15.10.2016 - 17.10.2016
With just a backpack the journey to Cat Ba started with the overnight sleeper train back from to Lao Cai to Hanoi - this one wasn't as good as a cabin/beds were positioned over the carriage wheels resulting in a very noisy and disturbed night.
On arrival at Hanoi station we were to be met by our driver for the 2 1/2hr trip to Haiphong, however we didn't realise there were multiple station entrances/exits and we were waiting at one whilst he was at another. Eventually we found each other and set off on our road trip which turned out to be a little longer than expected due to a massive traffic jam caused by a farmers protest blocking the road and as a result we only just made it to the ferry station and into the hydrofoil to take us on the 50 min journey to Cat Ba. On arrival we were met by Houng (our tour guide who sent us off for much needed coffee and breakfast before boarding Dai Duong 09, the name of the boat which would be our home for the next 2 days.
Loved loved loved the overnight boat tour- everything about it was awesome. We were upgraded from the original boat we had booked, which had looked great, but this one was wonderful with a large upper deck with dining table and sun loungers and individual ensuite cabins which contained a double and single bed and big windows to take in the views and we lay in bed at night with the curtains and window open to sleep by the moonlight and take in the views.
Whilst in Hanoi we had met a Russian named Yuri who said the landscape was "just amazing", and he wasn't wrong. Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site containing over 3000 limestone islands rising from emerald green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
The weather was also a highlight because it was overcast and raining when we arrived on Cat Ba, but when we boarded the boat the rain and stopped and soon the sun was shining.
The rushed journey from Hanoi to Cat Ba with no opportunity for a toilet stop, or grab a coffee or something to eat.
On the sleeper train to get cabins/beds in the middle of the carriage as they are quieter than those at the end which are over the wheels.
We choose an overnight boat tour from Cat Ba rather than Halong Bay as it was quieter and less touristy. We headed initially into Lan Ha Bay passing floating villages - each home with their own fish farm and dogs to ward off the birds, and stopped at one to buy fish for dinner. We then moved on to Halong Bay where we anchored for the night having stopped off a few times to swim and kayak through caves into beautiful lagoons and there were lots of opportunities to just chill and soak up the sun.
The second day started watching the sun rise over the islands, and after breakfast we headed off for more kayaking through caves and lagoons. Then onto a deserted beach to kayak, swim, snorkel and just chill before lunch, with more of the same after lunch. The beach had a cave with a small temple in it, and as we waded in the shallow waters we were surrounded by lots of small fish nibbling our feet.
After an afternoon of relaxing we docked at 5pm and was escorted to our hotel for the night, and after dropping of our bags headed out to explore the town.
Eating and drinking:
Before boarding the boat we had breakfast at The Green Mango, at the suggestion of the tour operator, and provided mainly western food which was quite pricy but OK and much needed at that point.
All meals were provided on the boat and included fresh fish and seafood. Lunch consisted of cockles, large prawns, calamari, stir fried peppered beef and rice, followed by fresh lychee. Dinner was marinated oysters, crumbed fish bites, spring rolls, whole fish, stir fried tofu, stir fried morning glory and rice followed by watermelon. Breakfast was fried egg and toast, pancakes with banana and honey, yogurt and apple. Our second lunch provided another whole fish, calamari, stir fried pepper chicken, crispy pork, stir fried veg, calamari and rice followed by something resembling a nasi pear. Snacks of mandarins and prawn crackers were served during the day.
The boat provided water, tea and coffee and had soft drink, bear and wine available to purchase or allowed BYO for a corkage fee.
Bahia cafe in Cat Ba had great strong smooth Vietnamese coffee but the egg coffee, whilst tasting good, wasn't as thick and creamy as the one at Dinh cafe Hanoi and more than double the price. We returned the next day for another coffee and banana pancake before heading for the boat and return trip to Hanoi, and their Vietnamese coffee is certainly what they do best.
Dai Duong 09 The boat was our home for 1 night and was just awesome with its large double bed next to full length windows providing the most amazing views
Nam Phuong Hotel- basic back packer hotel. The bed and pillow were hard, but the room had air con, a fan and great views of Cat Ba bay and for just one night it was adequate. The rock face created the rear wall of the corridors on each floor and the top floor provided the most amazing panoramic views of the bay.
Boat Tour: http://www.catbaventures.com/