We departed Hanoi with a combined bus/boat/bus ticket to get us across to Cat Ba Island and then over to Cat Ba Town. Rather than the extremely trafficed and scam-ridden Halong Bay, we followed the Lonely Planet’s recommendations and headed to Cat Ba instead. It’s a smallish island on the edge of Halong Bay and has its own Karst-strewn bay – Lan Ha Bay. Settling ourselves down at a resort overlooking one of the many beaches near town, we took the opportunity to be ‘on holiday’ rather than just ‘travelling’ for a couple of days. Relaxing on the beach or by the pool, eating an occasional burger, swimming in the sea.
After a couple of days of this we decided to see what the local tours had to offer and settled on a one-day tour with the morning trekking and the afternoon on a sampan inbetween the karsts. Despite our guide okaying my walking sandals, these turned out to be woefully inappropriate as we pushed through waist-high grass with no path or scrambled up sharp, pitted rocks. Our guide decided to react to my displeasure at this by becoming excessively patronising. Needless to say, I was not a fan.
The afternoon was far better, after a tasty lunch (God help me, but I’m beginning to really like fried tofu) we took motorcycle taxis down to the waterfront. Motorcycles and scooters are ubiquitous here (even more so than India and Nepal) and there are many around to give you a lift for a small price (usually less than a pound). Neither Amy nor I have really been much for this mode of transportation before, but I have to say we’re really beginning to enjoy it. Might be worth a go back in London! After the bikes we got onto a sampan and were driven through all the islands. It’s stunning scenery, these sheer limestone cliffs with their undermined waterlines. We stopped at a beach for a half hour’s swimming (directly beneath the ‘no swimming’ sign before heading back to town.
The afternoon had been so much fun that we decided to extend our stay on the island and spend the next day kayaking through Lan Ha Bay. Sadly the weather was a bit grey, but we saw more and more stunning beaches and cliffs. We also made our way into a couple of tranquil lagoons with access only by ducking in our kayak, before finishing the day with some more swimming and jumping from the top deck of our ‘mothership’.
One aspect of the bay is that it’s full of floating villages, communities of Vietnamese (and their dogs) who live their lives in huts on rafts floating on empty barrels. They live most of their lives on the water, subsisting by selling fish to the towns in exchange for vegetables and rice. As well as maintaining swirling pools of sharks (for meat and shark’s fin pools) they will often keep one big fish underneath the centre of the hut. They will feed and feed this fish for years. It gets huge (fish obese if such a thing truly exists) and is their ‘lucky’ fish. The one underneath the place we picked our kayaks from was 12 years old and 60kgs!