27th of January 2016:
This morning we left at 10am to go to Cat Ba the biggest island in Halong Bay. Originally our plan was to get a bus to pick us up from our hotel to take us to the dock to then get another bus to take us to the city centre. It all sounded simple enough, unfortunately in Vietnam I don’t think they truly understand what simplicity is. The bus decided to not come to pick us up from our hotel so we got a 5 minute taxi ride to the bus depot, from there we were on a bus for about 2 hours where all of sudden we have to jump off on the side of the road and swap buses. From there the bus drove 15 minutes to the ferry dock. As we walked across a very uneasy rusted bridge to the boat, you could not see the ocean in it’s true natural state. Instead it is now covered in a combination of slick black oil and glistening petrol. The boat we hop on doesn’t come with enough seats so we get to sit on children’s plastic chairs. This wouldn’t seem to bad, except the wind chill from the boat and the light sprinkle from the rain makes the 15 minute journey incredibly bone chilling cold. As we arrive at the dock we were advised there would be a bus to pick us up from the dock to the city centre, except, there is no buses in eyesight and 100 stranded tourists confused as to what is happening!!! All of a sudden a mini bus arrives, a man tells people to hop on, and now we are left even more confused but feel a bit hopeful that at least buses exist on the island! 5 minutes later a big bus comes where all of a sudden it felt like we get swarmed by these Chinese people running towards it. So naturally we believe that this is for a tour so mustn’t be our bus. Thankfully Nick asks someone as it’s 100 Chinese people and us four Aussies and three Netherlands people who are just left standing with bags in our hands clueless to what is going on. “APPARENTLY”, we were suppose to actually get on that bus so we just run on with our big backpacks on board, and trying to squeeze between the isle without hitting everyone on the way! Cat Ba island is very hilly, so to get up the hill the bus has to turn the air conditioning off, which is a blessing because it’ only 15 degrees so no idea why we need the air conditioning on anyway! The drive was apparently very scenic but the windows were fogged up and it was of course raining outside. As we arrived at Full Moon Party Hotel it was pouring with rain, so we quickly ran to shelter. The room was nice but once again no heater, only air conditioning, so we just retreated to the warm blanket.
28th of January 2016:
Today our plan was to visit Hospital Cave and then from there go to the Cat Ba National Park where we would trek for 4 hours. Unfortunately due to the monsoon rains all the guides cancelled the walk due to it being unsafe. Which sucked, but to be honest I can understand why it was absolutely pouring with rain and was only 15 degrees… And my rain jacket was a cheap plastic poncho which had a rip in it. So probably would have gotten hypothermia! So we sat in the breakfast area for 3 hours because there was nothing else to do, then we noticed the rain subsided so we ran out to do a hour climb to the Cannon Fort. It was 40,000 dong to enter and by far worth every cent! As you walk up a winding driveway to the top of the hill, you can see all the little islands surrounding Cat Ba. As you arrive to the top you see a big cement circle which they used for helicopters in the war. A few metres further is a massive old cannon which they used to fight off aircrafts. We then walked through a little narrow trench to come out to a opening where you can see the ocean and numerous islands coming in and out of the fog. The fog became so thick we couldn’t see the difference between the sky and the world around us. I liked the eerie feeling of it though. We continued through numerous trenches that became a big maze. Their tunnelling was impeccable in this day and age let alone all those years ago in their numerous wars. As we came to the end of the Cannon Fort it began to pour with rain again, we tried to let it subside for 10 minutes but unfortunately knew it wasn’t going to stop for long enough for us to get home. As we walked 100 metres from the top, all of a sudden I heard a siren that you would hear for something like a tsunami or war. This scared the shit out of me, because we had no idea what it was for. It could of been anything, but we kept walking down. Then, as we walk past a house the power turns off, if anyone has seen any movies this is not a good sign. We still have no idea what it was for, but we survived! That night after dinner at Green Mango, we went to “the good bar”, yes that is actually what it is called, and caught up with the 3 Netherlands and 2 Aussies and played Fussball.
29th of January 2016:
Today sadly Bill and Charlie leaves us. Bill is going back home and Charlie is adventuring back down south to go diving. Nick and I booked a tour last night at 11:30pm to go around Ha Long Bay. The tour started at 8am and wouldn’t finish till 5pm. It was honestly breathtaking to say the least. We headed straight to Monkey island. Where we spent an hour, at first I was thinking what on earth can we do here for an hour BUT we were like oh let’s do the little walk up to the top that will be fun. Famous last words! No one said anything about bringing comfortable shoes or even rock climbing! The walk started easy just natural rocks made into stairs, then the rocks turn into sharp and pointy, and the path disappears and you just start having to wedge your foot into little cracks to pull yourself up. This is rock climbing I don’t care what people say! Do not do it in thongs!!! As stereotypical Aussies we made it to the top in thongs without any major injuries. Even though everyone else had hiking boots! This journey to the top would not have taken so long if there wasn’t so many people struggling and talking! If you thought going up was hard wait until you go back down! The rocks were still slippery from the 3 days of continuous rain! I was so thankful when we made it back down with only one scratch on my knee from kneeing the rock. Getting back on the boat we journeyed to our next point of destination where we would kayak around caves. This only took an hour and a half to get there as our boat was so slow I think my year 8 rowers could of rowed faster in their warm up!
