Friday, February 18, 2011

Halong Bay and Cat Ba Town

This past week has seen our trio bus-boat-bus from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island and National Park.  As we expected, the weather was uncooperative.  Far from being sunny and hot, the sky was grey and we couldn't escape the dampness anywhere. Even in the cold, most restaurants and hotels are open to the air.  What we didn't expect was that we are absolutely no good at dealing with less-than-perfect weather.  We had a hard time staying happy out on the island.

I know that we have no right to complain when all of our friends at home are digging their cars out from beneath 3 feet of snow on a daily basis, but we weren't at all prepared for the change.  Each day we wore almost all of our clean clothes.  I should note that the term 'clean' is being applied more loosely as time goes on. 

The island itself is quite lovely, home to immense biodiversity and a rich geological history.  The entire region is smattered with limestone karst, remnants of ancient coral beds crushed and squeezed together over millions of years.  We explored karst islands by kayak the as our first activity, four hours of paddling the cold paradise.

The sand on the many beaches is made broken coral.  It is also what makes up the limestone cliffs (after a little processing).

Jevin kayaking around one of the many islets

View from the best seat in the house, the back of a kayak
Robyn and I assume ourselves to be up for all manner of outdoors activity, naturally gifted with basic outdoor skills like paddling.  This is not the case.  By the end of four hours, we were soaked in salty water while Jevin and our guide were dry and comfortable.  We had worn almost all of our warm clothes out on the water and were doomed to freeze for the next few days.

Our base for adventure, Cat Ba Town, was composed of two streets that ran parallel to a small harbour.  The street facing the water was only hotels and restaurants (terrible terrible restaurants) and the only Vietnamese people we really saw there were selling things and trying to get us to climb on the back of their motorcycles (harmless, I can assure you).  The merchants here lack the tact of their Thai and Lao contemporaries.  Instead of trying to be nice and hospitable, they point randomly to their wares, expecting money to just fall out of your pockets (which it sometimes does) or yell "Buy something!  Buy something!" at you as you walk by, trying to ignore. 

But, as cold as it seemed and as rude as the locals were, you'd be hard pressed to find as good a view for $6/night anywhere else in the world...

View from Cat Ba Town Hotel Room

View of the harbour through our hotel window.

The day after kayaking, we bought a 'tour' of the National Park.  This consisted of the tour operator flagging down three motorcycle taxis to drive us to the park and wait at the bottom while we walked through the paths.  It was a really nice ride to the park but if we had known what the tour would've been, we'd have rented some motorbikes and cruised around ourselves for a fraction of the cost.  Nevertheless, it was a nice experience.  I just hope that we learn how to stop getting ripped off before we leave this country because it's getting ridiculous. 

Here's some shots from the 'tour'.

Working the fields

View from a watchtower high up in the national park
  By the end of our time on Cat Ba Island, we were ready for some warmer weather.  We got on a boat and travelled due south to arrive in Hue where we could finally wash our clothes, take warm showers, and use the internet.

We've been here for only a few hours and we've already run into multiple groups of people we have known from the last few weeks of our travels.  It's amazing how you keep bumping into the same people.  We're going to get together for drinks tonight with a trio of girls from Iceland and Joel from New York.  Should be fun!

But now, SUSHI !!!!!!



  1. That sand and those islands are so awesome!

    I hope you found a good place among all of those bad restaurants to get some good sushi!

    - Jeremy

    p.s. Our snow isn't that bad. It's the melting and freezing of the snow and ice that's bad; but even more so, the moistureless, frigid wind.

  2. What a fantastic view from the National Park tower! Whoa! Love you...Mom Parker