Written by GerryStaysFree on 21 Jul, 2004
Cat Ba Island – After a full day on the road and on water since 7am from Hanoi, to say we were exhausted was putting it mildly. With the assistance of our tour guide our group checked into a hotel in the town centre. We…Read More
Cat Ba Island – After a full day on the road and on water since 7am from Hanoi, to say we were exhausted was putting it mildly. With the assistance of our tour guide our group checked into a hotel in the town centre. We had to climb six floors to our room. The room has no air-conditioning, came with a fan. At least the room has a private bathroom, even though it is of the usual style (i.e., a ‘wet’ bathroom - when one has a shower, almost every space in that bathroom becomes wet). Despite being tired and missing our usual mod-cons, we had one of the most beautiful views from the hotel balcony - of a little cove, swarmed with fishing boats. I was so captivated by the beautiful view that I forgot to take a photo!
First night on Cat Ba, we had dinner at the restaurant below the hotel. Meal fare was simple but delicious, though admittedly hunger does tend to make food tastier than usual. At night, the town centre of Cat Ba waterfront was brightly lit by strings of coloured lights, making it seems like a festival was going on. After dinner, we elected to stroll along this street, and not surprisingly, even in this isolated place, we were approached by many proposals to purchase things, namely postcards. This time though most of the peddlers were kids, not older than 12 years old. Very glib, reasonably well spoken in simple English and certainly entrepreneurial. One wonders if they have any childhood at all - at their young age they were already aiming to survive, and monetary value is already important to them. Looking at them trying so hard, we agreed that we are very lucky to have had a carefree childhood. Knowing this, I guess we were subconsciously more tolerant of the children’s antics and attempts at selling us stuff. We even had a few banters with them, which amused us endlessly. Later we checked out a nightclub located behind the main strip. Well … Ibiza, it certainly wasn't. Couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We went back to the main drag – hardly anything was happening after 11pm. Heard from fellow travellers that a couple of doors down from our hotel there was a pub run by a Kiwi guy, so off we went for a few drinks before we retired for the night.
Second day on Cat Ba, got up for breakfast, said goodbye to some newfound friends as they returned to Hanoi, while a few of us went on with our tour guide to explore the Cat Ba National Park. Jumped into a coach which dropped us off at the gate of the Park. Took us an hour and a half of leisurely hike up the hill. I have to say that it was peaceful at the top of the hill. I think most travellers have seen more impressive views than this; still, no matter, we did something … and felt some ‘peaceful’ moments. Back to the hotel for a spot of lunch. From here onwards, a drama unfolded.
We were convinced that we could kayak in the afternoon or go to Monkey Island as a choice. Sure it was a choice, except we found out we had to pay extra on top of our package deal. When we whipped out the brochure of what we’d paid for, the tour guide said the brochure was "wrong." Now if that didn’t mean we were ripped off, I didn’t know what it was! We spent half an hour trying to convince him, but he didn’t budge an inch. With resignation, the four of us decided to pay for something to do that afternoon, as we had another night in Cat Ba. We had to pay 200,000 dong (equivalent to USD13) to charter a boat, which was a lot of money in Vietnamese real monetary terms. We thought we could find a boat from the wharf nearby which could drop us off at the island itself. But no, we walked around for a bit in the baking sun and eventually walked back to our tour guide and asked for assistance. Found out that we had to personally arrange for transportation. When asked what time we should return, tour guide said "anytime"; and then when asked what time is dinner, tour guide said "7 at night." How contradictory was that!?! If you were at this conversation, wouldn’t you be frustrated? Anyway, he tried our patience one more time – just when we were about to board our chartered boat (which incidentally is a houseboat where the whole family of five came with us), our tour guide said, "It will be 5000 dong to step on the Monkey Island." Were we amazed at the audacity of our guide to feed us drips of information – which was not good news at all. Later we found out from one of the kids (whose dad was "piloting/driving?" the boat) that "Vietnamese pay 5000 dong, no Vietnamese pay 7000 dong." Geeezzzz. Thank God for the awesome scenery on the way to the Monkey Island! Made it easy to accept that this is all part of travelling to far-flung places, thus everything else in life becomes trivial.
Nearing the shore of the Monkey Island, we were rowed across in a small boat. The beach was beautiful, certainly worth the aggravation we had to get here. We couldn’t wait to cool off with a dip in the sea. Well, we did pay the beach guard our 7000 dong per person. Then had to pay 1000 dong to have a beach umbrella. Like I said before – it is all very entrepreneurial in this part of the world. The beach was not crowded at all, which was a huge plus. In a little while we noticed the monkeys appearing at the edge of the beach, and some people were snapping away with their cameras and literally teasing the monkeys. It was like a circus! Somehow the monkeys got onto a floating rubber ring and the circus crowd followed. Poor monkeys were trying to stay afloat – one kept on falling off into the water, the other tried to steady the ring for the fallen one to climb back up!!!! In the end both fell into the water, and both climbed back up … Sure, there were a few laughs from the crowd, and I must admit, me included.
