Ha Long and Cat Ba

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November 14th 2008
Published: November 14th 2008
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Done with Hanoi,

Head for Ha long and Cat ba Island. To book full tour or not to book a tour that is the question! From our recent experiences I say no just wing it! So we did for the very next day booked a bus trip only to Ha Long Bay. It was a short bus ride, just a couple of hours but still part of a tour group because they fill a bus regardless and it appears that all busses have some sort of deal with 1 or more places of food or souvenirs just at the point where your morning coffee is causing pressure and you need to pee! Funny how where you stop there seems to be a huge increase in the price of stuff you know, a pack of chips in Hanoi will cost 20,000vnd at the stop it is 50,000. Getting used to this now though. Time to move on to the destination. We arrive just outside of Ha Long city at Bai Chay and set off in search of what was available in this neck of the woods. A short walk landed us at the boat harbor and we found our selves being approached by many tour operators all selling the same thing.

At this point it is a matter of judgment does the little guy telling you a story look honest? Honestly no! but neither did the next guy, so we opted for number 2 and he gave us the spiel…2 night 3 day tour…standard, deluxe, superior and VIP. Now VIP was way out of the question but the upgrade to deluxe sounded good. An important question we did not ask was what agency did he represent! Guess what he was with AST travel, but we did not know this until the boat had sailed. So feeling good we had negotiated a good price and looking forward to all that was offered we walked toward the city of Ha long in search of food and coffee (Lynne needs a cappuccino) not easy to find in a developing country. 2 hours later and 3 pairs of shoes 40 offers for moto-bike and/or tour and we found a very nice little place to eat and a place that made good cino’s. The boat tour gathering the next day was at 11:30am at the harbor, part of our deal was to be collected from
Similar junk to our boatSimilar junk to our boatSimilar junk to our boat

Most of the junks are literally junk. The timber is rotting and accommodation is very standard. Don't accept any offer to upgrade as this means the same as standard but you might get fruit as the deluxe part of your tour.
the hotel at 11:30 by the operator/ 11:30 came and we decided to walk it was a short walk but we did not want to miss the boat and yes this was a sign of things to come!

The groups were gathering at the harbor like seagulls around a huge mound of discarded chips. Tour organizers running around frantically gathering last minute money and passports. One tourist had a bright idea, buy your beer before getting on the boat and miss paying the captured tourist inflated price. This would cost him as the boats had a rule of corkage fee’s per bottle. (As it turned out it was cheaper to buy beer from one of the floating mini marts, which inhabit the bay and deliver to your boat and pay the fee than to pay the full price for the beer on board)

Now the time came to board our boat this was a fun exercise as the technology used consisted of a plank and some slippery stairs and each person being assured that the LITTLE Asian fellow would catch you if you should fall, I have seen the little guys try to lift my 22kg back pack
Hotels everywhereHotels everywhereHotels everywhere

If you want to visit Ha Long, you don't need to overpay on a prepaid trip. Best to check out the local town of Bai Chau, plenty of decent rooms for about $6-$8 per night.
and nearly throw a disc so my faith in them catching and supporting my weight of 82kg’s was wavering some what! But we achieved a somewhat shaky crossing.

Let me paint you a picture of the boat. A 3 story Vietnamese “Junk” transformed to a tourist boat as the industry increased, a large generator tied to the front deck for night time power and the timber it is made from is unusually thick. This as I soon found out is because they drive their boats like they drive their bikes. If a boat is in your way you simply increase the rev-speed of the motor and nudge it out of the way! As soon as we cleared the harbor we sat in the main cabin and received lunch a good spread was laid out. After lunch we received the keys to our stately cabins this is where the fun begins…we found that the boat had been over booked, people who had paid for the std tour had been upgraded for no reason, a poor Aussie guy, who had paid extra for a cabin to himself was shafted, and an English girl found them selves with no option but sharing “NOT HAPPY JAN” the poor guy who was our tour guide had no prior knowledge of this but copped the flack.

I can’t say much more than this. No power in the hot room until 6pm so no hot shower or Air con, no problem we all sat up stairs and chatted about how we all were promised the world and were delivered an on onion.

Now I have the bad stuff out of the way we can get on with the tour. A visit to the largest cave in the islands was mind blowing (see pictures! Yes we have some now!) So much so that Lynne actually missed 1 of the prettier moon pools as she gazed around, the cave was unidirectional travel and the boats pouring the tourists into the tunnel like wet cement down a wall cavity meant Lynne could not fight the tide of bodies surging forward and clicking off pics at every turn. 60mins later and the guide was saying time to go, lady and gentleman plea back to boat!

