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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Friday, 09 Mar 2007

Location: Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

MapI've heard raving reports about Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay, so of course I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I woke up in Hanoi to drizzly, cloudy, cool weather--time to bring out the jacket and the long pants again. I checked out of my hotel and headed straight to the bus station on a xe om. Everything went smoothly and I was on a bus to Haiphong city where I would catch a ferry to Cat Ba Island. Everything went smoothly again, and a bus dropped me right in front of a hotel where the manager came out and offered me a room for $5 a night. I could just imagine what this looked like as I paid $10 in Hanoi for a mediocre place. It turns out I got a real deal. Clean, bright, with a bathroom and hot water and seaside view off the balcony. I decided I would be spending a couple of nights here. First day I went wandering, checking things out. Not too many tourists here as the weather was keeping them away.

I was waiting for the weather to clear for Halong Bay, so the next day I decided to rent a motorcycle and tour the island. What a beautiful place. The rain and the clouds among all the green flora on the mountains gave it sort of a mystical feel, so it was all good. Wandered the town again, and stopped to eat and have a few drinks, waiting for some other tourists to pop in--no such luck, so I called it an early night and arranged a tour for Halong Bay the next day.

We were supposed to leave at 8:00 but ended up getting away at 9:30. 2 guys from the Czech Republic also joined the tour. They spoke great English. Halong Bay consists of these huge green hills jutting out of the ocean, some lined with beaches and caves. It was a bit chilly, but the scenery was breathtaking, and I'm sure it would have been all the more so on a sunny, warm day. We stayed on the boat driving for a couple of hours taking in the scenery, and stopping at a couple of caves along the way. These things were huge--no bats though! After the caves we drove back the other way for a bit and then stopped to eat lunch on the boat. The crew cooked us up some tasty fried fish with fried rice, egg, and vegetables. After lunch, we headed to Monkey Island.

I've always wanted to see wild monkeys doing what they do. I don't know what I expected exactly, I guess I thought they'd be more on the friendly side rather than the aggressive--boy was I wrong! We climbed up some rocks and about 6 or 7 monkeys crossed my path. 2 of them stood no more than 2 feet away and gave me the fiercest look I've ever seen, right out of a monkey horror movie (I like to call it the Death Stare). Then they made this awful screech that sounded like a cross between a hiss and a scream and looked as though they were getting ready to attack. I turned around and ran the other way. Turns out a girl behind just had an encounter with one of them. It took her jacket, bit her, then jumped all over her trying to take her camera and other things. She looked a bit shaken. And that was my experience with wild monkeys. I know I'll be seeing more of these little guys in Cambodia and India--wonder if they'll be any different??? We hiked for a bit on the island and went to the other side of the rocks to a beach. Then we headed back to the boat and back to Cat Ba Island. I absolutely recommend Halong Bay, but if I'd known what it was going to be like on a cloudy, cool day, I would have skipped it, so if you ever get there, try and do it in decent weather. On the warm, sunny days, they take you swimming and snorkeling in the turquoise waters.

Got back to the island and managed to find a couple of foreigners in a bar/restaurant. An Australian guy owns this place and opened it 12 years ago. Back then there was nothing--no computers, internet, even electricity. Played pool with one of the locals--a 10 year old boy, who was quite the shark. I won the first game and he the second. He loves to play though, and especially with foreigners, I think. After a few beer and a couple of games of pool, it was back to the hotel to get ready to head out in the morning. Destination--unkown--I would decide once I got to the train station.