A Trip to Cat Ba Island

2010-05-29 23:05:00-0700

On the morning of May 28th our alarm failed to go off, or at least we didn't hear it, but I somehow managed to wake up about 15 minutes before our bus arrived. We hurriedly packed and got downstairs with just a few minutes to spare. Tien tried to find us some breakfast but the neighborhood we were in was mostly construction type shops so she only managed to find some snacks before the bus came and took us away.

There were many europeans on the bus, it was almost entirely full of white folks. The narrow streets of Hanoi were already full of life and packed with motorbikes. We passed by the lake where a street was closed off for a festival that was just beginning. We stopped at a few hotels to pick up other folks, and then stopped at the cathedral to wait for somebody. It was at that time that Tien realized she'd forgotten her bag at the hotel. The bag that had the iPad in it. In her typical stressed out mode, she forgot all english and began blabbing away in Vietnamese with the bus driver and some other folks, and didn't really say anything to me or answer any questions. She told me to wait, and went to hail a moto taxi. 32::am::138 I chatted with a girl from The Netherlands for about 10 minutes before Tien came back, relieved to have her bag in hand.

At 9am we headed out for Ha Long City. Traffic was heavy on the way out of Hanoi, and I noticed again how the number of cars just seemed to mess up the flow of traffic. Tien and I drank water and ate Oreo cookies for breakfast.

We passed the charred frame of a motorbike that stood up in its own ashes as if it had immolated itself at the side of the highway, probably protesting the rise of the cars.

We passed factories for Canon and Foxconn in the countryside.

We pulled off at a travel stop for 20 minutes. Tien and I got some pomelo and bananas. I was hoping to find a better breakfast, but they don't know how to make breakfast sandwiches yet in Vietnam. I could make millions selling them... Millions of Dong.

We passed a few auto accidents along the way to Ha Long, one involving a motorbike and one where a car had driven up the side embankment and crashed into a pole, finishing sideways, squished between the pole and the hillside. It was a remarkable sight, I'm not sure if anybody died, but it looked like they should have but didn't.

Soon after the car crash we arrived at the outskirts of Ha Long City where the bus dropped us off at the docks. Tien and I were the only two folks on the bus left who weren't going on the cruise, and it felt kinda nice to be sitting there with just the two of us, ready to do whatever we felt like, far away from obligation. The tour guide from the group came over and asked us if we wanted to go on their boat to Cat Ba Island, which is precisely where Tien and I were headed, so we agreed to take their tour for 250k each. It was expensive for a boat ride, but included the Ha Long Bay tour, dinner and a cave tour, so it was a pretty good deal.

The boat we boarded was a typical asian junk. Ours had three levels: rooms downstairs, a dining room in the middle and an upper deck. Dinner was served shortly after taking off. Tien and I sat and chatted with some other travelers and it was good to be back in the company of english speaking, active people. Only one of them was from America, the rest were brits, french and other countries that I never learned. Tien was the only Vietnamese person on the tour that wasn't working. She mostly listened while I blabbed away with the brits about traveling, culture, food, work, and destinations. One of them, a man named Paul who we'd run into many times on the island, was traveling from London to Australia to work. He'd been traveling for a few months and had a few weeks left. Local transport in Ha Long BayMost other folks were just traveling for fun, some for weeks, some for months.

After dinner most of us went up on the deck to take in the sights as we approached the islands of Ha Long Bay. The boat pulled into a bay and docked with a bunch of other junks and we all got off to explore Thien Cung cave. It was a cool cave, but there really isn't much to see inside most caves. There was an opportunity to go to another cave, but Tien and I declined and instead went to take some photos and relax.

Everybody returned to the boat and we traveled onwards, through the islands and into a market area where there were many floating houses that were used as a fish market and other business related things. There were girls floating around on boats with their fruit all laid out for sale. They paddled up next to us and shouted out, sounding like retarded people with a heavy lisp, saying "eck-u me, pine-appo" and things like that. It was cute, and their boats were beautiful with the colored fruit, but Tien and I already had some fruits we'd bought earlier so we didn't buy anything. Instead, we decided to go with a small group on a little tour of an enclosed part of the bay, completely surrounded by cliffs, almost like a lake except it was salt water. We took a small local boat in and a few of us swam around for a while before returning through another natural tunnel.

