Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Jan 14, 2008


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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Note: I'm finally getting back to this blog in late January, after returning home to Albuquerque. Sorry I wasn't able to keep up during the trip, but I did keep a travel diary that I'm using to write these entries. Hope you enjoy them now ... better late than never!!
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We took a junk (motorized, tourist - no longer use sails) through Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba Island.  Ha Long Bay is along the NE coast of Viet Nam and is famous for its 3000 limestone sea mounds. Cat Ba is a large island, still fairly laid-back and undeveloped; there are a few small resorts and some small, unappealing (but very cheap) local hotels. We took a break from touring and spent 3 days there at a nice resort with a pool, ocean view, etc. It wasn't warm enough for much swimming and there was nothing to see when snorkeling, but we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out and relaxing.
The junk left from Ha Long City ... a 2-3 hr drive across the Red River Delta from Hanoi. It was a fairly nondescript landscape - farming and industry, chimneys of kilns for making bricks out of the red clay. We drove by the largest coal mine in Viet Nam - lots of black dust. Bernd recently read that they're experiencing the lowest water levels in 100 years; the combination of global warming and population growth/resource demands is having some pretty severe and obvious consequences in these parts of the world.
The boat trip was interesting and it is very picturesque, but it was extremely hazy so difficult to see very far. It's a 5-hour trip, but only 1.5-hour return directly to Haifong by hydrofoil. We stopped to walk through a large limestone cave ... kind of interesting, in a great setting.
The main town on Cat Ba is a neat little place. There's a large, colorful floating fishing village out in the harbor. We also saw fishermen out in Ha Long Bay who live full-time aboard very small boats/rafts. The problem in Cat Ba, as in several other places where we saw similar floating villages, is that there's no plumbing - getting to be quite a problem. Note that when we did swim, it was on the OCEAN side, not in the bay!
We had fun exploring the little town, the harbor, and the local market, as well as eating good, very cheap food. We had a great meal ... whole fish grilled with tomato, garlic, & ginger, plus a mango shake - we spent a whole $11 on 3 people (we invited our guide to have dinner with us). One day we went to Cat Ba National Park and did a 2-hour hike up to Yen Ngua peak ... to a lookout tower with nice views of the rugged limestone peaks and semi-tropical forest. There is quite a lot of wildlife in the park, including the endangered Golden Headed Langur, but of course we only saw a few birds and lizards. We were there in the dry season. We've been really surprised, as they do mean it when they say it's the dry season ... we've seen absolutely no rain since we left Japan.
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