Now we are off to the Kayaks, this was cool too (as the things we did were enjoyed the thoughts of the shafting we all received dwindled and socializing began in earnest. Fantastic funny stories from all over the globe were beginning to get exchanged. We arrived at the Kayak floating boathouse, literally boat house, a family lived there and this as well as fishing was there income. Against all the best advise from the guide “plea do not go to far, try to stay around 1 island and need be back in 1 hour” yea right! Everyone shot off in many differing directions, some found an island to explore and we paddled around a few islands finding a tunnel to pass through….Now after a couple of turns around an island your internal compass starts to wobble and one island looks like another “Which way back to the boat ?” I ask. Luckily Lynne’s keen sense of direction led us right back and only 1 group of girls were 30mins late as they went to the wrong boathouse. Safely all back on the boat a couple of cheep beers form the floating mini marts and off we go. We stop at a large protected cove (along with 4,000,000 other boats….no exaggeration there! lol) Free time for 1 hour we can swim or drink. With a group of Aussies and young Americans together we do both…..drink then jump from the top of the boat 5m we found out later. We quickly found out about the (dinoflagellates which are bioluminescent Lynne told me to use this word!) for the rest of us it means the water sparkles and glows because of the algae when you stir it up. You have to picture this 8 people all a little tipsy under the back of the boat (because it is darkest) flapping our arms like a bunch of 3 year olds which have been thrown in the pool for the first time. Kinda funny when looked at from this angle. Lynne was the last in and the only one to enter the water via the safety of the boats ladder. (only entering the water to see the sparkly shiny stuff). Another drink and then a quick shower before dinner. After dinner all sat on top of the boat and drinking chatting exchanging stories of travels and learning about other countries.

Next day off to Cat Ba island for our second night stay. We all dress in casual gear not knowing the plan for the day and soon after breakfast the captain announces time to pay bill and leave room. Bill paid and passports in hand we depart the boat, board the bus off we go again. 30mins later the bus stops “Ok lady and gentleman we go hike national park now for 2 hour” Lynne went off! What! I’m not ready no boots, no repellant, no water, and she let the guide have it too and subtly explained to him that it would have been a good idea to tell us the intended itinerary for the day but off we went anyway. The guide assuring Lynne no problem we go slow….and we did except for where the mosquitoes were like a small blanket. The guide took us up the wrong path, shorter but more difficult. At about this time I asked the guide how long he had worked for this company he said 5 month. A-ha! I thought no wonder he did not know much. 50 mins later we reach the summit and see a small plateau about 50msq with 40 tourists jostling for position to climb a look out tower. Here I
Inside the cave... Inside the cave... Inside the cave...

with some funky disco lighting
have to paint a pic again - picture if you can a 25m tower, well weathered, badly maintained, rusty, repaired tower! Every body who went up said they were more scared of the climb than the height, so we opted out this time and headed down. All back on the bus and off to the hotel. I didn’t mention any wild life because the area is devoid of it the only animal we saw was a frog. No birds chirping nothing.

The hotel and bad timing.
We arrive at the hotel pile into the lobby keys are handed out and we are told that there is no power until 7pm…WHAT!….. WHY! The island power supply was being repaired but the afternoon was free. Lynne was feeling a bit queezy so she had a sleep and I toured the near by streets. I found a Horseshoe crab and had a great movie of it but it went with the camera so sorry you’ll have to look it up on the net. Walking back to the hotel a driver on a bike stopped and asked if I want moto-bike, no thanks. you want Massa (massage), No thanks, you want boom boom?
The  Surprise !The  Surprise !The Surprise !

A rock formation in a unique shape. Can you see it?
What this was a new one then he starts gesturing and I get it, no thanks! and off he went! Now we did not want to return to Ha long bay so we opted for a ticket to Nimh Binh, Bus, fast boat & bus the next day.

Additional photos below
Photos: 54, Displayed: 29


The sails are for decoration onlyThe sails are for decoration only
The sails are for decoration only

No boat uses the sails anymore.
Local man and cartLocal man and cart
Local man and cart

Like my new camera?
Our favourite cheap meal - kebabsOur favourite cheap meal - kebabs
Our favourite cheap meal - kebabs

15000 dong kebabs and 3000 dong beer. What more could you ask for. Exchange rate is currently 16500 dong for $1US

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