Cruising Round a Bay of Limestone Islands
Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
257Trip End Jan 31, 2012
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Where I stayed
Had a 8am start so headed down for breakfast at around 7:30am since it was included in the price of the dorm room. Found I would have a small group of about a dozen people. Lot better than the cheaper cruises which can have up to 50 people with lots of them drinking and being extremely loud. Also given some of the stories about the service and the drinking games since my cruise, am glad I paid the extra money in the end for the more peaceful cruise.
From Hanoi to the harbour it was a 3 or so hour with the customary toilet stop along the way, which just happened to be at a big souviner emporium. Guessing that the real reason for stopping was to fuel the bus since it seemed to disappear while we were at the stop.
Out of the dozen or so people on the tour only 4 of us were doing the 2 night tour while the rest were heading back on the following day
Upon arriving at the dock found lots of boats and lots of people. Am guessing that this isnt normal based on the fact that no tours had been able to head out on the previous 3 days due to the storm that had passed through.
Once on the boat headed out into the bay past a number of limestone island cliff faces towards a cave. Here we found that the main cave that is normally visited was flooded out and so we had to visit a smaller cave that was next door to it. As the guide had warned this cave was not entirely natural. as can be seen in the photos attached (look hard) the ceiling was covered in cement. Were told that the cement was there in order to stop the ceiling failing in. Am guessing that with all the rain that falls in the area it destroys as much of the cave ceiling as it creates.
Wandered round this large cave for a while with its artifical lighting and then headed back to the boat for lunch which was good and plentiful before continuing the cruising
Just before sunset started cruising again and after passing some more floating houses, fishing boats and islands we reached our final stop. Now we were given our first chance to swim which I thought was stupid given it was just about to get dark. Had not wanted to be the only one swimming so originally planned not to go. A couple on the boat wanted to jump off the roof into the water though so in the end the ladder was brought out anyway and so decided to jump in since it was unlikely Iwould go the next morning.
After a 30min swim had a hotish shower and went into the dinning room for dinner. Again an enjoyable and large meal was served. Chatted with the other for a while before retiring to my room. Phillip had decided to spend the night on the deck with his sleeping bag but had to come back inside when it started pouring during the night.
D2 - Tai Lai village, Cat Ba Town, Cannon Fort
The previous day Duc our guide had kept commenting on the possibility of bad weather and how this would determine whether we could go on or not. While it was a bit cloudy and cold at first, patches of blue did start to show and before the end of the day even got some sun.
Up before 8am for breakfast since we would be leaving the boat for a smaller one to continue onto the island while the bigger boat took the people on the two day tour back to the harbour. While waiting for breakfast headed up to the deck to get a few photos of the sheltered bay we were in, take in the view and kill some time. Definitely a lot colder this morning then the day before. Definitely not good conditions for swimming so happy I jumped in the afternoon before. Also found that Phillip didnt get up for breakfast. He seems to prefer his sleep since I remember him mentioning he wasnt up before 12pm while staying at the hostel in Hanoi.
Spent the first part of the day on the front of the boat watching the islands drift by. Interesting to see how the waves had cut out the underside of the cliffs
Lots of little fishing villages about and lots of houses floating on the water which seem to be being used by the local fishermen. Also a fair few other tour boats cruising around but nowhere near as many as the previous day.
First stop of the day was a small village a little way from the coast on the way to Cat Ba town. Here we got bike (not mountain) and road a few Kms along a road towards a nearby village. Along the way climbed up a small hill (not easy with one gear) and passed by a lake where we stopped for a while. Got off the bikes here and I started climbing up a steep track of the nearby peak. Unfortunately I had thongs on and given the terrain decided this was a bad idea and turned around. Definitely needed to have worn my shoes.
Continued onto the village with the road mostly flat or downhill. Found as you would expect rice and corn fields located all around the village. The rice here looked ready for harvest and if I had to guess I would say that the only reason the fields werent full of people doing this was because of the weather
Continued onto a trail, leading to a cave, which was covered in water. Seems that the storm and rain had caused some flash flooding in the area and a lot more water was around than normal. Were given the option of heading back but I wanted to go on and no one objected.
Along the way had to cross through water a couple of times and 5 minutes from the cave found the trail covered by trees. Seems the storms had caused some of the trees and bamboo to break and this was covering the trail. Was given the option of continuing and while no one else wanted to go they didnt mind if I did. Managed to scramble of the tree without getting to scratched by the thorny vines and managed to make it to the cave within 5 minutes. Was lucky though that the guide said the trail was to the right since it was covered in water and look more like a stream than trail.
