Well after leaving Ninh Binh in a bit of a rush we planned to stay put in Cat Ba for a good few days. Cat Ba is a big Island that sits in and around HaLong bay and LanHa bay, most tourists visiting the bays will be coming on a one or two night boat trip from Hanoi, we were definatly pleased we had decided to stay on the island.
North Vietnam seems to have its own climate and season compared to the south and other countries, whilst the south is basking in high temperatures and clear blue skies, the north is dramatically cooler and extreemly wet, the only thing you will see on a local is a bright coloured poncho, they even sell ones that are big enough and designed to go over the driver of a bike, the front of the bike and any passangers, so they really are prepared for there months of grey and rain. Thank goodness we baught our rain jackets and we have got to use them!
So with it being a wet and grey time of year for the north and Cat Ba it also means that the number of tourists visiting and taking trips on the bay is considerably less that in their summer months, this went in our favour in some ways with our accommidation being really cheap, the hotel we stayed in charges $50 a night during the summer and we had a room for $8! It also meant that the island was a bit of a ghost town, not many people about and not as much going on or as many places open as there probably is in the summer, we didnt mind this though.
On our first full day on the island, after the exciting if not a little stresfull day of travelling, the sun decided to come out, it was the only day mind you but still it was out with clear skies pretty much all day until about 4 when you could litterally watch the mist come creeping in over the bay. Cat Ba is utterly stunning, its made up of so many huge, tall, thick green karsts, they just go on and on as far as your eye can see. These karsts are also surrounding the island, making up LanHa and HaLong bay. We can only imagine that when the sun is out and the sky is blue that a trip around the bay would be even more beautiful, but for us we didnt have sun on our trip, we had grey skies :( it was actually one of the better days we had with no fog, Cat Ba and the bays seem to hang on to this very wet and thick misty fog and so on the days where the fog is in then a trip on the bay would be totally wasted as you could barely see up the road let alone across the bay.
The trip around HaLong took us on a two our sail around the bay, in and out of the huge karsts and then on to some kayaking, this was definatly a highlight for both of us getting to explore the bays and all its caves, although I dont think think Damo was overly thrilled with the prospect of having to sit in a boat on the water with as it now seems one of the most accident prone people around! We actually did pretty well, considering I havn't been in a kayak for at least 16 years, Im actually rather good and it was infact Damo who was making us go round in circles and in the wrong direction....he may say othewise but I know I was a pro! After a lunch of squid and fish and not fork in sight the boat sailed home, along the way we went through a floating fishing village, this was pretty spectacular, a whole village just there floating on the sea! They have made actual houses and then all their fishing nets and stuff surrounding them, like their very own plot of land, i was gob smacked by how many people and dogs there were and how big this village was, it went on as far as you could see. By the time we got back to the bay it had really closed in and we were all feeling pretty wind beaten, cold and rather damp, nothing a scrummy chicken curry and delicious fresh spring rolls cant sort out though!
whilst on the island we decided to get a bike out for the day, with a place like this it seems its the best way to see the island, and boy were we glad we did! The road around the island was pretty empty and was a long winding road that took you in and out, over and around these giant karsts, seeing them from the ground they are so looming and magical. Whilst on our mini road trip there was a nice straight quiet patch of road where I broke my bike virginity, I didnt have much of a choice to be honest with this one nagging me to stop being a chicken and have a go, ha I think he wished he had'nt in the end! I actually didnt do too bad, once I found the brakes that is! I was doing really well until we had to pull up and into a parking space, that didnt happen quite as I had pictured it and we came to a rather abrupt stop, there was a local lady there showing us to a space who actually thought I did very well when I told her it was my first time!
Whilst on our trip we stopped off to see the hospital cave, its a huge old hospital that was built into the cave during the war (I guess the name kind of says it all) now it is just a shell but you can see all the many rooms, big ones that would have been the wards and even a room that was used as a fully operating theatre, there was a guide who had just finished showing a group around and when we walked out he followed and turned all the lights off, if we had missed him he would of turned the lights off with us in there and that would of been really scary because the place had a pretty spooky feel to it anyway and that was with the lights on!
We made friends with a lovely local man called Victor, he owned the place we had breakfast at every day and he loved sitting with us and having a good old chat, he even had Damo show him how to download things onto his computor, all of the locals around here are so friendly, and not just after your money in some way which makes for a nice change.
We really enjoyed our days on Cat Ba, seeing HaLong bay was a very special experience, if not a little soggy! and we love being able to take ourselves off exploring, we much prefer going solo than with a group, you get to see things off the beaten track and at our own pace.
We have also (as most of you already know) decided to go to Malaysia! we were in a predicament with our Thai visa, we either had to pay for an extended visa or do a free visa run to Malaysia and Malaysia won, after a lot of persuading on my part that it would be a good idea. My Damo is not one for much change, when a plan is set he isn't one for quick changes (its a military thing thats set in him, even with 3 months of travelling he is still a stickler for organisation, time keeping and being the sensible one) and so when I suggested going to Malaysia it took him a while to warm up and come round to the idea. We are both really excited about going now, I actually dont know why we didnt have Malasia as an option from the start, but hey ho we are going there now for a whistle stop tour and so we will get some extra days when we re-enter Thailand for the last two weeks of our trip. EXCITED!!!!!!! :)