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Ahhhh…. Cat Ba…..
November 27th, 2009 by Kate
Limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay

Limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay

Cat Ba Island is located about four hours outside of Hanoi in Ha Long Bay.  It is amazing here.  One of the prettiest places I’ve ever been in my life.  Remember the limestone karsts we wrote about when we were back in China – the hills that stick up out of nowhere put all over the place?  Well here in Ha Long Bay – they stick up out of the ocean.

It took us one taxi, three buses and one boat to get to Cat Ba Island but it was totally worth the trip.  Phoebe thinks they should call it "Goat Ba" Island instead as these were just one of the many goat gangs we saw roaming the island.

It took us one taxi, three buses and one boat to get to Cat Ba Island but it was totally worth the trip. Phoebe thinks they should call it "Goat Ba" Island instead as these were just one of the many goat gangs we saw roaming the island.

On our way to Cat Ba we met a great young German couple (Inga & George) because Inga was the person whose lap Phoebe kept falling into on the bus.  They were great fun – and we decided to go in on a tour together.  Jeff had done some research and found an outfitter (www.slopony.com) that could arrange a boat and kayaking tour for us around Ha Long Bay.  Since we had hired for a private boat we all assumed we’d have small little boat, but we actually we had the same giant boat as the twenty person tour group.  It was a great – a wooden boat about 40 feet, two stories (see Jeff flipping off the top deck) and way more room that we needed.  Because we split the boat with our new friends, the entire day including the boat trip from 8:30am to 5:30 pm, a tour guide, a delicious lunch prepared by the boat’s crew, and kayaks ended up costing just under $20 per person!  Did I mention we love Vietnam!

Floating fishing villages in Ha Long Bay

Floating fishing villages in Ha Long Bay

Squid fishing boat - notice the glass lamps strung between the masts - they take these boats out at night and light'em up.  The squid are attracted to the lights (they fish for shrimp this way too).

Squid fishing boat - notice the glass lamps strung between the masts - they take these boats out at night and light'em up. The squid are attracted to the lights (they fish for shrimp this way too).

We caught the boat in a little port town, and headed out amongst the giant karsts and floating fishing villages.  The fishing villages were so interesting, they had houses, dogs, grocery stores (well, on boats) and even schools.  It was obvious that the fisher-families took great pride in their very modest homes – they were all brightly painted (greens, blues, and red trim were the colors of choice) and neatly kept with the giant bundles of nets neatly hung.  Some of these villages had up to 100 homes – they were quite elaborate operations!  We would also come across single family floating fishing operations (we decided these must be the anti-social fisherman) and clam farms too. 

On one of our kayaking outings our guide asked the men working the pens if we could come closer and see.  Thanks to the novelty of having a little blonde child with us, we were invited up into their house and they walked us around the pens and even pulled up some clam baskets for us to check out.  It was SO cool!  I was so happy the girls got see how the farms work from up close, and we decided that scrambling around the bamboo fish pen frames and chatting with the local farmers totally counted as school for the day.  All it cost us was having Phoebe and Tessa pose for pictures with each of the fisherman (they ALL had cell phone cameras of course).

Feeding the fish on one of the floating fish farms

Feeding the fish on one of the floating fish farms

We traveled through Ha Long Bay for a few hours and then dropped anchor in a large cove with a few other boats.  I was happy to learn from our guide that a large portion of the Bay is a protected sanctuary and that they only allow anchoring in a few areas.  The water was clean and warm and calm in the cove, the perfect place for exploring with our kayaks, swimming, and soaking in the scenery.  After lunch, we motored around the karsts – stopping a few more times to hop in the kayaks to check out even more secluded coves (and a few beaches) that were only accessible by our kayaks or by swimming. 

Floating in the waters of Ha Long Bay

Floating in the waters of Ha Long Bay

As the tide went out, natural bridges and caves were exposed.  We attempted to paddle into one of the caves that our guide Jessie knew about, and we were able to get about 100 feet in, but the water rushing out of the cave was like a river under us, and made it nearly impossible to paddle “upstream”.  It was just as well – we only had one decent flashlight, and Phoebe was in charge of it so we spent half of our them in the cave either in total darkness, with strobe effect, or with the flashlight blinding us in the eyes (note to all parents – flashlights are STILL toys to 9 year old children).

Tessa and Kate kayaking through a natural tunnel formed under a giant limestone karst to a small cove - it was amazing!

Tessa and Kate kayaking through a natural tunnel formed under a giant limestone karst to a small cove - it was amazing!

As we motored back to our little harbor, mist was starting to form around the karsts and the sun was setting.  We had a fabulous day and want to send out props to Jessie and the gang at SloPony for arranging such a great trip for us.

The island of Cat Ba is great too.  It’s very lush and green – very much a jungle.  It is the slow season so there were probably 50 other tourists in the whole town.  Our rooms (we got two cause we’re such big spenders) were $7 per night, we had an awesome view of Cat Ba’s harbor, and decided it was worth the five-floor walk up!  There were some really pretty beaches within walking distance of our hotel – and on the way we could buy fresh mangos and baguettes for about 15 cents each, and Jeff’s favorite Ha Long Bai (beer) for 20 cents.  The seafood there was insane, and we ate it for lunch and dinner every meal.  We decide that the squid there was better than anywhere in the world.  The one bummer about Cat Ba was that we only had electricity for half the time we were there, which meant flashlight and cold showers – but in spite of that we still stayed there for 7 nights!  Ultimately, with food and lodging, we spent about $40 a day for the four of us.

A million dollar view from our $7 room

A million dollar view from our $7 room


4 Responses  
Curt writes:
November 27th, 2009 at 10:59 am

Totally jealous.

Claudette (James' of the North RTW 07-08) writes:
November 27th, 2009 at 11:37 am

Hi Wells family,

Keep up the great blog, it’s been great following your adventures, and makes me want to start planning for another RTW trip, and this time we obviously have to spend more time in Vietnam.

Cricket Bourget writes:
November 27th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Wow. I’ve seen documentaries about the floating villages, but I like your description so much better. Scrambling about on the floating fish farm is an incomparable way to get in a “school day,” I’d say. So wonderful to hear they protect part of their lovely bay, and so glad you were able to enjoy it so thoroughly–the pix are great. That sunset view is more than million-dollar, it’s priceless!

Theresa Sanchez writes:
December 1st, 2009 at 8:26 am

How wonderful to see you all in great spirits. Love the blog and yes we wish we were there with you all.

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