That night at dinner, we met up with a couple of Danish guys. The guys were with us when we hiked in the National Park. We had a hilarious time recounting the frustrations of our afternoon and the way things were done in this place. We were so ravenous after a morning of hiking and an afternoon at the beach, that we literally gobbled up all the food. When we asked for a refill (we were supposed to have free refills), we were told the food was "finished" (ran out). After delivering that announcement, the waiter promptly turned his back on us and passed a menu to a couple of newly arrived customers. We were stunned and furious. We even offered to pay for more dishes, but somehow either he didn’t understand or refused to entertain us - we were ignored. Sat there stewing for a few minutes, then waved down another passing waiter and tried our luck. As it was, we certainly did not have a problem with this waiter. Well!
Second night at Ca Ba – we found a cosy bar which had a pool table and simply played pool till 2am and drank the night away! An early start the next day, saw the six of us hung over and wrung out, having breakfast of a bread bun with cheese spread and a banana. Coffee was black and too sweet … tea was free but cost 5000 dong with added milk (condensed milk). We piled into a bus going towards the main wharf to board our cruise boat, which took us to Ha Long City for lunch, and then boarded a minivan back to Hanoi. The entire journey from Cat Ba to Hanoi took 7 hours.
Written by Composthp on 29 Apr, 2002
We took the local ferry from Catba Island to Hai Phong. Not a day sooner too for a typhoon was forcast to sweep itself past Catba Island the next day. Already, the clouds looked threatening and strong winds were making its presence known throughout the…Read More
We took the local ferry from Catba Island to Hai Phong. Not a day sooner too for a typhoon was forcast to sweep itself past Catba Island the next day. Already, the clouds looked threatening and strong winds were making its presence known throughout the island. The ferry was slow and uncomfortable for the seats were hard-wooden benches. It took about 4 hours to reach Hai Phong, the 4th largest city in Vietnam.
I watched the waters turned from a beautiful emerald to a murky yellow as we left Catba island and Halong Bay. The only entertainment aboard was a tiny 14-inch television set on a local channel. It was screening a local comedy programme and we were introduced to Vietnam's top comedian/mime. It was fairly funny despite the language barrier. Comedy, it seems, holds no barriers. The themes were universal...the poor hen-pecked husband, the cheating boyfriend that got caught etc.
We arrived at Hai Phong jetty at mid-afternoon. The jetty was crowded and we were warned to hold on tight to our belongings for there were pickpockets about. We waded through the crowd and hopped onto a taxi who drove through the mad traffic that is typical of Vietnam. Hai Phong seemed like a dirty, dusty and noisy place, and we were glad that we were not staying.
Arrived at a bus terminal and hopped into a mini-bus that was really a van converted. In all, about 20 of us squeezed into that bus headed for Hanoi, about an two hours away. It was after office hours and the roads were jammed. Our guide chose this time to teach us the Vietnamese language. Everyone listened avidly at our clumsy attempts, the Vietnamese language is not an easy language to master.
Finally arrived in Hanoi but no rest in sight for we were scheduled to watch the Water puppet theatre. Fortunately, the transportation was more comfortable this time: our very own impported made-in-Japan toyota car.
Written by HiramAbif on 25 Dec, 2005
One of the amazing sights of Halong Bay are the houses on the water. The photos below are evidence of their existence. Whole communities exist on houses built away from the coastline on shallow wooden platforms and linked with the outside world with their fishing…Read More
One of the amazing sights of Halong Bay are the houses on the water. The photos below are evidence of their existence. Whole communities exist on houses built away from the coastline on shallow wooden platforms and linked with the outside world with their fishing boats. It is almost inconceivable that someone would erect a house on a wooden platform in the open sea, almost as inconceivable as building castles in the beach sand and hoping they would last. The first wave would erase the castle, and similarly, the first proper wave would sink a house like the ones in the photos below. The secret is that the waters of Halong Bay are ALWAYS calm, with the sole disturbance being the ripple wave effect from passing boat traffic. And let’s face it, who would not like to open his door and windows in the morning and find himself surrounded by the calm, magical emerald sea waters of Halong Bay? It is my opinion that this lack of experience of large waves and rough seas misled the Vietnamese Boat people in the '80s who ventured in the open seas aiming to reach Hong Kong. Thousands drowned when their flimsy boats were hit by large waves. Close
Written by GerryStaysFree on 16 Jul, 2004
Three hours cramped into a mini van, we arrived at the coast where Ha Long City nestled. Had a simple but yummy lunch (part of the tour package) in one of the restaurants. Meals looked like prepared en-masse. Made some cool new friends from…Read More
Three hours cramped into a mini van, we arrived at the coast where Ha Long City nestled. Had a simple but yummy lunch (part of the tour package) in one of the restaurants. Meals looked like prepared en-masse. Made some cool new friends from Australia who were also in the same minivan with us. Off to the harbour and waited for our cruise to take us out to the bay. We even managed to purchase a cheap 1.5litre of beer for 10,000 dong (cold local draught beer drawn into an empty mineral water bottle). Yep, we can stop imagining how dirty the bottle could have been.
