Halong Bay

Whisper Nature: Halong Bay’s Secret Bungalows

Boat Pulling In To Cat Ba Island

If you’re a backpacker in Vietnam, Halong Bay is bound to be on your list of places to visit. A million miles from the hustle and bustle of the city, the enormous limestone cliffs and peaceful waters attract travellers the world-over. With uninhabited islands, ancient caves and deserted beaches, it’s a totally unmissable experience – plus you’re less likely to be mowed down by a speeding moped than anywhere else in Vietnam. Whether you’re booking an organised tour (don’t let the word organised fool you) or making your own way to Halong City and catching a junk from there, you still need to choose a place to stay. Cat Ba is the only inhabited island in Halong Bay, and there are a number of popular tourist spots in the South where most travellers choose to sleep, eat and drink. But tucked away in the Eastern part of the island is Whisper Nature bungalows: a beautiful, secluded mini resort nestled in the village of Viet Hai. Perfectly named, it’s a secret hub of authentic islanders lending their home to the few travellers who pass by.

Getting There

Boat To Cat Ba Island

The route to Whisper Nature is as elusive as the resort – a winding bike ride over sandy roads leading straight to the heart of Viet Hai. Bikes can be rented from a small shop, which is actually the only shop, at the end of the jetty in Cat Ba’s Eastern port. For the more adventurous (and fully-insured) travellers, you can also pick up a couple of motorbikes and drive to Viet Hai. It’ll half the amount of time it takes you to get there, but it’ll cost you twice as much! Most travellers make their way to the port on a junk, which is the classic way to explore Halong Bay. With fresh seafood and great views from the comfort of a picturesque, plant-lined boat, it’s an experience not to be missed.

The Bungalows

Whisper Nature Bungalow

Once you reach Viet Hai, you’ll find a remote, minority village scattered with rice paddies and tiny bungalows, as well as the odd stray cat. Villagers mostly spend their time ploughing the fields and hanging out washing, while children play games on the streets. But be warned, ‘throw the stick at the cyclist’ is one of their favourite past-times. In the middle of the village there’s a little open-air shop where the villagers sell fizzy drinks to passers-by, and a few small children wander around with tubs of pickled snakes. Flanked by the island’s enormous national park, the actual resort is a neat line of four straw bungalows running parallel to a small, bubbling stream. The bungalows look out onto a hand-carved seating area and a covered dining-room with intricate trellised windows. Each hut comes with the luxury of a hot shower, double bed and mosquito net – which is a dream after a few nights on a junk. Run by a family man Trang Tien and his wife, it’s a simple, quiet resort where you can get a real glimpse of authentic island life.

Food And Fun In The Bungalows

Whisper Nature Resort

Guests are cooked for by Trang Tien’s wife – or ‘Momma’ as you’ll be invited to call her – who rustles up amazing Vietnamese food from fried baby octopus to traditional Vietnamese Spring rolls. The family usually join their guests for meals in the open-air dining room. Nobody speaks much English, but if you’re not completely au fait with the Vietnamese language then drawings and diagrams go down pretty well too. And what better way to bond than karaoke? Viet Hai may be miles from the mainland, but the villagers, in typical Vietnamese fashion, love a good bit of karaoke. On evenings, the dining room is packed with villagers who make their way down to belt out a few favourites. The nights are long and lively, with everyone sitting around drinking green tea, smoking cigarettes and waiting for a turn to sing. You can be sure you’ll be given a few ‘English classics’ that you’ve never heard of, and making it up as you go along is always a good plan of action!

Exploring The Whisper Nature

Cat Ba Pier

During the daytime, the National Park is definitely worth exploring. Whisper Nature is literally on the doorstep of hundreds of trails, so close you can hear Cat Ba’s famous golden-headed monkeys screaming on a night. It’s probably worth getting a guide to help you navigate the enormous park, and for about $5 a day it’s not a huge expense. There’re all sorts to see, from small freshwater lakes and mangroves to sandy beaches and coral reefs. Hospital Cave (a secret hospital hidden from the Americans during the war) and Trung Trang Cave are both open to explorers. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the wild boar and deer which roam the park.

The resort is the perfect base for exploring Cat Ba Island, and a great place to stop while touring Halong Bay. Life in Viet Hai is quiet and travellers are few, so it’s a real opportunity to immerse yourself in the lifestyle of the village. Authentic, undisturbed and peaceful, it’s an ideal place to escape the smog of the city, and a beautiful gateway from which to explore a completely different Vietnam.

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