Edit Blog Post
Published: October 24th 2014
In our quiet time in Hanoi Carol had been checking out options for the three days that we had originally put aside for Halong Bay. This area features prominently in the reviews for this part of Vietnam. Key features are coastal, many limestone islands and pinnacles, served by a vast range of boats of all sizes (and conditions). Some of the reviews mentioned that the area is almost at capacity with the number of vessels on the move, which are in a sense beginning to spoil the natural environment that they are there to experience. So, we opted out of Halong Bay and into Cat Ba Island. Essentially the same beautiful landscape, but as yet, less exploited. After a bit of good old Googling Carol found Blue Swimmer Adventures. Presented as an Eco friendly outfit, focusing on exploring under your own steam rather than powered by smelly, noisy diesel engine. Blue Swimmer helped us organise getting to the Island, thank goodness. A two hour bus trip to Haphong, a majorly industrial city on the North East Coast, followed by a transfer to another smaller bus that took us to the ferry port, then ferry, then another bus to Cat Ba town.
Once there Blue Swimmer met us, stuck us each on the back of a moped and whisked us off to their base. All that took about 5 hours. Once there though all became quite relaxed. Henri took us through the three day programme and of course extracted money. The final bit of powered transport, a bamboo boat, took us out to Nam Cat Island, which was our base for the three days. The journey out took us amongst beautiful tropical islands and less beautiful ( but totally functional) floating fishing villages. Our accommodation was in a small beach resort, sandwiched in a narrow sandy bay with steep limestone cliffs behind. The room was a wooden hut with bamboo roof. It did have toilet, shower and two fans, so all was well.
It was a case of dump bags, change kit and off we go. Thang, our guide did a brilliant job of keeping us very busy. Our first venture out was in the kayaks. A three hour paddle, just to abuse those muscles that had been lying dormant for a while. The sea was like a mill pond, almost ripple free. During our trip we moved between the small
Kayak, cycle, trek- all to get these views of Halong Bay.
islands, there are over 300 in the section of coastline. The islands are very sparse, almost vertical from the waterline up, with some vegetation, but not that much. The effect is beautiful. Apart from the islands, attention gets taken by the swooping sea eagles above and by the shoals of jumping fish that appear from time to time, leaping into the air in an attempt to escape their predators, bigger fish giving them a good old chase.
Back at the accommodation the evening meal provided was a pretty hefty BBQ buffet, all included in the trip price. Bed by 8.00pm, sleeping right through to 7.00 the following morning.
After breakfast we were away by 8.30. Thang had us on a schedule today. First bit was 2 1/2 hours kayaking. Again passing lots of islands and some floating fishing dwellings, more isolated rather than clustered in a village. It must be a simple but hard life for the folk. All of the time spent out on the sea, apart from taking the catch to market. The "houses" appear to be nothing more than shacks, supported above the water by blocks of polystyrene and or oil drums, modern replacements for the original bamboo rafts. We saw the odd dwelling supported on a concrete barge - ugly looking things.
That got us back to Cat Ba Island, to a landing just on the edge of the Cat Ba National Park. After clambering up the rocks, Thang got us our bikes from the National Park office. Only a five km trip to Viet Hai village. most of the route was on concrete roads, part of which get totally submerged in the rainy season. Until 40 years ago this village had been so remote to have been unheard of in the outside world. In a very short space of time it has gone from a totally remote rural settlement with nothing but agriculture, giving a subsistence living, to a relatively well off village providing for tourists. From there we headed out into the jungle to climb to the highest point, Navy Peak, at 268 metres. Not a massive ascent, but very steep and rugged, so lots of sweating! At the top the views were wonderful, looking right across Halong Bay, with Halong City itself just about visible. Once down, lunch was in one of the tourist lodges, very nice too.
So, in the post lunch lull, instead of a nice slumber, we got back on the bikes, then in the Kayaks and headed back to Nam Cat island. Navigating back was pretty straightforward, just head into the setting Sun, beautiful it was too. Arriving back at dusk gave us just enough time to have a swim in the balmy, warm waters just outside of our room. Food, bed, sleep.
Before we knew it Thang was banging on our door, very excited. The wind had picked up just enough to allow us to try using the catamaran to get back to Cat Ba. So a rushed breakfast, stick our minimal stuff in a dry bag and off we go. Well the wind had picked up, just. Progress on the water was slow to backwards. I think the nautical phrase is becalmed. It was good that Thang had been joined by a fellow Blue Swimmer, sadly there was some paddling to do, which as paying guests we didn't have to join in With. Three hours later we eased back into port. Not quite the exciting morning we had hoped for, but that's nature for you!
One more excellent lunch then return to Hanoi. The high point of that was hitting Hanoi at peak evening traffic time. Driving through the city at that time was amazing, it was like one of those Japanese game shows where contestants are given something incredibly dangerous or bizarre to do. Thankfully the driver was a winner and got us back to the old quarter safe and sound.
Our original hotel, The Hanoi Legacy, had been brilliant and not only allowed us to move our booking around, but had also babysat our bags for the three days. Well rested our next stop off is Vientiane, Laos.
Tot: 3.112s; Tpl: 0.032s; cc: 11; qc: 51; dbt: 0.0331s; 3; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb