Sat in our hanoi hotel we were delivered a superb presentation showcasing all the options for tours of the famous halong bay, all on board spectacular looking new build junks with air con, white linen at dinner & visiting all the must see pinnacles & bays, it all sounded fantastic....if you were a retired American travelling with a dinner jacket
We did However glean some great info from our high pressure encounter prior to letting her down gently, which bays & tunnels the tourists visit most, where the licences allow the tour boats to go & which route they all take
We took onboard the explanations as to what everyone does & suggested we would like to do it independently to which a look of smug satisfaction greeted us as she explained it would be impossible, she could feel her commission getting closer as our options diminished rapidly to just hers
We thanked her greatly & promised to think it through & decide which package would be our choice, then went next door & booked a local bus & ferry to an Island In the general area where we hoped to find our own boat to hipre for s few days
The trip to cat ba was eventful, local busses always are, over sold tickets & isles full of plastic stalls accommodating the excess, a ferry with a similar regard to safe numbers aboard, then another bus rounding corners of jungle clad vallys with great vigor & balance
Now cat ba town is a cross between a Spanish costa with a strip of 8 story hotels as wide an Amsterdam terraces & Blackpool with it's gaudy lights & karaoke bars, each with it's own obligatory hustler waiting to lure any unsuspecting westerner into their world, starting with a 'where you from' it quickly decendes into an offer of anything from 'you want drink' to hotel, bike, massage or happy ending...
$9 a might can buy you a good nights sleep in Vietnam & we took a room close to the centre for a night, then rented a bike & set off to explore the island. With only 3 roads on cat ba exploring is relatively straight forward unless you go off the road again down tracks & paths....oh well we only got a little lost
Tracks cling on to jungle clad shards of rock face soaring 200 meters high, growing from the depths of the sea, switching back & forth as you navigate the coast with scattered islands & pinicals strewn throughout the seascape, it's a wild feast for the senses, birds sing, trees russell with playful monkeys & the scent of lime, lemongrass & cinnamon is ever present
Returning to cat ba town we listened to Asia outdoors nightly meeting discussing what the daily influx of intrepid adventurous arrivals would fancy getting involved in the following day, people power & multiples created groups of like minded individuals arranging rock climbing & kayaking for good prices as the groups got bigger, but we aren't into groups & itineraries so stepped out of the scrum & there on the outside looking in we found ourselves stood with jimmy & Denise who had similarly shyed away from the masses
Over a beer we chatted with our new acquaintances & a like mined plan to escape the production line tourist path on a private hire locals boat was formed, we had a plan & a small secluded office a few doors down delivered us our new vessel, so an intrepid gang of 4 had come together & in the morning the 'impossible to do it alone' trip would begin...without a white tablecloth, retired American or Russian oligarch aboard...