Heads up, kayaking in jeans is probably not the most ideal attire! Thankfully Nick and I “looked” like we knew what we were doing and were the only pair to not get wet! I only had a few drips on me from the caves rather than my kayaking skills. This was by far my favourite thing we did at Cat Ba and one of my favourites so far in the trip! There’s nothing more amazing then kayaking on glass like water where the reflection of the surrounding green mountains is a perfect silhouette. The first cave we went through was so exhilarating, it was fairly dark so naturally Nick stops paddling so he can film and I’m left trying to steer the kayak from any rocks that I can’t see because he’s sitting in front of me. As the cave comes to a end the natural light starts beaming through and opens up into a big lake sheltered from the thick green forest on the mountains. Our guide takes us right, towards a dead end. All of a sudden we stop to see these gorgeous monkeys, but not just any monkey the rare Cat Ba Langur. On this island there are only 25 and 70 in total! We were fortunate to see 10 of these beautiful monkey’s. As it’s been raining for the past 3 days and today was the first clear day they came out of their caves to eat. When they are born they are bright orange as they get older they turn into a brown colour. We apparently are very lucky, when we got back all the locals were astonished at the photos. After 15 minutes we left the monkey’s to go through another cave. This cave was low and could only fit one canoe at a time. You would think by 30 minutes of kayaking you would of grasped some sort of idea of how to steer a kayak. Unfortunately this couple from Israel never mastered it! They ran into so many rocks that I lost count, and once they hit something or someone they would keep paddling forward rather than backwards. Unfortunately we were one of the people they hit in the one person cave. As a coxswain I straightened us perfectly into the cave unfortunately I did not see the Israel couple coming and they slammed straight into the back of us, shoving us into the rock. The cave came out to a little lagoon. I didn’t want to stop kayaking I loved paddling through all the little caves I would of done this 10 more times, at least! Lunch was provided on board, we had rice, spring rolls, tofu and fish. The cold spring rolls were quite tasty but my first experience with tofu wasn’t so pleasant it just tasted like a wet sponge. It would of made sense for the boat to drive to the beach whilst we were eating but instead it waited the hour that we ate and then took an hour to arrive at a point where I probably wouldn’t call it a beach. It was a little sand mound that you had to swim 50 metres in the freezing cold water to get to. Only four people swam including Nick of course. Comments from the water consisted of “f***k, it takes your breath away and I can’t breath”. So that sounds appealing! After only 30 minutes we headed back home. The day was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone!
30th of January 2016:
Today we head back to Hanoi, at 12:30pm, but first we hired a scooter to see the hospital cave that we missed out on the first day because of the rain. The cave was huge and the way they incorporated a combination of nature and concrete slab walls and ceiling’s to accommodate the injuries and ill from the war till 1975 was astonishing. The aura of the hospital made my hairs raise though. I felt like someone was continuously following me. You can feel the struggle and pain that would have filled those walls for years. As we headed back to Cat Ba city we stopped off at a market. The market sold everything from fresh produce to meat and seafood that I may label pretty fresh but not quite sanitary. We watched a lady try and decide on the live chicken she wanted by looking at it’s feet. The pigs hoofs and other meat’s that I’m not even sure what is were just laid out on a piece of plastic on the ground or if your lucky a table. We hopped on a bus back to Hanoi, another 5 hour journey for us lays ahead. As usual they don’t seem to tell you what is happening, they seem to just yell at you and push you in the direction they want you to go. Leaving you clueless and hopeful that your still heading to your destination. Organising a taxi to take us to our hostel was never going to be easy, especially when you know they are saying a ridiculous high price just because we are foreigners, but then again I would rather pay the $15 dollars than be stranded at a bus depot.
We stayed at the Happy backpackers hostel in a 6 dorm room. It was ok, apart from the door didn’t actually lock, we had no towels and the blanket was so thin that I was shaking in a ball to try and go to sleep before my mind woke me up to tell me I’m dying of hypothermia. The issue in Vietnam is, they have air conditioning, but no heating. I have no idea because every time it’s winter it’s cold, so surely they’ve learnt by now they need some sort of heater.
As we had a wander around Hanoi, we came across a lit up red bridge reflecting off the glass water. It was so beautiful, to have something so peaceful in the middle of the fast paced city.