Ha Long Bay – We were lucky to have a brilliant sunshine on this part of our trip, so different from our stay in Hanoi. Water was deep green and turquoise, constantly shimmering in the sun. Here and there, were colourful boats and jungs taking tourists like us for a ‘spin’. With new friends, we settled indoors on one of the benches with tables, drinking beer out of miniature chinese teacups (either that or drink beer out of the mineral water bottle, errr, better not) and watching one ‘island’ passed by after another. Apparently Ha Long Bay is famous for its limestone rocks (popularly called ‘islands’) rising out of the water, dotted around its bay. I must admit that I was suitably impressed, better still was its glorious sunset with the rocks creating a dark, fearsome yet fascinating backdrop. Definitely a photographer’s dream ….
We checked out a couple of limestone caves. In my opinion, this part of the cruise was rather boring, frankly it was a bit tacky. The first cave we went to actually had colourful spotlights on. I realised that for security reasons lights are important in caves, and maybe to heighten the effect of the stalactites and stalagmites, but coloured lights???? As for the second cave – I couldn’t even remember what it was like. Just to show how unimpressed I was.
And so our boat moved on and in the late afternoon, with the sun baking hot we moored somewhere in the bay for half an hour. This was where the daring and the adventurous jumped off the boat into the cool water for a short dip/swim/tread water??!!! I know I loved every moment of that experience!
In the middle of nowhere, out popped a few women rowing their boats selling fruits and vegies to tourists on the cruises ... aren't they just so picturesque against the backdrop of beautiful limestone islands?
Written by hanglt on 23 Dec, 2009
I have been to Halong many times since childhood but the most unforgettable trip there with me is on Halong Phoenix Cruiser. I had the tour months ago but still, memories are fresh. My friend and I were the first to get on the bus,…Read More
I have been to Halong many times since childhood but the most unforgettable trip there with me is on Halong Phoenix Cruiser. I had the tour months ago but still, memories are fresh. My friend and I were the first to get on the bus, we went around the Old Quarter to pick up all the tourists. There were 9 people from America, Switzerland, France, German, and England. We were the only 2 Vietnamese girls on that tour. It took us 4 hours to arrive at Halong and stepped on the junk by noon. My first impression was that it looked ancient like the junks in Chinese movies but more luxurious. Soon after check in, we were served lunch with drink and fruit for dessert. I was starved, the food was abundant and very tasty: seafood, pork, tuna, chicken…also had a special menu for vegetarians. I really enjoyed the seafood. So delicious! In the afternoon, we visited Sung Sot Cave. Needless to say, the Cave is magnificent. After so many times, I still was totally impressed by its breathtaking beauty. Then we went kayaking. I was specially accompanied by the tour guide who was really good at rowing. I think he should sign up for a rowing contest. We went through a tunnel-like cave into a lagoon surrounded by mountains. Every sound seemed quiet down, we heard our voice echo around and saw a lot of fish in the clear water. After that, we head back to the junk. Some tourists went swimming; some enjoyed the sun-set party on the deck. We had great time together at night singing karaoke. The tour guide turned out to be a good singer, too. He talked so much. He told us some interesting places to go in Hanoi. I slept sound with a thick blanket because of feeling rather cold that night. There were not many activities next morning, some people moved to the small boat to reach Cat Ba island for another day. The rest of us sailed through the floating village, had lunch then headed back to the dry land. I so regret not booking 3D/2N tour for more time. People say Cat Ba island is a great part. One thing that slightly annoyed me was I had to pay for drinking on board and it wasn’t cheap at all. I think next time I will bring my own water. Close
Written by chinhnguyen1976 on 17 Oct, 2009
We had a wonderful trips in Halong Bay this March on the junk called Jasmine. The room is spacious as 4-star superior hotel room, some even with the balcony and chairs. I could not imagines how they have very shiny and spacious wooden boat like…Read More
We had a wonderful trips in Halong Bay this March on the junk called Jasmine. The room is spacious as 4-star superior hotel room, some even with the balcony and chairs. I could not imagines how they have very shiny and spacious wooden boat like that. The staffs were very friendly and talents with decorations of flowers made them self from carrots. The food was a bit two much for the old people but we were not complaining at all. The bay is exceptional. I had unforgetable memories in my life. I would come back again on that junk. Thanks to Indochina Travel Services who book that junk for ushttp://www.indochinatravelservice.com/Vietnam/Vietnam_Cruises/Halong_Jasmine_Cruises.aspxFrancois - from Lion, France Close