Archive | October, 2011

The Colours of Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

25 Oct


360 View of Cat Ba Island (Video)

24 Oct

The Con of Cat Ba

24 Oct
A neon signed floating resturant

The floating restaurants say it all...

So, after some research we finally figured out that you can actually go to Halong Bay without paying at least $60 for one day.

We took a bus-boat-bus from Hanoi which left around 1:30pm, this meant we got to Cat Ba town after dark. This was one of the most disappointing experiences (except for Thakhek in Laos). We expected a little untouched island, we got Blackpool… Glowing neon floating restaurants, a sea front covered with hotels and a great big glowing arch thing with “Welcome to Cat Ba” in LED lettering. Needless to say we felt conned, not necessarily by anyone but by what we expected.We checked into a hotel feeling disappointed and hoping that the view in the morning might change.

Slate cliffs and Sandy beaches

The next day things did start to look better; the view from our room was pretty nice. A short walk to one of the nearest beaches and we had come back round to loving the place. Beautiful sandy coves, huge slate cliffs with green vegetation covering the tops and more islands and mountains in the distance slowly fading into the monsoon mists. There was a cliff edge walk way leading from one beach to the another, but sadly years of bad weather had collapsed and rotted through it, but it made the beach feel slightly more atmospheric. There was also a cliff top path leading round one of the headlands. We followed the trail and each turn made us more exited with the beautiful views of Halong Bay. As we made our way back towards the hotel the sun had begun to set.

They got the land but we got the view

The cliff top path

Unfortunately the sun set behind a far off island and we couldn’t see it go down. But then, slowly at first, the sky began to change. The sky over the harbour became a surreal pink and purple, the water reflected this and changed too, whilst the boats became surreal silhouettes against the cut-out islands. It really was one of the most surprising and unreal sunsets I have ever seen.

Pink Meow

The next day, inspired by what we had seen, we set off on a motorbike to explore the rest of the island. Once again we were surprised by each turn of the coastal cliff-top road. Forgotten beaches, ocean stacks, huge cliffs and endless jungle surrounding the road.

We had been told that in  the centre of the island was a national park and with it a beautiful view. We took a narrow set of steps up the mountain; the steps became lose paving slabs, the paving slabs disappeared and became dirt and tree roots, the tree roots became rocks, the rocks became ladders.

After about an hour of sweating and walking/climbing up the hill we reached the top. There stood a tower of rusted looking iron. Cautiously  we climbed it (Clare didn’t like the height and I didn’t like the hornets flying around the top) but the view was incredible. No photo could really show the it justice, so I’ll put a video up soon.

GDI Gaurd towerIts a long way down

How to get to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi (Info)

23 Oct

Post with two parts here. 1st info for other travellers, 2nd return to our normal programming

1. Getting to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi

I searched for ages for this information but there seems to be very little on it. So here’s how to do it WITHOUT booking a hideously expensive tour.

Some quick Info:

  • You can go direct from Hanoi’s Loung Yen to Cat Ba Town with one ticket
  • It costs around 190,000 Dong ($10 USD) at time of writing.
  • Ticket price includes coaches and boat.


In Hanoi go to Loung Yen bus station. Ignore anyone asking if you want to go to Halong Bay, just say Cat Ba. In the ticket office (which is pretty modern and well kept) there should be a bus company named Hoang Long, this is the company.

The price of the ticket includes:

  1. Coach- Hanoi –> Hai Phong
  2. Minibus- Hai Phong –> Ferry Port
  3. Boat- Hai Phong Port –> Cai Vieng (Cat Ba Island)
  4. Minibus- Cai Vieng –> Cat Ba Town

It seems complicated but its really well organised and you don’t normally wait in any of the change over places for very long.