A short rest on the boat later we were pulling up to Cat Ba Island, which looked like a pretty treacherous place, and seemed like it would be more than one island. Indeed it would be if the water were deeper, the landscape rose and fell just like the islands sticking out of the water, but came down to land at the bottom.

Anybody who wasn't sleeping on the boat was dropped off on the island. We were, once again, dropped on the completely opposite side of the island from the town. Tien managed to negotiate some kind of bus ride, still with the tour, and after sitting for 10 minutes or so a group of us got in and headed over the crazy terrain.

Cat Ba backroadsThere was one sign at the front of the bus, and it was written in Korean. I'm sure nobody on the bus knew what it said. The ride took 30 minutes and we passed by many, many beautiful views. The steep hills fell down to flat fields where different foods were grown, some ponds and rivers, and countless steep hills. On top of one of the hills was a tower standing tall, and I made a joke about climbing up it. A lot of other people were blabbing away in their native languages, and a group behind us was chatting in english about their travels.

As we pulled into town, Paul and some of the folks he was talking to were trying to find a hotel in the guide book. We all got out right at the main intersection of the town, and after looking at one hotel that had no vacancy I decided Tien and I would probably be better off walking around trying to find a hotel. We went one block and found a place where we negotiated with a slimy guy who I didn't like much. Tien said she also didn't like him much because of some things he did or said that showed he looked down on her. The hotel room actually kinda sucked too, no AC, no internet, and a bed wrapped in plastic with a tiny blanket.

We took a short rest and then went out for dinner. There were a lot of people riding tandem bicycles around and we thought about getting one, but decided to do it another day. Instead we returned home and fell asleep. Some time during the night, Tien got up and found some towels to use as blankets. The next morning we woke up and the power was out. 32::AM::139 It was a dreary morning. We decided to find a new hotel.

Finding a hotel has become much easier now that I know to use my iPhone to do it. I don't look it up online, that's pretty tough over here where there are no centralized review sites like yelp. Instead, I go into the network settings and look for wifi hotspots with hotel names, then I go to that hotel. Any hotel who has wifi that my iPhone can find from the street has got to be good. The only downside to this is that sometimes these hotels are expensive, but at least it helps weed out the crummy places.

We walked out to the end of the pier that stuck into the bay where dozens of boats were docked. Some were fishing boats, some were floating hotels, some were restaurants. It was a good way to get a view of the shops that went along the waterfront.

We had a disappointing breakfast in a restaurant that seemed like it was closed. I was getting tired of fake coffee. One great thing though was we invented a new food. It's the stir fried beef and noodle egg breakfast sandwich. Tien orders stir fried beef and noodles, I order egg with bread. I put the egg in the bread with some soy sauce, and she puts some beef and noodles in with it. It is *so* delicious, I've been eating it frequently ever since.

We went back to a place we saw the previous night while walking around looking for dinner. It was a hotel that was built into the rock cliff. There was a big room with two beds available for not much money, and we took it. We didn't need the second bed, but it's nice to lay things out on when you're organizing, and for lazing around on like a couch.Tien and the bike at Cat Ba So, we spent the mid day heat being lazy at our hotel room.

We went to rent a tandem bicycle, but the prices were like 20k for 1 hour. A motorbike was as low as 60k a day. We had already paid the girl before we knew it was per hour, and I finally decided to let her keep the damn bike and the money because we didn't need a bike for an hour. She finally gave my money back as I was walking away. Instead of a bike, we decided to get a moto from our hotel though, for 100k a day.

