Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cat Ba Island/Halong Bay, Vietnam

Room with a view. For 8 bucks a night!
Cat Ba Town.
A squid fishing boat in the harbor.
Heading out to Lan Ha Bay.

A massive jellyfish washed ashore on Monkey Island.
Bree's nurse instincts kicked in and she spent several hours trying to resuscitate it .

 View from the entrance of Hospital Cave.
Bree gettin' all VC in the cave. "Get outta my ER!"
Corridors of Hospital Cave.
Maybe dangerous!
The view from the road leading up to Cannon Fort.
Vietnam war era artillery on the top of Cannon Fort.
Trenches with ammo crates at Cannon Fort.
Miniature model of Cat Ba Island. 
Officer's quarters, with a uniformed guestbook attendant.
Bree did look over her shoulder after reading the last comment in the guidebook.
Bree struggling with the massive hot pot.

We had a tough time trying to figure our plan for the Halong Bay area. Virtually everything we could find out (guidebooks, internet, etc.) was dominated by tour operators offering some sort of cruise. The cruises varied from luxury junks to pieces of (yeah I did it) junk. None of which we were interested in. Then we read more about Cat Ba Island, which is the largest island in the Halong / Bai Tu Long/ Lan Ha Bay(s) area. It sounded perfect for what we were looking for. So from Hanoi, we took a bus, another bus, a boat and yet another bus to get to Cat Ba. Luckily we only needed to buy 1 ticket for all this and logistics were handled amazingly by the Hoang Long bus company. We ended up in Cat Ba town with no real plans, but we were quickly approached by a man offering a balcony room in his family's hotel for $8. We checked it out and sure enough, it had a great view, good wifi, clean room, sheets + towels, and a minibar. The owner also helped arrange a small private boat tour into Lan Ha Bay. 

The boat took us out and through many of the hundreds of limestone karst islands and over to 'monkey island' where I swam and Bree played with a jellyfish. We also passed through smaller bays that are home to floating fishing villages, each 'home' complete with a guard dog. It's pretty interesting to think that those dogs may never set paw on dry land. 

Later in the day we hopped on the back of a couple of motorcycles and got a ride out to Hospital Cave. It was used during the Vietnam War as, you guessed it, a hospital. Oh, side note: what we Americans call the Vietnam War, is referred to as the American War here. The cave contained a swimming pool for exercise and a cinema screen for entertainment. It was, at times, also used to shelter top ranking VC officers, due to its bomb-proof nature.

Then we walked up to the highest peak on Cat Ba Island, which is home of Cannon Fort. It's codename during the war was Height 177, after the fact that the peak is 177 meters above sea level. Very clever. There were the remnants of several artillery guns and some trenches to explore. But what was most impressive was the great views out at the surrounding islands.

Back in Cat Ba Town, we picked a restaurant based on how authentic it looked. Bree wanted to try seafood hot pot. I ordered some tofu dish and said I'd try to help her out. We ordered the small hot pot, for 1-2. Unfortunately, the broth was brimming with huge chunks of bone and meat from either a cow or pig. The tofu dish was basically a huge pile of plain tofu. The waiters, who didn't speak English, and assumed we didn't know what to do, stood there cooking the food in the hot pot WAY faster than Bree could eat it (as I politely declined even the noodles and greens, to their confusion). It was a very awkward experience but in the end we made it though and headed to a bar for a beer and to digest as we looked out at the glimmering bay. All was right in the world again.

- Matt