Published: April 16th 2011April 15th 2011
On the 15th we left the boat after breakfast and headed over to Cat Ba island across from our anchorage. This is the biggest island in Hao Long bay, probably about 30 by 50 kilometers. We took another minibus into the center of the island where we stopped for a bicycle excursion. While Carolyn slept on the bus, Jacob, CC and Ted (and the other tourists) took some bicycles for a 5 km ride across the island to see the sights. We stopped near the hospital cave. This was a big natural cave that ended up being expanded into a 3 story underground hospital during the war. The kids weren't interested so we just cycled a bit further down the road before returning to the bus.
The cycling was easy and flat, but the bicycles made it difficult. Jacob and Ted had dual suspension 18 speed mountain bikes while CC had the bike of the woman who ran the stand, a classic old-style one speed girls bike. CC's bike worked great. The mountain bikes though were challenging. The gear selectors didn't work (so 1 speed not 18), the brakes barely worked on Jacobs (front only) while Teds had no brakes at all so he had to drag his feet to stop. The suspensions were rusted solid. To make it more fun, the freewheels on the mountain bikes would slip so climbing hills, accelerating or anything that required pushing more than very lightly on the pedals left the pedals spinning and no forward progress. So even though the hills were much flatter than at home, we walked up nearly every one. Finally, I also have to mention that the seats were so uncomfortable that we wanted to stand off of them on the pedals (but couldn't due to the slipping freewheels). That said, it was a lot of fun anyway.
Back onto the bus for another 30 minutes across the island to another harbor on the south side where we caught a taxi boat out to Monkey Island for our second night on the bay. Monkey island had cute little thatch bungalows along the beach and a little mini resort where we could do a bit of hiking and kayaking. Jacob took one of the kayaks out while CC discovered a litter of very young puppies who she promptly named and spent the rst of the visit playing with and carrying around on the beach. Three little girls found and befriended her and they played together with the puppies for most of the afternoon. The eldest was about her age and spoke a little english while her two sisters were younger but they all managed to get their ideas across.
Around 4, Jacob started doing homework (he was thrilled) while I (Ted) took a short tek over to the next beach. No pictures of this due to a dead camera battery unfortunately. The climb was pretty rough and I am glad the kids weren't along but I did see the Macaque Monkeys the island was named after. They were quite tame and would come right up to you to beg or try to pickpocket (looking for food). There was a little family with a few adults, an adolescent and a baby. Returning to the beach Cecelia and I took a double kayak for a circumnavigation of the island just at sunset which took a bit over a half hour. We cleaned up, had dinner, and as is our custom went almost immediately to bed.
While monkey island sounds good above, really it was a bit of a disappointment. We didn't get a bungalow on the beach but instead one hidden away around back. This meant that Ted and Carolyn could not watch the room from the beach so we couldn't sit up and enjoy the evening after the kids went to sleep as one of us had to stay back with them at all times. Also, 2 years ago or 2 years hence it would have been a very different resort. Half of the beach bungalows were being torn down while the other half were being built anew. If this sounds like a construction site on the beach, well, basically it was. So you may be sitting under swaying palms on a beach chair looking at beautiful scenery, but you were listening to the table saws and hammering 50 meters away.
The other problem was food. Jacob, normally an adventurous eater, has become much less so and was subsisting on plain white rice, eggs for breakfast, and orange sodas. The food wasn't bad (or great) but it was a set menu so no options for the kids to choose from. We were happy to be heading back to Hanoi the next day where the options are much more numerous.
Editorial note: Can't upload photos at the moment from Hanoi so I'll do another retrospective post with pics from Ho Chi Minh City tonight if time permits