We cruised some local beaches and then headed northwest on the island into territory we hadn't seen yet. We found a place where they were filling in a bay with mud to build a golf course. Beyond that there were beautiful, natural places, some caves, farming villages, roaming goats, and eventually a beautiful pink sunset. Finding the rural Cat BaWe stopped a lot along the way and took photos, and at sunset we decided to speed back to the town to go swimming at the Cat Co 2 beach. Unfortunately, by the time we got there the water was off limits, so we sat and had some drinks on the beach instead. I dipped my feet in the water and was suddenly not disappointed that I couldn't go in, the water was cold. Too cold to enjoy a swim in, that's for sure. It was a huge difference from the beautiful, clear, warm waters of Phu Quoc. Instead of sticking around, we headed back to town to get dinner at an awesome spot on the water front called Bamboo. It was recommended in the guidebook, but also looked appealing. The staff was nice and the food was great, and it was a very satisfying end to the day.

By Daniel , Category: 365-32

Tags: hanoi / journal / life / photography / travel / beach / boat / bus / cat ba island / food / ha long bay / hotels / internet / island / motorbike / swimming /

Other articles

Tien's first day in Hanoi

2010-05-27 23:05:00-0700

On the morning of May 27 we woke up, rented a motorbike and immediately got lost in old town Hanoi. We got really lost too, and didn't find our way back to the lake for about an hour or two. When we finally did we stopped for breakfast. I ...

By Daniel, Category: 365-32

Continue reading …

White Sands and our arrival in Nha Trang

2009-11-17 23:11:00-0800

Tuesday morning we woke up with the intent to go to some white sand dunes that were about 20km north. We got breakfast at a place just up the road on our way. There was a modeling show on TV and I was watching it to see what gear the ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Adventures in Mũi Né

2009-11-16 23:11:00-0800

I dreamed about Sarah Palin doing art projects for President Obama while he was busy running all over Washington DC trying to escape the secret service because they were holding him back from doing the things he wanted to do. I woke up with Doe-A-Dear stuck in my head.

I ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Finding a new place in Binh Hoa

2009-11-14 23:11:00-0800

Cruising the waterways of Binh HoaSaturday was a pretty lazy day. Tien and I were still recovering from our motorbike trips and I swore off ever going long distances on Tien's scooter ever again. We did, however, plan to head north from Saigon to Mui Ne and Nha Trang the following day by bus ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Can Tho and The Floating Market

2009-11-13 23:11:00-0800

We woke up at 6am on Friday to get a head start on the floating market which only lasts the morning. When we fetched our motorbike from the valet there was a tiny blob of bird crap on my seat. Only after trying to flick it off and getting it ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

A day on a moto

2009-11-07 23:11:00-0800

Saturday morning Da Lat was colder than it was the previous day. I couldn't tell if it was going to clear up or pour down rain on us. Regardless, Tien and I decided to rent a scooter for the day and go explore the town.

A man who worked ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Heading out for Nha Trang

2009-11-04 23:11:00-0800

Tuesday morning at breakfast Tien's mom brought over a young boy who was big for his age. His older sister showed up soon afterwards and we all ate some snacks. They were Tiens cousins and I recognized their father from our engagement party when he came to pick them ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Returning to Binh Hoa and Long Xuyen

2009-10-31 00:10:00-0700

Wednesday we got breakfast at a new place. It was in the tourist area in Pham Ngu Lao and had a menu in English, French and Vietnamese. We both ordered orange juice that was fresh squeezed and not sweetened. Its natural flavor was delicious and a nice contrast to the ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Hanging out with Dat and Trinh

2009-10-25 20:10:00-0700

On Sunday, my first morning back in Vietnam, Tien and I went to our old breakfast place. It was OK, but honestly it's lost its sentimental value with the realization that it's not that great of a restaurant. It is very convenient though. After breakfast we went back ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …

Bye bye Bangkok, hello Laos

2009-07-01 08:07:00-0700

I'm in one of those mid range SE Asian guesthouses again. The kind with the mini fridge stocked with soda, water and local beer. They're nice enough to have an air conditioner, but not nice enough to have free wifi. There's a shower, but no bath tub ...

By Daniel, Category: blog

Continue reading …