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Published: March 18th 2016
Cat Ba Harbour
View from our hotel room.
The doorman hauled our bag to the end of the lane, put it in the trunk of the small taxi and jumped in the passenger seat and we squeezed in the back. We’re off. When we arrive at the bus station, he goes in to the office, checks our tickets and sits down to wait with us. All of a sudden he jumps up and heads outside, beckoning us to follow. I had heard an announcement but didn’t catch the mention of Catba. He stores our bag under the bus and disappears. We climb aboard the bus and begin to take our assigned seats behind the driver. We are brusquely stood away. Other bewilder tourists climb aboard.
The driver must have bought a new horn for his bus. The previous one certainly died of overuse. I didn’t think you could buy louder horns. I dug out my earplugs that I usually reserve for jet engines. It takes a good hour to make our way out of the city, in spite of his constant application of the horn. This road has more larger cities along it than the one heading north.
At some point the co-pilot makes an announcement. The
On a hill outside Catba.
single Vietnamese gets off. Since the rest of us have no idea what was said, we remain in our seats. He then shouts “Move, out out”. And so we comply, like harassed prisoners. The doors to the luggage bin under the bus are open. Again cries of move, move and gestures to remove our bags. Nobody wishes to touch anyone else bag so we wait as people take their possessions as they appear from the pile. Since ours was the first in, it had been pushed to the very back. Claudette had to go in on hands and knees to retrieve it.
We were all milling around wondering where we were. Another uniformed flunky appeared and with same aggressive tone pointed to another bus. Each of us stored our bags the best we could under the next bus. I made sure I was the last to load. The seats of this bus were so small that there was barely room for one cheek. I hoped it was a short hall. We travelled for another hour, the last of it past a massive port with acres of stored containers and lots of cranes. Welcome to Hai Phong. Again we are
herded off the bus to stand on a pier. There were small passenger ferries tied up. After about 20 minutes we were again moved to action with cries of “bot, bot”. We piled our bags on the deck and took cover inside. The seats were a little more comfortable but lacked legroom. Forty-five minutes later we reached Catba Island and disembarked. The village sure didn’t look like the pictures. A more polite driver beckoned us to board another bus. Again, we had to store our own luggage. We got on the bus to begin the last leg of the journey. The bus wound its way, up and down, through the tall, steep karsk mountains.
With much hissing of air brakes, we arrived in Catba. For a reputed party town, the place was deserted. A few scooters buzzed along the four lane main drag was all there was. The harbour itself was very active with small fishing craft. The backdrop of steep mountains is beautiful.
Our hotel, the Sea Pearl (seapearlcatbahotel.com.vn), is the second largest in the town. By the size of the lobby, it can accommodated a couple of tour buses. This proves to be the case as
it’s main clientele are Chinese tour buses. When I request a change from the ninth to the tried floor, the receptionist says that it is for Chinese and very noisy. Still, it doesn’t seem that there are more than a dozen rooms booked, given the number of people at breakfast the next day.
The room is spacious and has all the amenities except tea. Not to worry, as I always travel with my own. This bag I had picked up in a market up north a few days earlier. After a shower and a short nap, we go out to find a post office, batteries and to scout out a place for supper. I had researched 3 likely places earlier in the day.
The first we found was The Bamboo Café. We went a little further to complete our to do list and sped off at a small bar for a beer. While looking around, I found a tea merchant with huge hundred pound bags of fresh tea. After a smell and taste, I made my choice and reached for a pre-packaged bag. The lady insisted I take fresh tea that she ladled into a bag for me.
Cat Ba harbour
A hundred grams cost me 35 cents.
We didn’t find the other two restos I had earmarked so headed back to the one we had found. (bamboocafevn.com) A great meal. Their spring rolls are crispy and packed full of flavourful veggies and herbs. The garlic butter squid was fresh and cooked to perfection. The ginger vegetables were not overcooked. The beer was cheap and service exceptional.
We returned to our room with full bellies and in a better mood than the one we arrived in.
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