Asia · Vietnam

Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island

So yesterday was a completely lazy day. After arriving back in Hanoi at 5am, we had breakfast at 7am and then me and 3 of the others went for a walk around Hoem Kiem and went to the post office. After that we just hung around at the hotel waiting for our room, which was finally ready at 1pm, After a well received shower, the afternoon was just spent in bed watching movies – my first TV in over a week. Then in the evening we went to a really nice (but expensive my Vietnamese standards) restaurant where I had… pizza. It sounds awful but I have found Vietnamese food a bit bland (apart from at the homestay where the food was amazing) so having a little bit of Western food – although cheating – was really good. The restaurant was quite high up and was right next to the lake so it had really great views of the city at night (although photos don’t reflect how pretty it was). We then went for a drink at the Backpackers Hostel.

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This morning we woke up at 6.30am to be ready for the bus to Halong City at 8am. I tried to keep awake so I could take in the landscape on the way here and managed it for a while but then had a little sleep. Vietnam is mostly countryside so it was largely lush green areas with spaces for rice paddies and corn crops, hills and small towns that all looked quite rundown but most with building work going on. We arrived in Halong City at lunchtime… First impressions were not great. We’re staying somewhere close to the dock so that we don’t have far to travel to get the boat around Halong Bay tomorrow and it seemed very quiet and depressing. But this afternoon we got a bus to the other side of the city, which I’m so glad we did because it was much busier and more lively and much more going on.

We went to a fish market where they keep all the fish alive until they are bought to ensure freshness. It’s right on the waters edge so we saw fish that had just been caught arriving at the market. So happy we went because now my opinion of Halong City is not quite so negative. Although you would have thought they would develop an area that acts as a gateway to a place that brings so much tourism. We then came back to near the hotel and went to a small beach – which was not memorable in any way (although it was good to see some sand) – and the market next to it.

We actually saw the sun today as well, which is a novelty. It’s not particularly warm (about 15 degrees) but we still got out the flip flops!

Tonight is dinner and night market and tomorrow is Halong Bay, which I’m really looking forward to.

***

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Yesterday we had breakfast and lunch at the hotel in Halong City (which involved a funny incident with the hotel owners who didn’t speak English and me trying to ask for toilet paper for our room… They laughed at me for ages). We then had a boat tour around Halong Bay. Although it was misty and quite cold (annoying because of the sunny day we had on Monday) Halong is epicly beautiful. Vietnamese people believe that the islands were pearls shot down by a dragon to protect the north from invasion a thousand years ago. Our boat was like a mini pirate ship, which I really liked.

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We visited a cave in the Bay, which was meant to be natural but we weren’t convinced. There were mini ‘faces’ in the rocks that had stories, for example of two young lovers from different classes who ran away to the cave to be together because their family wouldn’t accept their relationship.

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We then visited a floating village. It seems incredible to me that people live floating on the sea. They had dogs and TVs and the homes seemed similar to those we’ve seen around the rest of Vietnam… Except for being on the sea! We had a boat row us around into some alcoves, which was really amazing. The scenery was beautiful and when everyone stopped talking there was pure silence.

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We arrived on Cat Ba island at 7pm. We had to walk up a pitch black path and onto a pitch black coach, with only one torch to load ourselves and all our luggage onto it, was a bit surreal. Then it took about an hour to get from the port in the north to our hotel in the south (that’s how small the island is)… Minus a small incident where the driver apparently couldn’t drive us any further and we were told we’d have to walk the rest.., a little complaining did the trick!

The hotel here isn’t great (there’s a naked lady on the tiles in the bathroom, there are two beds for 3 people and you get a mini shock when you try to charge anything). But there’s a lovely view of the bay from the balcony and there’s hot water. Then last night we just had dinner at the hotel and drinks at a hostel/bar a few doors down, but the alcohol was gross so don’t think I’ll be having any more alcohol here!

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This morning the breakfast at the hotel was horrible (‘pancake’ but basically just a plate of grease) so we went to a cafe down the road. Then we went for a walk along the bay (with sunglasses because it was sunny whoo). It’s very pretty here and there’s another floating village in the bay, which seems strange to me because they are so close to the mainland. We then had lunch at the hotel (which was tasty this time) and then we went for a walk to the nearest beach, which was GORGEOUS. Spent an hour there and Jan, Soph, Kat and Jacksie braved the water even though it was quite cold. We then walked around the cliffs to another beach but it wasn’t as pretty so we didn’t stay there v long. We then went to the cafe for snacks and hot chocolate (such good hot chocolate). Tonight will be dinner and back to the hostel bar (minus alcohol for me!).