Small and nice enough cave though my life wouldnt have ended if I hadnt gone. Guess it was more the fact that if I plan to head somewhere I actually like to get there whenever possible
Once again back on the bikes and back to the boat where we continued onto the next stop which was a bit more kayaking around a small fishing community. Didnt find may people about but did find lots of dogs. Also lots of bamboo platforms with things hanging from them. Found out later that the things hanging on the end were boxes full of sand and oysters. Seems that a lot of oyster farming goes on in the area.
Ended up paddling less than I might have if the boat didnt always want to turn off to the left or right. It was certainly a challenge trying to get it to go straight. One I would have preferred not to deal with. Actually found it easier going straight backwards.
After lunch continued onto Cat Ba town past lots floating houses and small fishing boats. Given how you need to paddle in order to get these to move it certainly makes for a unique skill. After checking into the hotel headed out for a walk with the guide and girls while Phillip hung out at the hotel.
Had a nice walk around a point and past a couple of nice beaches
After doing the loop I had to walk past the hotel and the girls headed back for a rest. Passed a number of restaurants along the way with fish tanks and a strange looking creature (refer photos) in them Found out later that this was a king crab though with its shell it looks a bit like a stingray at first glance.
From the hotel continued up the hill suggested by the guide and eventually made it to the cannon fort that was dated to the time of the second world war. Up here saw some bunkers, cannons and lots of nice views of the surrounding islands located just off the coast.
Looking towards the island there didnt seem to be any one spot to get a good view od the bay since nothing was that high. Guess you would have to climb different high points around the island in order to get a view of the different parts of the bay. By now had some blue sky so wandered around the different parts of the fort taking in the views and getting some photos
By now was starting to get late so started to head back but made one more stop off at another small hill in the middle of town. Considered watching the sun set here but found it annoying how there was a great big hotel in my view. Since the 8th floor of the hotel also provided a pretty good view I decided to head there instead. Still had a hotel in my view though. Can definitely agree with the idea of limiting the height of buildings by the shore and I guess this was one of the things I did like about Playa de Carmen in Mexico.
After dinner did some internet stuff for my passport and had dinner with the guys at the restaurant on the 8th floor. Not much to do here so ended up teaching the guys how to play shithead before we called it a night.
D3 - Leaving the Bay
Had an early 7am breakfast before heading back to the small boat for an hour of cruising in the bay back to the big boat that would take us back to land. This was about an hour and stayed inside at first since the weather had turned to shit and the wind outside made it cold
In the end though decided I was here for the views so went to sit outside and watch the limestone island drift past. Were heading a different way today and close to a fair few of the rock formations. Also in the end found the wind to be interesting. While on the whole it was cold it was interlaced with warm air as well. Could feel both hot and cold (mostly this) air hitting me.
In the bay could also see a number of small boats. Seems that even with the waves there were a few fishermen out in the bay. Should be noted though that most of them had tied their boats up in the harbour due to the weather. Watching the boats bouncing in the bay was an interesting way to see the power in the waves.
Made it back to the big boat. Here a number of people doing the 3 day tour jumped on our boat and headed to the island while we jumped onto the big boat with the overnight trippers to head back to the harbour. Sat inside out of the wind for a while before heading out onto the roof deck to watch the island drift on by. From here could also see lots of other tout boats heading back into the harbour with only the odd one heading out.
Tied to the big boat was a smaller boat. Not sure why but it was possibly an emergency boat since a lot of other boats in the bay also seemed to be towing little boats. Unfortunately it seems that vietnamese sailors arent as good with their knots as they should be. Either that or the fact that the sea was so rough meant the boat should never have been tied to the side and should of instead been towed behind.
When the boat floated off was up on the roof and could see it drift off but couldnt really do anything. Even if I managed to get to it I would have no idea how to drive it so it would be an empty gesture.
Crew noticed the boat drift immediately but with the rough seas and the large boat couldnt turn the boat (at least not in a small circle) and when they tried the boat started to lean once it was parallel to the waves. In the end managed to get a boat that was heading in the direction our boat was drifting to use its boat to pick it up. The boat though wasnt brought back since it was a private tour and the people on it didnt want to waste time helping someone recover their boat.
Made it back to shore with no further incidents where we had lunch in a harbour side hotel before heading back to Hanoi
All in all guess I was lucky to get 4 consecutive says between storms so that I could head out. Hanoi is nice enough but given the loss of my passport I am going to be spending a lot more time in it than planned and a trip out of town made a nice change.
Had a 3 hour trip back into Hanoi which I spent talking with Janet. Seems she had had a transfer to China for work but disliked it enough to resign and pay the cost of returning home off her own back. Also bot of us had noted that all the buildings in Vietnam all seem to be long and narrow. There is a known reason for this (we didnt know). Our guess was that the amount of road frontage you had may of had something tp do with the amount of tax you paid.