Trip Start Nov 30, 2009
142Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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A bit of a mammoth journey to get to Cat Ba. We started on a normal bus at 2pm from Hoi An, a 3 hour drive up the cost to Hue. It was then a change to a mini bus to take us across town to the main bus station before getting on a sleeper bus for another 12 hours to Hanoi. As part of the sales pitch for the sleeper buses they make a big thing of the on-board movie. For this particular journey we were treated to what looked like Vietnamese Strictly Come Dancing, but with the added twist that the dancing couples sang along to the music
The slow boat was great, just a local ferry full of families and men transporting just about everything you can imagine across to the island. Interesting watching them hurl things from the back of trucks and up onto the roof of the boat, although not wise to think too closely about the weight being put on board. Had a very sweet little boy sit beside us and watch our game of Scrabble. Tied to get him to join in by picking out my letters but he was too shy. He just kept reaching over every now and again to touch the board and point at the letters, very cute, and then hide behind his mum when we spoke to him.
We finally reached Cat Ba Island 26 hours after leaving Hoi An. Seems slightly ridiculous to have taken so long as the distance can’t be more than 5 or 6 hundred kilometres. Viewed 3 dodgy hotels before finally finding one that looked like it was clean, had hot water and WiFi and would do for a few nights. We had a balcony and great view across the harbour which was great. It was however one of the strangest rooms we’ve had as it had a large poster of a scantily clad couple perched up on the wardrobe (the picture, not the couple) There were similar posters in the stair well and hallway as well. Gave the place a bit of a knocking shop vibe, although it was run by a family complete with toothless grandma so don’t think anything untoward was going on. Perhaps they thought the pictures were romantic!
To save ourselves from an early start on our first full day on the island we opted to hire a motorbike for the day and save the boat trip to Halong Bay for the following morning
The island itself is beautiful, hundreds of amazing shaped Kast Mountains that are covered in dense green forest. Lots of the mountains contain caves, which we were able to visit whilst out and about on our motorbike. The first cave we reached was converted into a Hospital during the war, and we had a little old guy show us around and explain what each of the rooms were. There was an operating theatre, dining rooms, bedrooms, small swimming pool and even a cinema set up under the caves huge cavernous roof
The second cave we visited was slightly more impromptu. We spotted a little hand painted sign and turned our bike down a little narrow path. The next minute 5 young boys appeared from nowhere swinging a key on a piece of string. Turned out to be small padlock on the gate to the cave, which they then offered to unlock for us for 50,000 dong. We haggled for a while and got them down to 10,000 with the promise of an extra 5,000 if the cave turned out to be a beautiful as they were telling us. They reluctantly accepted, pulled out their flashlights, unlocked the cave and lead us inside. It was pretty impressive, lots of sparkling rocks, stalactites and they even pointed out which ones looked like elephants. Felt a bit odd having a guided tour from 8 year olds, but they seemed to be having fun, clambering over rocks in their flip flops and showing us fossilised teeth and bones! In case you’re wondering we did give them the extra 5,000, although Kev did take some prompting! Final stop for the day before handing back the motorbike as to the national park for a short trek up to a lookout point. I say short, in fact it was a couple of hours all told, in heat and humidity that made it seem far further than it really was
Cat BaTown itself wasn’t much to write home about. Lots of places to eat, but mostly of the Formica top table and plastic chair variety. Only place that seemed to have any atmosphere or customers was the Bamboo Cafe, where we ended up eating every night. A few interesting sights around town including a great food market and lots of shops selling all sorts of dried animals and plants that we can only presume are used in traditional medicine. We witnessed a lady gutting live lizards with a pair of scissors one morning while out for a walk before breakfast. Lovely!
Made it back to our hotel before the biggest lightening storm I have ever seen started. Sat on our balcony for an hour watching the lightening illuminate the bay – huge forks of lightening and constant flashes with very little thunder. Took some great video footage, which I’ll try and upload to the blog if I can find a fast enough internet connection.