The same morning that we arrived in Hanoi after taking the overnight bus from Ha Giang near the Chinese border, my friend and I caught a bus to Cat Ba Island near Ha Long Bay. The guide said that the town on Cat Ba wasn’t pleasing to the eye, but I have to disagree. It’s a nice little town. Sometimes when something you read or hear lowers your expectations it makes the reality is much nicer.
We spent a total of 4 days on the island. The first day we rented a motorbike and went up the hill to a great scenic lookout called Canon Fort. There were huge anti-aircraft guns left over from the war with the United States. The next day we took the motorbike to see some of the beaches on the island, cleverly named Cat Ba 1, 2, and 3. Somehow, Cat Ba 3 is first in proximity to the town, then 1 followed by 2 being the most distant. Cat Ba 2 and 3 are the nicest. We went to the beach in the morning, to find it pleasantly deserted. After a midday nap to escape the overwhelming heat, we went back to the same beach at 4 pm to find it absolutely overrun by Vietnamese weekend vacationers. My hypothesis is that since to the Vietnamese in general being tanned is considered as being ‘low class’, they only came to the beach in the evening when the shade extended far into the water. In fact, I observed them sticking to the areas in the water where the shade was, with only a few venturing into the sunny parts. We took advantage of this by swimming in the sun and getting a slice of the water to ourselves while the sun held out.
We originally went to Cat Ba because we didn’t want to book a tour from Hanoi to see Ha Long Bay. We figured it would be cheaper to see the region from Cat Ba Island instead, and we were right. Instead of seeing Ha Long, we opted to take a tour of neighboring Lan Ha Bay instead. I’m not a big fan of tours. Usually they take you to various sites and lightly pressured to buy things. This tour, however, was great! For $15 each, we got a full day of activities that did not disappoint.
We took a nice ride through the bay on the boat, enjoying the sites. It was only us and about 5 others on the boat. We got dropped off at a boat house and got into a kayak that we took around the cliff islands for 2 hours. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a kayak. We paddled through dark, eerie caves, only to come out the other side to a beautiful, secluded area hidden by the surrounding towering cliffs. At one point, we came through a cave to the other side where there were Langur monkeys jumping from branch to branch on a high cliff above us. We wondered to ourselves how the ended up on this island. I’ve yet to google this conundrum to find the answer. Through the next cave and into another secluded pool, we looked in the water to see dozens of jellyfish swimming all around us. They ranged in size and color, from a soft pink to brownish and from the size of tennis ball to a basketball. We paddled carefully, making sure not to hit any of them. After we made our way back to the boat, we got a nice breakfast with fried veggies, spring rolls and rice. We jumped off the top of the boat a few times into the water and swam a bit.
Next we went to a secluded island to swim. The boat stopped about 50 meters from the shore, and we jumped off the boat and swam with the others, each of us occupying a section of the beach to enjoy. Upon swimming back to the bout I came across a bottle floating in the water, I immediately thought “a message in a bottle”. No.
The boat then took us to Monkey Island. It was a nice little stretch of beach, but other boats had stopped there so there were a couple dozen others. I only saw one monkey. He was running along the beach with someones shiny belongings in one hand that he held close to his chest as he ran. Cheeky little monkey. At about 5 pm we docked back on Cat Ba Island.
Our final day there, we just enjoyed the beaches. The next morning, we took a bus to the dock, where we got a boat through Ha Long Bay to Ha Long city. Ha Long Bay has a bit taller cliffs, but I still enjoyed Lan Ha Bay more where the water is a nicer color and the islands closer together. We got to the city, and took a longer than necessary bus back to Hanoi where I purchased a flight to Bangkok. My time in Vietnam was over. I felt it in my bones. I sold the motorbike, and boarded the plane back to where this trip began almost 4 months ago.