We decided to get out of Hanoi for a while and go to Cat Ba Island in the Gulf of Tonkin, in the South China Sea and take a tour of Halong Bay. Cat Ba is largest island of the Ha Long Bay islands. One of 1600+. We took a bus ride from the bus terminal in Hanoi on Tuesday and met some delightful Australian girls names Gabrielle and Natalie and struck up a conversation most of the way. The ride to Hai Phong was about 2 hours or more, then a 30 minute ferry ride. The captain invited Shelly and I and another couple to sit on the bow of the boat while getting out there. The other couple was a guy named Johann and his girlfriend Amrit. They are from San Francisco and are traveling around SE Asia for a few weeks. It was great!
Cat Ba Island From Our Balcony
Cat Ba Island
We arrived at Cat Ba Island and took another bus for about 45 minutes to the city of Cat Ba. The trip was amazing. The entire area has sheer limestone cliffs, and vegetation with an almost jungle like feel. We were pretty tired when we arrived and got a hotel at the Cat Ba Dream Hotel. The rooms were great, and the owner was a nice fella who spoke pretty good English. We really felt good about this place and got a 3rd floor room with a view of Cat Ba bay and the main pier which also boasts a stage and fountains (which were inoperable) Johann and Amrit also got a room at the hotel. We went to eat at a place recommended by Scott and Ashley called the Green Mango. I got the Pad Thai noodles which were incredible, and Shelly got the Seafood Pasta which was also excellent. Just as we were finishing, Gabrielle and Nat showed up and ate dinner and then Johann and Amrit.
We sat and drank beers while talking about everything under the sun. We shared cultural ideas and ignited a friendship. We went to a couple more places that night and decided to keep in touch the next day and meet up again in the morning.
Cat Ba Island
Spa Day In Cat Ba
Day two at Cat Ba we decided to take it easy and have a spa day. I was still getting over my cold/chest thing so we went to the Cat Ba Resort and Shelly got a 90 minute massage while I sat in the sauna and steam room for 90 minutes. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and felt relaxed. Needless to say that the rest of the day was just as relaxing and in the evening we saw Gabrielle and Nat again and decided to go on a Bay cruise the next day with them. As we went back to the hotel after dinner that night, we ran into Johann and Amrit and they said they too had seen Gabrielle and Nat and were invited to go too.
Renting a Junk On Halong Bay
Tour of Halong Bay - Renting a Junk For The Day
Day 3 the 6 of us rented a boat for the day. It was a private cruise / tour where we sat on the deck of an old Junk boat and chugged around the bay. The day was beautiful weather-wise, and we sat talking and enjoying stories while absolutely relaxing in the sun on the deck of this boat. We chugged around for about 3 hours then stopped off at a cave and explored a little then hiked to an amazing vista with 360 degree views of the bay. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 wonders of nature, and from this view we finally understood why... it was nothing short of breath-taking. Maybe that was the climb to the top of the hill that took our breath away... either way it was fantastic! We got back on the boat, at some lunch of fish, rice, egg rolls and cabbage.... not the best meal I have had in Vietnam. We then swam in the green warm waters of an inlet. We dove and jumped off the top deck into the water, floated and some kayaked.
Going To Monkey Island
The water seemed unusually salty. But it was incredible to swim in such a beautiful place and simply float. We loaded up in the boat and went to a place called Monkey Island next. This place was a small island where the Cat Ba monkeys live. They are extremely brave and not afraid of humans at all. We were in the restaurant/ shelter and while sitting there, about 3-5 monkeys came in under the netting that was in place to keep them out. One grabbed a full can of Coca-Cola and drank it as a human would. These monkeys are pretty big, and this monkey downed the entire can, burping along the way. Another grabbed a beer off a table and drank that. They also will steal anything you leave out. One grabbed a t-shirt from some British guy, and if you left anything on the table and weren't paying attention, they will run and challenge you for it. It was as intriguing as it was a little scary. But definitely something you don't see every day. We packed it up, and cruised back to Cat Ba with memories of a lifetime and a slight sunburn.
Heading Back To Cat Ba
Change in Perspective
Halong Bay is amazing! One of the most beautiful places on earth. I am sure the pictures don't do it justice. We came back today on the train which was fun, yet a little loud. It was an old train with little in the way of soundproofing. Brady still managed to get a few winks in however. The train didn't have aircon and only open windows that helped to circulate the hot and humid air with little refreshing qualities. We picked up our motorbike from our friends Scott and Ashley, got a burger, and checked back into the Au Co Hotel.
It's weird how at home we feel here, coming back to Hanoi felt somehow familiar. Home is an interesting concept. How it is we can feel at home in Hanoi, Vietnam? Home is where you feel comfortable. Where you know the place. Know the food, the people, the buildings. This is really unexpected for us to feel this way and realized it felt like we took a weekend vacation instead of traveling in and out of a city. Hanoi has that effect on people we hear. We made some great friends and had a terrific time at Cat Ba and our tour of Halong Bay!