When the bus arrived at Hai Phong bus terminal, a tout boarded and offered a bus to the ferry terminal then a ferry to Cat Ba town, which we were told was a short walk from our hotel. At $9 each, we thought it was a good deal, they also looked after our luggage for a couple of hours before the boat departed. The hard bagaining Spanish girls were holding out for a better deal. The 45 minute ferry ride to Cat Ba was not so spectacular, it was raining and there were views only of Hai Phong's enormous docklands. The ferry stopped at the terminal and everyone got off, it didn't look like Cat Ba town's port so we stayed on. We had been told that the ferry would take us to the port. Slight bit of misinformation, we had to then take a bus with the other ferry passengers to Cat Ba town. This was actually quite a pleasant ride, through the island's interior and past the national park. We got a glimpse of some of the island's attractions on the way. The bus arrived at Cat Ba promenade, which was eerily empty - no cars and few motorbikes. It was a few hundred metres to our hotel Hai Long. Lovely room with sea view and balcony - although it was pretty misty and drizzly outside. Cat Ba was a bit strange out of season, the main port road was empty, dogs slept in the middle of the dual carriageway. The hotels were great value - our's was only £10.76 per night including breakfast, but the food at the nearby restaurants was hugely overpriced and poor quality. The only place worth eating at was a small cafe/bakery called Family Bakery. They did great cakes and tuna and BLT baguettes. We also had two for one cocktails at a laid-back backpacker place called The Good Bar - which had great music. They also let you choose your own playlist from You Tube - Paul treated everyone with Foals' album. We sulked a bit, though when one of the bar dudes invited everyone in the bar except us to a rock climbing party. Do we not look like young, happening, cool, adventure seekers? Er.. well.. probably not.
The weather was lovely the next morning, so we set out to walk along the coastal path to the three beaches, each set in their own private bay. It felt great after Ninh Binh's rain and mud to walk in the sun and cool breeze and listen to the waves crashing on empty shores. I felt at one with the world again. Each of the beaches, was actually a hotel resort - we were the only ones there as the photos will show. Cat Ba town was also nice to walk around - a huge landscaped promenade lined the port and the lack of traffic and noise was blissful. People travel to Cat Ba island (the biggest island in Ha Long bay), as the boat trips to Ha Long are way cheaper. There are also opportunities to do some hiking, climbing and deep water solos - which is climbing up a steep karst then jumping into the ocean below. We booked a sedate all day boat trip to both the Lan Ha and Ha Long archipelago, which included a slow cruise round the islands, kayaking and swimming. It was a little bit more expensive than some other trips at $31USD each, but Cat Ba Ventures was highly rated on Tripadvisor.
It was a cloudy morning setting off in the bus to the port, we took a sea taxi to the tour boat which had been moored overnight in Lan Ha bay. It already had three passengers who had stayed overnight and were enjoying breakfast when we arrived. There were 12 passengers with plenty of room on the boat to relax or chat. Three Australian retirees saved us from feeling too old as the others were in their twenties/early thirties. The crew were friendly, two guides, the captain and the chef. It was a bit cloudy and cool that day, so the views seemed less spectacular. We had a trip to a Me Cung cave, set 25m above water level, we walked up steps to the cave entrance. The cave has been investigated by archaeologists, as discarded sea snail shells evidence that the cave was inhabited by people up to 10,000 years ago. It had the usual stalagmites and stalactites, all lit by different coloured lights, but what was pretty disturbing was that the guides played musical instruments with them, they picked up stones and tapped away regardless of any damage they might do. I also went kayaking, through river caves under the karsts into a lagoon with distant noises in the surrounding jungle of macaques or maybe the protected Cat Ba langurs. It was far too cold for swimming, so we enjoyed the views of the archipelago on the slow ride back. See photos. The weather took a turn for the worst and we had a some rain and mist and drizzle. We still got out in the rain though. On one of the driest days We walked for 3 hours along the island's main road, through the hills to the national park, only to discover that the hikes were 2 hours or 4 hours long and would leave it too late to return. We walked most of the way back before finally picking up a bus. A consolatory ginger tea and tuna baguette at the Family Bakery perked us up again. On a slightly damp day we headed out to follow the Khe Sau to Viet Hai path through the jungle, hopefully to a lake and views out across Lan Ha bay. The path was on Google Maps, just past a commune. The guy at Cat Ba ventures said it was a path only the locals knew about and was quite tough. It was a mud path around one foot wide it led to a slippy rock path. steeply climbing uphill. I twisted my dodgy ankle yet again, but carried on. We slipped around 60 metres uphill, then practically slid down boulder path on the other side. Paul pointed out that according to Google Maps we would have another 5kms of similar terrain and it was now raining. I suggested we turn back, this was a bit too crazy in these conditions. Another disappointment!
This would be a great little island to explore, with the weather on your side. But we can't wait for better weather it's time to head off in search of new adventures - Vietnam's capital Hanoi next.