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Terri Halong Bay - Day 2: 29/3/10

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 25 April 2010 | Views [528]

Hotel patio - Cat Ba Island

Hotel patio - Cat Ba Island

Following a request (to the junk’s workers) to put our water and power back on, in order to use our bathroom’s facilities, we climbed upstairs for a very basic and small breakfast of sweet white toast, one wedge of thin omelette, jam and instant coffee. Feeling a little hungry, we returned to our cabin to pack and await our 2 minute cruise to Cat Ba Island. When we touched land we were the only group who didn’t have a minibus ready to take us on our journey. No surprises any more! While waiting I took Nim to the public toilet (at a busy dock) although I had been warned that it was quite unsanitary. We wished we had gone to the bush instead as it looked like the squat toilet (in a room filled with mosquitoes) had never been cleaned and after opening the door with toilet paper on our exit, we feverishly cleansed ourselves with hand gel.

A bus arrived for us and we were guided on but after sitting for a few minutes were told to get off again and take our gear to another larger, more dilapidated vehicle with another group of backpackers. Clearly, a few heads had worked together and realised that our two groups could be put together to save a bit of money. The drive to Cat Ba National Park was pleasant – the vegetation here was a little more natural and lush.  In the middle of a procession of minibuses, filled with tourists who had just departed their junks like us, we paused at the base of a mountainous bush walk within the NP.  We were offered a guide to “take us” on the 800 metre climb to the summit to capture the views of the surrounding mountains.  Some people stayed behind while we leapt in line to commence the “easy” walk.  It was the most sociable, congested bushwalk I’ve ever encountered- it was hilarious really and was yet to become funnier. I was amazed that some people didn’t head back as not everyone was fit and a lot were stopping for lengthy periods to get their breath back. The “easy” 800 m was on a very narrow, un-kept, all up, steep and dangerous track. Looking ahead and behind on the track, you could never see an end to the people.  In our parade, we finally came to a rusty and aged ladder which we climbed to meet the summit. My fear of the kids being knocked over the cliff by the pushing crowds was overtaken by the fear of them needing a tetanus booster. We pushed our way into a position at the peak to attempt to observe the views but the circus of hundreds of  bodies was much more interesting. Vietnamese Tourism is quite often a joke – they just don’t get what the foreign tourist wants to experience which at times is funny and at other times, when you’re looking forward to something unique, is a big letdown. This time, we were able to laugh as we were sure that it was something we would never experience again.  A bonus at the peak was a tower that you could further climb to appreciate the views (of people) even more. The flapping of its corrugated roof turned us off this little adventure and we decided to return to base which involved working against the flow of 1-way traffic , along cliff edges with wobbly rails, as we were not on a loop track! We were quite mischievous and continued back without our guide and group!

Once our minibus was full, we took the short but satisfying trip through the impoverished local villages to Cat Ba Town. It was striking and we immediately realised that something was going right – we were so grateful that we had arrived in paradise instead of spending another night on the miserable and outdated “Discovery Oz”.  Some backpackers were dropped off before us and we were left wondering whether we were going to be taken to something worse or better. We said our Goodbyes to Barney and Ben from Britain who had been a bit of fun on the junk. The Hotel that we were taken to had attentive and lovely staff who listened sympathetically to our tale of being ripped off on this trip. They gave us a lovely, large family room (on the fourth floor) and then presented a lunch that was far superior to that on the junk.  The office worker was also an English Teacher in a local minority Village which we would have loved to visit. We had a great chat with him about schooling, politics and rip off tour operators.

Feeling revived we went exploring and decided to walk out to the three beaches called (in order) Beach One, Beach Three and Beach Two. We were heading for Beach two for a swim although it was still a bit cool. The walk was glorious as the private path embraced the cliffs of the bay and we had the finest views of the karsts yet. The larger and hectic floating village here was also more fascinating as from above you could unobtrusively watch the goings on. We already wished we had more time here and would recommend anyone to come straight here after a day trip only on Halong Bay itself. It sounds romantic to sleep in a cabin on a junk overnight but we felt it was overrated. Alternatively, a direct trip here would be just as fun with the option of organising a cruise from the town out of the Bay. The boys had a quick dip and we enjoyed our walk back. The Lonely Planet says that a chain of ugly concrete hotels has erupted but we liked the feel of the main tourist strip- the hotels were a mix of old and new with character – and some colour – which is often amiss in Vietnam’s tourist decor. It was one of many disagreements with our LP guide which teaches you to use it only as a guide and not as gospel. We had considered coming straight to Cat Ba but because of the negative comments in LP had changed our minds. Oh Well!

 After some drinks on our deck (we had brought some beer and Dalat wine with us that had purchased back on the mainland), we were again provided with delicious food in our hotel. We would have appreciated more time on the Island to indulge in the appealing local cafes and restaurants. Both hotel meals were shared with “Lucy” and Frank from Holland who had been on the junk with us and were also inhabiting the same hotel. They were great company and loved the kids. To bed we went, wishing that we had a lot more time here.

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