Friday, 13 September 2013

Friendly Cát Bà

We were at breaky by 6am, which was lucky as the minibus to take us to the bus depot was 10 minutes early so we only just finished breakfast. Thankfully we only had to wait a few minutes for our bus to leave and after an uneventful trip we pulled into Hai Phong by 10.20am and took a taxi to the harbour. We’d read that there were a lot of scams for ferry tickets so we were on high alert as we tried to buy two tickets. It began in our taxi when he stopped a couple of hundred metres before the ferry terminal so a lady could sell us overpriced tickets. We told him to keep driving and he wasn’t happy about it, but he did as we asked. 

At the terminal we went straight to the waiting room and asked a tour operator where we could buy tickets. He directed us next door to a saleswoman and we queued up behind a lady who bought two tickets for 200K, which was 50K more than we expected from what we read, but we figured that if that’s what the locals were paying we’d better not argue. The tout lady who had tried to sell us tickets in the taxi entered the room just as Dave purchased the tickets and angrily barged passing him, dropping her shoulder as she did so and almost leveling him – the price you pay for not being scammed…

Despite the ferry being late it was a comfy, air conditioned ride over to Cát Bà once on board. It took us a bit longer than we’d hoped to find a hotel as they were really overpriced, but we finally settled on the Green Bamboo Hotel as the room included breaky and was nice and clean. Since it was already 2pm we hurriedly found a place for lunch and Sarah tried bánh đa cua (crab phở) and Dave tried a random pick, súp sò, that we later translated to be Clam Chowder, it was surprisingly really tasty -despite not looking really appealing. 

Beautiful Halong Bay
We spent the afternoon sussing out tours and walking around the point to the beach which was totally packed with locals. An ambulance raced passed us on our way there and as we descended the concrete stairs to the main beach we passed the two ambulance officers carrying an old man back up on a stretcher, covered in a towel as he had drowned. He looked so frail and thin. It was the second dead body we’d seen on our trip, the other being an old lady in India, and it was the same effect both times – an instant wave of sorrow and shock at the frailty of human life.

We continued on back to town around the picturesque walkway on the ocean’s edge and then headed to the Western end of the beach which is where the locals go. We were in search of a Bia Hơi and finally found a place with the usual plastic outdoor tables and a view over the ocean. We sat down at a spare table and a young guy nearby invited us to join him and his friend. He was an engaging guy who told us that his wife was starting a B&B 5km out of town and he wanted our tourist opinion on their mission statement. He and his wife were very interested in teaching the locals about doing something useful and environmental with tourists, not just the usual scamming and showboating. After he'd headed home we enjoyed a seafood dinner nearby, but unfortunately our table was right near the massive tanks holding the live seafood that was dying by the minute, spoiled our meal just a bit. 

Back in town we decided on a tour company to go with only to discover that there weren’t enough guides to run the tour on the day we wanted. So instead we booked a day tour of Halong Bay that would finish in Halong City so that we could catch a bus straight to Hanoi. When we booked the guy said he had four people confirmed already so the tour would definitely run providing the weather was good. We informed our hotel we’d be checking out earlier than planned, they didn’t seem fussed, so we packed our bags ready for an early morning departure.

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