Thursday, September 01, 2005

Same, same? Yeah, OK.

Hanoi, Vietnam

We're back, and tanned.
Our trip to Cat Ba Island was a smashing success. The island is a small, quiet vacation spot a two-hour ferry ride away from Haiphong, Vietnam. It sports all of the karst scenery and coastal beauty of Ha Long City, but with only a fraction of the trappings of tourism. The costs were low, and the island was filled with distraction. A real OC winner.

Our first morning on the island had us boarding a boat to leave, not to return for two days. We joined our boat captains Chi and Tu for a guided tour of Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay aboard the Anh Tuan, an old wooden motorboat with peeling paint and a insolent engine. We were delayed for almost two hours before we even left the harbor, napping on the boat while our skippers repaired some malfunctioning piece of the motor. We spent the first day of the trip puttering around Ha Long Bay, passing through floating boat-villages, doing a little open-water swimming, and exploring a cave. There was a particularly cool part of the bay that was surrounded on all sides by karst hills. The only way to get into this little pseudo-lake was to take a rowboat through a natural tunnel beneath one of the hills. On the way out, we ditched the boat and swam through the tunnel, serenaded by bats above the water, and coral-munching fish below.
That night, we pulled into a small, protected bay, ate a fresh fish dinner, and played a few friendly games of chinese chess before calling it a night. It was difficult to sleep that evening, though, with the sweltering heat, the sudden thunderstorm, and the loose anchorage that led to our constantly knocking into other boats. Oh, and the rats. Jarah and I were both harried by two Vietnamese jumping rats that night. Seriously. It was an experience.
On the second day, we took it easy. We did a spot of swimming and boat-diving, ate some fish, and learned a bit more about chinese chess. With the combined might of three Caltech graduates, we were finally able to defeat Tu.
We also dropped anchor at Monkey Island. I was fairly excited about the prospect of feeding some small, scampering monkeys bananas while they crawled all over me and tried to steal my sunglasses, but it was not to be. It turns out that this Island was a pretty horrendous tourist trap. We spent an hour or two killing time on the tiny beach, waiting for the monkeys to wake from their afternoon nap in the mountains and make their way down to the sand. But, by the time they did, the island was swarming with tourists. And the tourists' main interests seemed to be goading the monkeys by throwing water and sand at them, then running away. It was pretty lame. About half an hour after the monkeys appeared, we swam back to the boat, and motored for home.

The next day, we rented some motorbikes, and took a self-guided land tour around Cat Ba Island. The first hour of the ride was tricky, as none of us had ridden a motorbike in a while (Mike had never ridden one before), and we had to get used to the throttling and gearing and shit. But, we persevered, and were soon screaming down the mountain roads of Cat Ba, going as fast as our little Honda Waves could manage.
We stopped at an old cave, which was used by the NVA as a makeshift hospital back in the day. There was a huge concrete structure inside, which housed all of the men and officers and their numerous restrooms. The dripping, echoing portion between the roof of the concrete structure and the top of the cave was used as the actual hospital, and was chock full of creepy. With the claustrophobic surroundings, hanging bulbs, and dripping water, it very much reminded me of the atmosphere that games like Doom and Quake tried so hard to emulate.
After the cave, we sped towards the Cat Ba National Park, and did some hiking. Climbing to the top of the peak was harder than I expected, but the view of the island around us once we got there was well worth it. There was a sweet rusting tower at the top, which creaked and swayed as we climbed it. It started raining once we got to the top, which made the descent even more muddy and treacherous than the climb, but we eventually made it down, sweaty and filthy.
The rest of the day was spent taking the long way back to the hotel, riding our bikes along the western coast of the island, and enjoying the scenery.

The next day, we said goodbye to Thao (our hotel lady), Chi, and Tu, and boarded the ferry back to the mainland. Our little vacation-within-a-vacation was over.


Blogger nicole said...

That walk up the karst in the middle of Cat Ba Island is well worth it for the views from the top.
Did you see the little old Vietnamese army dude at the hospital cave?

9/05/2005 5:40 AM gmt

Blogger Mik3 said...

Hi Nicole,

Welcome to The OC. How did you happen across the site?

Our tour guide at hospital cave on Cat Ba was maybe 30, not really aged enough to call "old". I enjoyed the tour (and the subsequent karst climbing) despite his unadvanced years. ;)

9/06/2005 6:36 AM gmt

Blogger jason said...

Yeah. I don't remember any old Vietnamese dudes. Just a lot of water and an incredible number of restrooms.

9/06/2005 7:04 AM gmt

Blogger nicole said...

hi guys, found your site via Andrea's site.

No the guy we saw in the hospital cave was almost like the 'gatekeeper' of the place - he disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared, but long enough for us to have a photo with him. He was about 60ish and tiny.

Btw, not sure where you are now, but check out a bar in Hanoi's old quarter called 'Red Mask'.

Happy travelling.

9/06/2005 11:35 AM gmt

Blogger jason said...

Ep. We're in Bangkok now. The OC moves quickly. Thanks for the suggestion, though.

9/09/2005 6:46 AM gmt


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