After the mountains in Sa Pa the next stop would be Cat Ba island. But before we could go we had a problem: Our trusty Backpacker Bible -The Lonely Planet, had a long list of all the trouble one would have to go through to get there via Ha Long Bay, with hustlers lining up, busses lacking and no boats running at the corresponding times with other transportation.
Fortunately the company that we were planning to use on arrival, Asia Outdoors, had a detailed guide on how to dodge the hustlers, get on the right bus and skip Ha Long Bay entirely! With the plan saved as a screenshot on my smartphone we hunkered down to eat some street food before setteling in for the 5 hour bus-boat-bus trip to Hai Phong and finally Cat Ba Town.
We had booked accomodations with a family run, combined hair and massage parlour and hotel. The owner was frendly, spoke decent english and showed us to our rooms. The room was on the 5th floor without a view. It had two airconditioners that occationally worked and a combined toilet and shower that you could not adjust. It was as you may suspect, pretty cheap.
The Cat Ba archipelago (love that word) consists of a rather small town centre surrounded by secluded islands and karsts - the limestone peaks standing up from the ocean. It is a great place for both relaxing and being active, which was for us a big plus when we looked it up. We popped by Asia Outdoors on our first day to book a full day of kayaking and rock climbing. We started off at 08:00 the next day on a "junk" boat (they are called that, it was actually s pretty nice boat). Our guide Marcus was a pretty nice guy, with a chill attitude, a body built for climbing and facial hair often seen living in a cardboard box under a bridge.
The Kayaking was pretty awesome although the lack of flexibility in my hip caused my legs to fall asleep after a while. The guides took us for a paddle around a beautiful area called Lan Ha bay. After some initial easy paddeling we were to do some spelunking. They had rescently seen a cave on Google Earth and wanted to check it out. Donning headlamps we headed into the cave to see what came out on the other end. The tide was comming in, making a current that was pushing us fast into the dark cave, while bats was flying around our heads. When we emerged out on the other side some locals had put up a fishing net, trapping us on the verge on entering a private little bay and flipping the Italian guys' kayak.
Wet Italians wishing they was home with mama, an oposing current and a dark cave with sharp rocks was the obstacles facing us before we could return to our boat. The proscess was slow and tiering and on our way back one of the others told us that time was of the essence, since the cave was actually closing shut due to the comming tide slowly filling the entire cave. It took some mighty effort, cool heads and a few shredded hands and feet, but we eventually got back to our boat for some well deserved lunch.
The rest of the day was less dangerous with outdoors rock climbing. Our instructors guided us though awesome routes and varied climbs, securing us with top ropes. Cecilie climbed like a pro and got up many of the more difficult routes, getting praise from instructors and climbers alike. On the same island that we were climbing there was a dark and dank cave that the Viet Cong had used to store bombs duing the American War.
On the boat heading back we both had a well deserved beer, patching up our now even more shredded hands.
More comming soon!