Back to the city

We said goodbye to our travel mates who returned to Hanoi in order to take the night train up north for a trek in the mountains. Axel and I and our young solo German traveler boarded a smaller boat in the middle of the bay and set course for Cat Ba Island.

We landed on a small pier where bikes were waiting for us and biked into the national park along a mostly level road. At a small village we parked our bikes had a cup of Vietnamese (milky) coffee, then continued on foot for a walk in the woods. The wildlife, apart from monkeys and the unique Langur (also a monkey), consists mostly of exotic insects. We were told there are snakes and our guide used a stick to announce our presence. We didn’t see any monkeys or snakes but plenty of insects.

We returned the same way we had come and had lunch on the boat followed by a swim before landing on another part of Cat Ba Island where a bus took us to the hotel at the end of a long boulevard. The harbor was full of fishing boats and floating restaurants. Everything floats here – whole villages with their ‘gardens’ where oysters, mussels and clams are farmed.

The boulevard strip in Cat Ba looks just like any other boulevard strip in a seaside tourist town (I am thinking of Salisbury, NH). Much neon, tons of hawkers, bars and restaurants and a night market full of cheap China stuff, maybe the latter one wouldn’t find in Salisbury. Large blow up plastic swimming pools for kids were filled not with water but with something that looked like black rice which the kids manipulated with their trucks and buckets as it it was sand.

Our guide invited us for a beer by the harbor where all the locals seemed to have congregated. It was a jolly place with cheap eats and drinks. Whatever didn’t go into people’s mouths was dropped on the ground. The place was a mess – not just there but at all the restaurants – someone must come in the middle of the night and sweep everything away.

Dinner was on our own – we had about 100 choices but followed our guide’s lead, which was a good oneL fried rice, nems, smoked pork in a noodle dish, and fresh coconut juice.

At night the rains moved in, excalty as predicted on my smart phone. The next day the skies were dark and something akin to a monsoon hit the island. As a result our departure was delayed a bit. Men in uniform at the embarkation pier held us back until the rains had passed.

Day 3 of our cruise consisted essentially of cruising back to meet up with the big boat, the same one we had overnighted on and make a passenger exchange before continuing to Ha Long from where we boarded a bus back to Hanoi.

At night we splurged and ate at a Trip Advisor recommended restaurant on a rooftop overlooking one of Hanoi’s many lakes. The cuisine was exquisite, the cocktails and wine yummy, and the bill high. The Vietnamese currency has so many zeros in it that it feels like monopoly money. Only when we did the conversion did we realize how much we had spent.

Our new hotel is smack in the center of something big; when we returned from our dinner the streets around our hotel were completely filled with people (several hundreds is my guess) sitting on the tiny plastic stools, drinking and eating. It was a bit like Bangkok’s Chinatown’s pop up restaurants, but much louder. Rave music pumped through the air, indicating that there were some very popular bars hidden behind the mass of people on their plastic stools.

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