an Intrepid Vietnam Family Tour.
Staying there: The Bien Ngoc 06 severs breakfast lunch and dinner on board an overnight cruise of Ha Long Bay. Overnight rooms all have ensuites and the staff ensure families are grouped together.
The tour: Ha Long Bay is just one of the highlights on an Intrepid Family Tour of Vietnam. The tours are designed with families in mind so you have extra time to explore and never travel too long between attractions. These tours encourage responsible travel and cater to families.