22.11.2010 - 24.11.2010 27 °C
We booked a bus to Cat Ba Island through our hostel (most hostels offer tour agency services) and the hostel arranged for a taxi to take us to a bus station in Hanoi. On arrival at the bus station it was very unclear where we should wait and which bus we would be getting on. We bumped into an American couple, Alan and Missy who had been on our bus from the airport into Hanoi city a couple of days earlier. They were also taking the bus to Cat Ba and had been informed that our bus would leave from the rear of the station (we had been given the impression that it would leave from somewhere at the front). We made our way to the rear of the station forty minutes before our bus was due to leave. A bus driver shouted "Cat Ba" so we loaded our backpacks into the storage and boarded the coach. The bus left thirty minutes before our scheduled departure time, with the four of us non the wiser as to whether we had caught an earlier bus or whether they'd just decided that our bus was going earlier. We were sat opposite Alan and Missy at the front of the bus and were starting to swap details of our travels so far, however our driver was on a mission and this involved him blasting the horn at everything else on the road. The roads were busy and therefore he was blasting the horn every few seconds making it very difficult for us to have a conversation, albeit we all found it fairly amusing - especially when the driver was on his mobile phone as it was the only time he stopped beeping. Alan and Missy had recently travelled in India and trekked in for seven days to avoid having to go to land at an airport with a sloping runway that has a poor safety record. They had taken off from the airport afterwards and showed us photographs of the runway and it was clear from the pictures why pilots struggle to land there. Our bus dropped us on a busy road in Haiphong where we learnt that our connecting bus would pick us up fifty minutes later. The connecting bus arrived on time and took us to the ferry. After a short ferry crossing, we arrived at Cat Ba island and boarded yet another bus which took us across the island to the town. Cat Ba island is the only populated island in Halong Bay (3000+ islands) and has long beaches, lakes, waterfalls and limestone hills. Half of the island is categorised as national park and the dense jungle offers many activity options. On our arrival at Cat Ba town we took a look around several guest houses with Alan & Missy and with it being out of season there were bargain rooms to be had. The centre was basically one coastal road, with a row of shops, cafes, restaurants and guesthouses lining the waterfront. The view out to sea with the old Vietnamese boats in the bay and limestone cliffs either side was lovely, however the architecture and development of the towns buildings was not so aesthetically pleasing. We found a recently renovated place and then went out in search of food. Alan and Missy had booked a boat trip for the next day which included kayaking and rock climbing, both of which are popular activities on the island. Nic and I were instead hoping for a relaxing day on the beach and therefore some sunny weather. The next morning we awoke to an overcast sky, albeit the sun was trying to get through. After a walk down to the beach and no sign of the sun breaking through, we decided to hire a moped and explore the island further. We had never fancied hiring a moped before, but there was such little traffic on the island and what little traffic there was, was dominated by mopeds. So we hired a moped for $4 (US) and off we went, with Nic declaring her moped debut as more scary than her skydive experience! The sun had of course now broken through and we slowly chugged along the coastal road, tooting our horn around every bend with locals either smiling at us or looking pretty concerned that we were on the road. We made our way to the Cat Ba National Park entrance and opted for a hiking trail that we were informed would take us one hour to climb up the mountain and another hour to return. The trail started with some old stone steps and then continued with a climbing pathway through the jungle. We clambered up rocks and went around trees and through gaps in the undergrowth. The hike was quite challenging at times but we thoroughly enjoyed it. We reached the top and got talking to a French couple and Spanish couple who were resting at the summit and very friendly and doing the Cambodia/Vietnam/Laos circuit in the opposite direction to us. The panoramic views of the jungle covered hills from the summit were fantastic and we enjoyed them for some time before making the return trip.