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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Sojourn in the North: Ninh Binh, Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 23 December 2009 | Views [1535] | Comments [1]

We departed Hue slightly wet but in good spirits, and boarded the 12 hour night bus to our next destination, Ninh Binh. What 'night bus' entailed was anyone's guess, but we were slightly skeptical having paid only $10 each. We were pleasantly surprised when we were allocated our own double sleeping berth to cuddle up in for the journey (and felt slightly smug when the Irish boys sitting in front of us were forced to move to seats, despite their protests that they'd paid $25...as you can imagine there were many utterances of "fook"). 

We arrived at Ninh Binh at 6 am and were shocked at the huge difference in temperature...my visions of swanning around Halong Bay sipping a cocktail in a bikini were quickly shattered when we stepped off the bus into the ice cold dawn! Luckily there was a hotel tout ready and waiting to pounce, which for once we were grateful for. We were whisked off to a Tang (level) 5 love nest to sleep off our previous night's journey - a great view of the town from our balcony, but lots of steps! In total we were in Ninh Binh for 3 days, but poor old Jack was fluey again so the first 2 were spent recovering and relaxing, with some non-taxing walks around town and excursions to sample the local culinary delights - the town specialty was goat, but we also chowed down on eel, wild boar and venison (the menu was huge and included frog and turtle...but we felt too guilty). One night we decided to treat ourselves to duck. We were slightly disappointed - it was cold and kinda rubbery (altogether not up to J's birthday fare), and some strange textures experienced by Jack turned out to be the result of the fact that he was eating the duck's HEAD - yep, eyes, teeth and the lot - keryummmmmooo! Upon Jack's recovery we rented a bike to check out some of the sights. The countryside surrounding Ninh Binh is beautiful - craggy mountains, rivers and rice paddies galore! First up we hired a boat and paddler to row us down the Ngo Dong River and through caves around Tam Coc. The scenery was stunning and we kicked ourselves for forgetting Jack's camera. Most memorably, wild goats were perched precariously on the limestone crags rising out of the rice paddies. We took a small detour to check out a nearby pagoda, then continued on to Mua Cave, where we climbed 500 steps (!) to the top of a mountain to check out amazing views of the landscape below. This little experience not only afforded us some great photo opportunities but also helped me to formulate my new years resolution: renew my gym membership, fast.

From Ninh Binh it was northeast to the coast by bus, followed by a freekin freezing 2 hour boat trip from Haiphong to Cat Ba, Halong Bay's largest island. Cat Ba Town is a cool little strip of buildings set against a dramatic backdrop of rugged limestone cliffs. The island itself was much less populated and more desolate than we had imagined. On day 1 we did a motorbike trip along the coastal road to the far side of the island. Day 2 was spent at Cat Ba National Park, doing a short trek to the top of another mountain (yay mountains) where we climbed an extremely high/rusty/rickety observation tower for some views. The enjoyment of this experience was somewhat diminished by my knee shaking spew stirring fear of heights (aggravated by Jack jumping on the boards, pretending to fall over the side etc.) and the fact that it was packed with boat tour tourists who were mostly very lame. A highlight of Cat Ba was an expensive (by Vietnamese standards) but decadent restaurant, the Green Mango, where we splurged for 2/3 nights (and we went for dessert on the third!) We justified this extravagant behaviour by it being Christmas and by the fact we will soon be in much less developed Laos. Menu highlights included chocolate fondant and 12 year old whiskey :) Yessss I know I talk too much about food but I am highly enjoying travelling on my stomach so please bear with me!

As previously mentioned, our Christmas was spent on a 3 day/2 night private junk tour on Vietnam's famous Halong Bay. The Bay is truly a wonder of the world, with hundreds of seemingly gravity-defying limestone karsts jutting up out of the ocean. A must see for any trip to Vietnam! As soon as we boarded the boat and were settling down for some serious on-deck relaxation, our guide, Victor, informed us he was Christian and promply hooked his USB drive up to its speaker and began blaring religious songs across the peaceful silence of the bay. For any Ursulas girls/Brendans boys reading, the playlist featured Shine Jesus Shine - which I will always remember as the soundtrack to my Halong Bay experience. There was also a really good one about being redeemed and rejoicing in the lord, which was stuck in our heads every night when we went to bed. The only non-Christian song on the playlist was 'If you had my Love' by Jennifer Lopez.

The highlight of our tour was the opportunity for Jack to go deep water soloing (AKA 'psycho bouldering'). For the uninitiated, this is rock climbing up massive cliffs with no ropes and then falling/jumping into water deep enough so that you don't die. Some people's idea of fun! Needless to say I was very freaked out by my mere observation of this insanity, but Jack enjoyed himself and did not break his back/drown/get chopped up by oysters. Please refer to pics! We also did a fair bit of kayaking through caves, to private beaches and hidden lagoons (note re: new years resolution: avoid rowing machine), a small amount of swimming (it was friggen cold) and a few excursions to caves on some of the larger islands (in one of which we almost stood on a snake in the dark..."yes yes, very poisonous"). Nights were spent struggling through huge fresh seafood feasts (they caught and killed the fish before our eyes - no chance of food poisoning out there!), drinking glass after glass of carton Dalat red that Victor kept plying us with, lying on the boat of the roof star gazing, seeing my first phosphoresence over the side of the boat (and in the toilet water!), and of course, rocking out with Jesus.

We are now in Hanoi getting our land legs back (feeling a little funky) and loving it! Plan is to relax for a few days and then begin heading northwest for our Laos border crossing. Internet may be a little scarce on the other side so we will update you all when we can! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas - we missed you - and is safe, happy and well.

Lots of love, springrolls and conical hats,

Tess & Jack xoxoxo




Laughed and laughed....Thanks Tessa!!! Yep we are back home, the grass has grown and lots of mowin' to be done.

K & J

  K & J Jan 2, 2010 10:25 PM

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