Unfortunatley I forgot to take a picture of the depature from Hanoi, so I don’t have all the exact times. But here’s some info from what I remember and from what I wrote down from Cat Ba (24hour clock):

Hanoi -> Cat Ba

  • First bus 07:15
  • Last bus 13:20

Cat Ba -> Hanoi

  • 07:15
  • 9:15
  • 13:15
  • 15:15

Women’s Day in Vietnam, the sideways Eiffell Tower, and a wrapped up Red Rose

22 Oct

After being told by several Vietnamese people to visit Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, we decided to pay it a visit. The bridge is a pretty incredible but patchy steel structure designed by Gustave Eiffel, the architect behind the creation of the Eiffel Tower.

Underneath on the Red River, around 40 incredibly poor Vietnamese families live on boats. On top, trains, bikes and mopeds whizz by, and pedestrians stroll along, soaking up the scenery. By the time we made it onto the walkway it was already getting dark, but earlier on I reckon it would have been a great spot to view the sunset.

After walking for about 20 minutes, we reached the half way point where we met a lovely Vietnamese boy wearing a crisp white shirt, standing next to a moped with a wrapped up red rose. He made polite small talk with us but seemed sad.

As we were about to leave, he asked Dom if I was his girlfriend and said, “It’s Women’s Day in Vietnam.” He then gave away his red rose for Dom to give to me. I can only assume that his date had stood him up.

Traffic In Hanoi (video)

21 Oct

Traffic can be a little… interesting in Hanoi

It’s good to be in Hanoi

20 Oct

The Temple of Literature, Hanoi.

After spending the last night in Laos, in a dive of a border town eating crisp sandwiches, and then staying two days in Central Vietnam, mostly hostel bound due to excessive amounts of rain, I am extremely excited to be in Vietnam’s capital.

Despite being here for only 24 hours, I think Hanoi has now become the most interesting and characterful place we’ve visited so far. The streets are all tree-lined, people practise Tai Chi and meditation in the parks, there’s a huge lake in the centre, and even the bright orange wheelie bins look really good here.

It's good luck to spot a turtle in Hoan Kiem lake.

Wheelie bin and bus shelter.

Residents of Hanoi just seem to really care about their city. Extra effort has been made everywhere, such as the beautiful mosaic mural spanning hundreds of feet through the city, the excellent quality of the museums and art galleries, and fantastic food. One camera shop we ventured into even had a teapot of tea and papaya slices especially for its customers.

Tea and Cameras

And our hostel, May De Ville is like an expensive hotel. After consuming greasy noodles for breakfast in many places in Laos, I was a little overwhelmed by the all-inclusive buffet breakfast consisting of non-sweet bread, croissants, yoghurt, fruit (huge plates of melon and pineapple), salad, fried potatoes, noodles, eggs, rice, cake- basically a feast for all tastes.

The walls of the May De Ville hostel restaurant also happen to be made from glass windows, and because it’s on the top floor, there’s an incredible almost 360 degree view of the whole of Hanoi. However, the buildings start to significantly fade further back (more than usual), either due to fog or severe pollution. I think it’s the latter.

View from May De Ville Hostel without the fog.

As much as I love this place, I fear the traffic may soon really start to choke the streets. Riding around on a moped is the transport of choice for people who live here- most of whom wander and ride around with their mouths covered. The city is so compact, mopeds have taken up most of the pavements.

Today we ate lunch in a restaurant overlooking several main roads nearby to the Old Quarter. It’s pretty mesmerizing just watching pedestrians and people on bikes weave around one another, in what seemed like no fixed order. It reminded me of a large family of busy ants carrying things far bigger than themselves, such as these two women who drove by wearing ‘I heart Lipstick’ helmets, carrying around 10 full black bin liners of stuff on their bike. I wish I could have been quick enough to take their picture.

I tried for some time to capture the perfect busy ant family/ traffic photo, so it would appear like a sea of congested transport flooding through the streets with little space in between each bike. However, this afternoon I failed to do just that, so I started to take pictures of people crossing the road instead, my favourite being these two Vietnamese ladies holding hands.