After spending a few days in Hanoi, we headed out to celebrate the New Year on the island of Cat Ba.
So far, Vietnam has been pretty easy to get around. You do not need to plan anything in advance. We had most of our lodging booked before we arrived in country, but you don’t need to reserve bus tickets until a day in advance. We picked a random travel agency (there are seriously hundreds of travel offices all over Hanoi) and bought a round trip ticket to get from the city to Cat Ba island, with return a few days later. Looking back, we should have asked many more questions at the travel office, but it all worked out.
We were told that a bus would come pick us up at our AirBnB in Hanoi and take us to the ferry in Hai Phong, where we would take the boat to the island, then get on another bus to get to Cat Ba town. The ticket for 5 people only included a receipt that told me I paid. It did not have the bus company, separate ferry ticket, or any other information. (Hence, more questions should have been asked.) So we really shouldn’t have been surprised when this guy showed up on his motor bike to pick up all 5 of us.
He ended up putting us all in a taxi and getting us to the bus. There is a lot of following people and making blind assumptions here, but eventually we made it to the island! (No one ever asked to see our ticket during the whole journey.)
Cat Ba is in Lan Ha Bay, the smaller brother to Ha Long Bay. If you have ever seen gorgeous pictures of the coast of Northern Vietnam, you have seen pictures of Ha Long Bay. Lan Ha Bay is less touristy, not as populated, and absolutely took our breath away. It definitely did not disappoint. It’s just too bad that we can’t capture all the beauty in the pictures!
Bri, Chip, Marie and I walked up to Cannon Fort to get some good views of the island.
That night was NYE. Cat Ba town is just a small strip of hotels and restaurants so our choices for New Year’s parties were limited. Many hostels were offering free (questionable looking) beer, but we ended up bar hopping after dinner. Dinner was a communal ‘hot pot’ of rice noodles, veggies, tofu and beef that we cooked ourselves in the boiling broth. Many Hai Phong’s (type of beer) later, we rang in 2017!!!! Note: beer was $0.66 a bottle. We’re a bunch of cheap dates!
The next morning, we woke up early to spend the whole day kayaking. I’ll be honest- I wasn’t that excited to be on a boat after all of the Hai Phong I had consumed the night before. But once we got out on the water, it was incredible! Ha Long Bay means ‘The Bay of Dragons.’ The legend is that a dragon was defending villagers on the coast from pirates, and whenever the dragon would breathe fire, it turned into the beautiful rock formations that exist in the bay today.
Besides kayaking, Bri spent a day rock climbing with new friends on the island while the rest of us rented motos and explored the island by bike! We spent our last dinner on the island eating in an alley. We had gotten a recommendation, with really poor directions, to find a lady who cooked Vietnamese pancakes/spring rolls with some sort of meat (?). We found her! And were served pancakes with pork and beansprouts that we wrapped with greens in rice paper. It was fantastic and only cost $1.32 each!
After some confusion about what bus to get on, we made it off of the Island and back to Hanoi. We had a few hours in Hanoi before we caught a nighttime sleeper bus to our next stop. We visited the gravesite of ‘Uncle’ Ho Chi Minh, saw the changing of the guard, and got our 3rd bowl of bun bo (noodles, pork, greens, topped with peanuts and hot sauce) at our favorite restaurant before leaving Hanoi!