Growing up in the UK wasn’t easy – the trees wouldn’t climb themselves and the mud was particularly muddy. But, as a millennial I was never far from a TV screen and in between my busy outdoor schedule I became hooked on a strong cocktail of adventure films and discovery channel. Two decades later and its apparent more than ever that this upbringing profoundly influenced the man I am today. Having been diagnosed with an incurable case of itchy feet, my wanderlust has seen me travel to the farthest depths of the Amazonian jungle, glacial Patagonia, the Australian outback and the South African Savannah. But I don’t venture alone. Increasingly more people are realizing that no form of employment or night out can ever compare to the raw awesomeness of nature.
My most recent adventure has brought me to Vietnam, a country almost unparalleled in terms of natural beauty. And nowhere is this more blindingly obvious than Ha Long Bay. After several months travelling the country and enduring the repetitive – “I can’t believe you haven’t been there yet” or “OMG you simply have to visit Ha Long Bay” – from fellow travellers, I duly booked a trip with some amigos I’d met in Hanoi. Organizing the trip was a piece of cake. It only took 20 minutes of researching online and browsing TripAdvisor to find a company that seemed quality and consistently scored the highest customer satisfaction. We chose to travel with Indochina Sails.
Naturally, we were a bit worried that their 5-star web-presence wouldn’t translate to real-world results, but our concerns were soon put to bed. Starting with (a very convenient) shuttle-bus service from Hanoi, Indochina Sails had every detail planned to a tee. From our cozy cabins to the cave kayaking, this was my most unforgettable experience in Vietnam so far. Cruising on a lagoon amidst thousands of tropical islands was what my friends back home would probably call ‘epic’, and it’s no wonder this landscape is a popular set for blockbuster movies. Besides the nature, the on-board service was to a really high standard, and I particularly enjoyed our activity itinerary.
Consisting of a variety of sports and adventures around the bay, Indochina Sails kept us busy with a variety of activities. The Tai Chi was fun and climbing Titov Island incredible, but I must say, I really found my niche when it came to squid fishing. Having only ever been fishing a couple of times as a young boy, I would never in my wildest dreams have said that dipping a rod into any body of water in the hope of hooking some unknown marine creature was my forte. But to tell the truth, I found fishing to be quite the catch. Seriously, what better way could there be to end a long day than floating on a tender in limbo between the watery world and a star-littered sky? It gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with great company and enjoy the views of Ha Long bay by night whilst you eagerly wait in friendly competition to see who will make the next catch.
There’s a real charm to the unusual practice and you learn how to drop the net like one of the locals who still depend on such techniques for their livelihoods. The cultural significance of this activity is one of the reasons why squid fishing is so popular, as curious travelers often want to experience an authentic ‘day in the life’ of the local people. From rods to racquets, Indochina Sails provided us with all necessary equipment to crack on with our fishin’ mission, and our wonderful guide, Duong, was the perfect chaperone as he told stories whilst showing us the tricks of the trade.
I don’t know about you but apart from in deep-fried form I’d never seen a squid before, and so it was a truly eye-opening experience to witness these other-worldly animals in the flesh! With Duong’s guidance, everyone made several catches each, and, not that I was counting or anything but I’m pretty sure I caught the most. Here’s some top-tips that my mate Duong told me about squid fishing in Ha Long Bay:
Fish at night! Squid are nocturnal and are most active at night time.
Squid are attracted to light. Although the reasons remain unknown, squid are attracted to light (especially green), so bring a torch or fish under moonlight to maximise your catch.
Fish at depths between 4-12 metres. This is the range where squids are most commonly encountered and apparently seven metres is ideal – but I ain’t no marine biologist so don’t ask why!
Use an in-tact fishing jig and keep them moving at all times to best imitate the movement of the squid’s prey. This’ll encourage them to take the bait.
Don’t fish out of season. Squids, like many other wild animals have a breeding season which falls in February-March. You’re a lot more likely to catch outside of this season and we don’t want to disrupt the mating of a vital species in local ecosystems and livelihoods – so give the guys a break whilst they’re doing their business!!
As the night passed-by and the bait ran-dry it was time to call it a day and head back to the ship. I decided to return my catches to the big blue, but you get the choice to pass your squid to the on-board chef and he’ll work his magic so that for dinner you can enjoy your very own line-caught, organic, calamari of the freshest order. There ended up being plenty of squid to go around, and so we all indulged in squid heaven before washing it down with a glass of wine.
This was one of the most surprisingly unique encounters that I’ve had whilst travelling as it effortlessly combined cultural practices and closeness to nature with an incredible dining experience. It’s these small and unexpected experiences that make travelling the adventure that it is.
On an end note I’d like to ask on behalf of the local people and wildlife, PLEASE RESPECT Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is beautiful thanks to its amazing nature (which the locals depend on) and we can’t let tourism ruin that. Its already under great pressure from climate change, over exploitation, unsustainable tourism and pollution, so be considerate. Take all your rubbish with you, throw back unwanted catch, and take time to appreciate the natural magnificence because it is truly like nowhere else on earth!