We just had the most horrendous experience in Halong Bay with a kayak. Kayaking is generally assumed to be very safe in these calm waters but there are some serious hazards that we were not warned about. A friend and I kayaked around some of the karsts. As we approached what looked like just another cavern in a wall, our kayak got sucked in. We didn’t really know what was happening but couldn’t stop the kayak and smashed into the wall of what turned out to be a cave.
The impact capsized the kayak. We managed to cling on to it but couldn’t understand why it was getting darker around us. When we barely saw any light from the now far-away entrance, we abandoned the kayak and tried to swim, realising for the first time that we were in a very, very strong current dragging us further into the cave. Swimming was no use and eventually we managed to hit the walls, now in utter darkness. My friend and I were separated but could still communicate with each other by shouting. We then desperately tried to claw our way back along the walls against the current. It took about 45 minutes to an hour before we saw daylight again in the distance.
Luckily another friend had seen where we disappeared and returned to our boat to alert the crew. They were unfortunately ill equipped to deal with the situation and managed to get themselves into trouble by following us into the cave. Eventually we were rescued by another tourist kayaker on a rope. We sustained serious lacerations to body, hands and feet from clinging on the sharply-countoured cave wall and the whole experience was absolutely terrifying.
Swimmers less strong or less confident in the water may well have been swept all the way or drowned. Locals later told us that we were lucky to have survived; apparently the cave may be up to 200 m deep. Why there is such a strong current we could not work out; there may be sinkholes into which we could have been sucked.
Our nightmare was unfortunately not over. Our hosts were not worried about our injuries or trauma - instead we were soon approached to pay 500 US dollars for the lost kayak. We were threatened to be held to ransom in the boat if we did not pay and even later, when we talked our way to be returned to Cat Ba where we booked the trip, we were blackmailed as the company held our passports. Eventually, we parted with 150 US dollars just to get away and have our injuries seen to.
I have travelled to many countries in the world and I am saddened at how this experience turned out for us. Please spread the word that the caves around Halong Bay can be dangerous.