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***

On Wednesday night Henry took me and Soph out on his motorbike for a mini tour around the island, which was really cool. Then we had dinner and I had an early night… I slept for 11 hours, felt really good.

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On Thursday we went back to the beach in the morning because it was so sunny whoo! We had smoothies and juice on the beach and just chatted until we had to go back for lunch.

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After lunch we got a boat to Monkey Island. The big boat we got was fine but they then said we had to get into this tiny, unstable boat with holes in the bottom to get to the actual island – was really scary. They kept scooping water out the bottom every time a group got out. There is literally nothing on Monkey Island apart from monkeys (obviously), a big rock to climb (which we weren’t prepared for) and a house/’shop’ (that doesn’t sell anything but charges $5 to use the toilet).

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Even though most of us were wearing flip flops some of us attempted to climb up this big rock… It was so dangerous! Basically just a loads of mini rocks, some of them very wobbly, and some even more unstable wooden constructions where the rocks had fallen through. I made it quite far up with some of the others but we weren’t prepared with our footwear (no-one had ever said there would be any kind of climbing) so didn’t make it to the top. The views we did see were quite amazing though so it was worth the trouble. I was just annoyed I physically couldn’t make it to the top.

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We then went back down to the beach where the group were being terrorised by the monkeys. Other groups on the island deserved it because they were feeding them Oreos and getting really close to them. They were cute from a distance and that’s all we should be allowed to view them from I think. It’s wrong to give them human food and make them feel threatened in their own home by getting so close. After an hour and a half we got the deathtrap back to the main boat and then went back to Cat Ba. All in all I wasn’t a fan of Monkey Island!

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Thursday night was just dinner and chilling. Didn’t sleep v well because this hotel is strange and Lisa woke up screaming thinking she’d seen someone in the room and the other day the chairs just fell over for no reason. They say this island is like Jurassic Park, maybe in more ways than just the landscape!

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Yesterday we had a very lazy morning. In the afternoon there was an extra trip organised through the hotel to visit the few sights on Cat Ba: the hospital cave, the national park and a fort. They were going to charge us $20 but after researching we realised we could organise it much cheaper by ourselves so Abbie took charge and we ended up paying under $7 each to visit the two we wanted to see (hospital cave and national park).

There’s a main road from the town to the port but the road is ridiculous because half way through this lovely tarmac road there’s just rubble where it hasn’t been finished. We had a really cool tour guide for the hospital cave, which was a good place to see. You would never expect that basically a small village lived in the side of this mountain. The photos will show what I mean but it’s basically a construction where the Vietcong on Cat Ba lived during the American War and it had a cinema, a swimming pool, kitchen, washing room, ping pong room and sleeping areas. Ho Chi Minh also visited it and slept there.

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We then went to Cat Ba’s national park (half the island is classified as a protected area) where once again we were not expecting what awaited us. A top tip for Vietnam seems to be that you just need to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t know what’s going on about 80% of the time! We had the craziest ‘guide’ that didn’t speak English (walking through we saw mushrooms growing and he motioned eating them so we think that explained his behaviour) and it was basically rock climbing. The rocks were so slippy and dangerous – my clothes and hands were filthy because I grabbed onto anything that would support me even a tiny bit. It was rewarding when we finally made it to the top because the view was incredible… Although I was happy to finally get back down onto safe ground. In the national park lives the endangered Cat Ba Languar monkeys (only 65 left in the world, native to Cat Ba island), however we didn’t see any. Even if there was a monkey above my head I probably wouldn’t have seen it, I was too busy trying not to fall over!

Last night we ate dinner at the Green Mango (which Lonely Planet recommends as the top thing to do on Cat Ba, highlighting that there aren’t many activities here). Most people have eaten there everyday but I had just been having (the most amazing) hot chocolate every day. Last night we all ate and it was SO GOOD to have Western food! I think I took for granted the variety of food we have at home. Here it’s literally rice or noodle based dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I had a vegetarian pizza with a banana split for dessert. We then went to a bar/nail bar/massage parlour and I got a French pedicure for $2 (although I’m a rubbish girl and have chipped it already!). Then we just went back to the room and packed up our stuff ready for the journey back to Hanoi today.

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Love to all xXx

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