Forget Vang Vieng in Laos, the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan or drinking buckets on Koh San Road. If you’re a backpacker on the banana pancake trail, as it is now so fondly referred to, and if you’re looking to go to a paradise where anything goes, Castaway Island Vietnam is where the party is at.
Run by Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostels, the largest and best known hostel chain in Vietnam, this 3 day, 2 night tour of HaLong Bay is a party-lovers euphoria. If you’re looking to relax on a beach, take in the sights of one of the new seven wonders of the world and get a good nights sleep….stop reading this post right now. I’m serious. Go away, this post is not for you. Castaway Halong Bay is for serious partiers only!
Castaway Halong Bay Tour Review
If you’re under the age of 25 and think that mingling with the opposite sex, playing drinking games, skinny dipping under the moonlight and drinking until you vomit sounds like the perfect getaway, then Castaway Island Vietnam really should be top of your bucket list.
I am NOT going to sugar coat this article. I must be one of the very few people on this entire planet that have done the Castaway Tour with Vietnam Backpackers Hostel not once…but twice. And to top that I was not under the age of 25 on either of those trips. In fact, I would argue I may well have been the oldest partygoer on the boat.
The way the Halong Bay Castaway tour tour is sold, you would be stupid not to know you’re stepping on to a party island. With phrases such as ‘not for the faint hearted‘ or ‘Vietnam’s number one party island‘ you really should know that you’re not going to sleep, or be sober, for 3 entire days. You’re also signing up for a tour with a HOSTEL so if you think you’re going to have some sort of private beach villa just for you and your boyfriend….get off the island. Sorry, I meant get off my blog! ;-)
As my most recent trip to Castaway was only a few weeks ago and is still fresh in my mind, that’s the one I am going to write about in detail. One comment I will say about my first trip, however, is that is was FAR wilder than the one I went on a few weeks ago, despite the fact that it was a much smaller group. I feel the tour leaders from two years ago encouraged a lot more unsavoury behaviour, and pushed people to drink and party so much that it almost reached uncomfortable levels. Their drinking games were far funnier though, I’ll give them that much. The location of the island has also changed, which honestly made me think I was imagining things! So if you return to Castaway having not being there in a few years, expect many things to be different.
What I LOVED about Castaway
- The tour is perfect for solo travellers. While I was lucky enough to be with my friend Claire, we made new friends within minutes of getting on the boat to the island. There were many solo travellers on the trip, and they all bonded so quickly that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking they had been friends for years. People that met on out trip went on to travel south through Vietnam together, meeting up with other Castaway ‘graduates’ in hostels along the way.
- The guides were amazing. On my trip we had Sam and Georgia, who I pretty much loved from the moment they introduced themselves. They are both totally wild, know how to get the party started and work really well together. Their energy reached levels that I didn’t know existed. They were like playboy bunnies that just kept on going. If I had their job I would need to sleep for a week after every Castaway tour! We also had our own DJ (sorry, can’t remember his name) who didn’t fail to pump out the Justin Bieber when requested. Seriously a tiny deserted island, with only about 100 people, and they have their own DJ? TOO COOL.
- The booze cruise, or as Sam called it, ‘our Cultural boat tour of Halong Bay’. In some ways I was SERIOUSLY dreading the boat cruise as I feared I would not be able to keep up with all the young ones. I also saw how drunk the group getting off the boat were the day before (the boat trip always happens on day 2) and how loud and arrogant they were when they returned to the island, shouting at us asking why we were’t “on their level yet”. It was honestly probably the highlight of my entire South East Asia trip. We were totally blessed with the weather and our group was totally amazing. No douchebags, no one getting too drunk too early, just pure good fun and good vibes. Heck even out boat captain was a total legend! Kayaking through caves and into unspoilt lagoons was pretty incredible, and the impromptu jelly fish fight was one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
- The location of the island is pretty sweet. Granted it took like FOREVER to get there (2 buses and 2 boats seems a little extreme!!) but the look of excitement on everyone’s face as the boat turned a corner and Castaway came into view for the first time made the horribly long journey totally worth it. I don’t think it’s the most beautiful spot in Vietnam, but it is nicely secluded which means no noise pollution complaints and all the backpackers are kind of free to do what they like such as….skinny dipping in the middle of the night. Our guide, Sam, told us you are 100% more likely to see bio luminescent plankton if you’re naked. True story my friends, true story. Ahem.
- The tubing was one of the other highlights of our trip. They pile 3 to 4 people on to a giant tube and pull you behind a speed boat all over the bay in front of the island. Od course everyone goes flying off, you bond with some new friends and you get to see Halong Bay from the back of a speeding tube. What could possibly go wrong?! The kayaking was also amazing. Certainly my first time downing a beer in a kayak, that had been opened with a sharks tooth!
What I DIDN’T LOVE about Castaway
- Those beds. Oh how I hated those beds. Seriously Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel, for the price you pay for this tour you REALLY need to invest in some new mattresses. I have stayed in some crazy places over the years, including a bench in a prison in northern Kenya (don’t ask!) and nothing will ever be as bad as the bed I slept on for TWO nights in Halong bay.
- I wasn’t the biggest fan of the food, but only because they gave us the same dished for lunch and dinner every day for 3 days. Sure it was kinda of greasy, but when you’re either drunk or hungover, which we all were, that type of food is pretty welcome. It would have been nice if they mixed it up a bit though…I couldn’t wait to get back to Hanoi to have some nice traditional Vietnamese Pho or Ban Mhi…anything but those cheap fried noodles and watermelon!
- My last one is a tricky one. I would hate to be a ‘debbie downer’ and say there needs to be a responsible person on the island at all times who doesn’t drink and knows how to do shit, but there really is a need for this. On our 3 day trip alone there were many injuries including one poor guy who sliced his foot open pretty badly on a piece of jagged rock outside his dorm. Luckily there were some nurses on the trip that were able to clean the wound and bandage him up. Heaven forbid something really bad should happen, I have no idea if staff would know how to deal with it nor how they would get you to the nearest hospital. Another great case for always buying travel insurance.
If you’ve made it this far, well done, you must be really keen to go on this tour. I guess it should be said, again, that it really isn’t for the faint at heart.
You probably won’t get much sleep, your poor eyes may be subject to sights that can never be erased (such as grown men, fully naked, with toilet paper that’s ON FIRE sticking out their arses, while they down a beer) and your poor liver will hate you. But you WILL have the time of your life and create some epic memories with some truly fun people.
No one will judge you for your behaviour so it’s a great place to let all your worries evaporate and just BE. There’s no internet or WiFi on the entire island, so expect a 3 day digital detox which will do you well.
You won’t see much of Halong Bay, so if it’s your lifelong dream to see as much of this stunning natural wonder as possible, I do suggest you pick another tour operator.
If you’re a tee totaller or just don’t like to drink, this really, really REALLY isn’t the tour for you. In fact…you might even get thrown off the boat. Seriously.
Should you sign up? That’s up to you.
Here’s some more of my favourite photos from the trip. Would love to hear any comments from people have done this tour – maybe I just got lucky?!
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Note: Thanks to Vietnam Backpaker’s Hostel for party sponsoring this trip. Although I was given a media rate, everything I write is my own opinion and I will never hold back the truth!