Back in Hanoi in way better spirits!
After some clean air, amazing food and new friends, a little smog aint nothing!
Nathan here, staring down the clock at leaving this pristine, verdant gem of an island known as Cat Ba, the forgotten staging ground to all things Ha Long Bay, 5 minutes off the mainland coast of Vietnam's Haiphong province, due east and downriver about two hours from Hanoi.
Renting a scooter instead of opting for organized tours was the way to go for us, whipping around the immaculate roadways that impressively cover most of Vietnam's rural interior, blasting tunes on bluetooth as we've yet to hit one dead spot in our $22/mo unlimited coverage mobile plans. (Side note: the Vietnamese take no issue with abusive karaoke volumes or any unresteicted decibels of Latin hip hop (its hot with the kids here, too) when it eminates from a sound stage, but roll up on a scooter and take more than 5 seconds to shut off the music, and the kindest, calmest versions death stares begin to awaken in those within earshot.)
As we ripped around over evrry inch of navigable road, we toured an NVA hospital cave built into the side of a mountain, supposedly small in comparison to the bad riders we're about to see in the days to
This kinda stuff is everywhere.
Its like walking through a movie.
come, yet still absolutely immense, with enough concrete around you in the hospital's inner guts to shield you from a nuke or bury everyone inside in a heartbeat if some apocalyptic earthquake should show its mettle. There were many, unsettling mannoquins in there and whispers would deafen you in their echoes. Daylight never looked so good.
We hiked the island's largest peak (~800 m) at the height of day, surrounded by butterflies, and also annngery bees. The climb wasn't bad but the dick kicking humidity here multiplies the fatigue by 5. As we ascended the well-manicured trail, I saw one lil bitty snake--black with yellow bands--and some gorgeous striped monitor-like lizards for all of a second at a time before they lizarded off to lizard elsewhere, making it impossible to get a good photo, as is their, and perhaps also my, nature. At the top, we were prviy to a lovely, jagged horizon, just like so many mountains surrounded by other, beautiful mountains. As I said to Abby, there's a reason people do this where it's cold. I'm pushing for more scootering and kayaking from here.
The descent, on the other hand, was lovely, and after annihilating some
Hoan Kiem Bridge at night
The significance of the lake is pretty cool. Once upon a time, to signify the end of war with China, the king of Vietnam threw his sword into the now iconic epicenter of French Quarter/Old Quarter Hanoi. And then they built a turtle tower, which Peter fucking loves.
chilled coconuts and ice cream we took the island's only highway to the northern tip of road, as The Talking Head's Road to Nowhere serenaded our arrival. This was as close as we would come to Ha Long Bay, northern Vietnam's Machu Picchu. Would it be cool to see some floating fishing villages? Hell yeah, but would the time investment ultimately be worth it to make that our sole endeavor here, on either some guilded cruise ship or sucking diesel fumes on a panga, on the wrong side of a language barrier? I'm fine with not knowing if we made the right choice, having succumed to ticking boxes on tourism "must see" lists before.
Of what I am sure is that the stoic, genteel nature of the Vietnamese north doesn't evaporate when you hit the coast, or give way to unbridled opportunism and price gouging. Sure, the seafood here was ridiculous, both in price and freshness, but what I'll remember most in terms of gastronomy was our dinner last night at Quiri Gastropub, definitely a Southeast Asian fusion take on highlighting all the great fruits de mer, but with amazing cocktails and craft beer and, once again, outstanding hospitality.
Cat Ba Oasis Bungalows also made us feel right at home, but were it not for the pool, Id have stayed here for the green papaya salad and grilled squid satay alone.
The beaches here are numerous, and literally numbered. Toung, an old man staked out across from the entry to the National Park getting rich as shit selling cold beer and ice cream drumsticks made it clear: Cat Ba beach #3 is Cat Ba beach #1 is #3. We went to another beach beyond #3, which apart from the water quality was assuredly #1, where the most insane corporate teambuilding was going on right on the water's edge, involving repeated shots of corn wine (whiskey) and handheld fireworks that smoked out the entire valley.
The temperatures have relaxed during our time here; when we board the speedboat back to the mainland in a few hours those ocean breezes will be long gone. Once again, we enter the fray of deathly humidity, but never far from some absurdly stunning embodiment of unspoiled nature, or from a soothing body of water, a cold beer, and each other. A sense of humor goes a long way on the road,
Not too shabby for $40/night
Right on the strip; walking distance to everything. (Get a scooter anyway; theyre $5/day plus gas.)
so I think we're both in pretty good hands.
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