Wow. These past few days have been nothing short of amazing. The food, the sites and the people have blown us both away and it seems like we’re in an undiscovered paradise. I can’t believe the diversity of culture we have already seen; the crazy hustle city life of Hanoi is drastically different from the fishing village water lifestyle of Ha Long Bay. Both have their ups and downs, and their beauty and flaws.
Trip to Cat Ba Island:
We set off from Hanoi at 7:00 am headed for Hai Phong city where we caught the boat to Cat Ba Island, the biggest island among the 1900+ limestone islands that are part of the Ha Long Bay world heritage site. The bus ride from Hanoi was great, air conditioning, wifi (though I think it was a sales gimmick because it didn’t work very well) and reclining seats – total $2.00 & 2 hrs. Next was our boat – barely floating, blaring karate movies and about 100 bags of rice strewn about the floor – total $15.00 & 2 hrs. Just like Hanoi and Ha Long bay, they both had their beauty and their flaws… We arrived at around 1:30 pm checked into our hostel and went out to explore the island city of Cat Ba.
Cat Ba is absolutely beautiful; colorful boats throughout the whole bay, restaurants with a huge array of live seafood and fresh vegetables, and plenty of amazing hotels. Of course out of all these luxurious amenities we had opted for the cheaper route, a hostel at the very top of the hill almost at the edge of town and the local alleyway street food. Still just as amazing, if not better than any of the overpriced places along the waterfront. We want to do it more like the locals, its always been my favorite way to travel and it opens up great opportunities to see how other people in the world live while offering us as travelers a unique opportunity for learning. So like the locals, we got a scooter. Only $4.00 for the entire afternoon we thought of no better way to experience this awesome waterfront town. From beach to beach we went, trying different street foods, experiencing a local holiday celebration, and even stumbled upon a place serving dog paws. When we realized what they were serving we ran the other way and acted like it had never happened. All in all the scooter was a great choice; we ventured out from the touristy epicenter of Cat Ba and saw the real life of Vietnam that we had long been awaiting.
Ha Long Bay:
Friday morning we decided to get a boat tour through Halong bay featuring an amazing kayak adventure, cave exploration, beach swimming and a tour of a local floating fishing village. The limestone islands in Ha Long bay has gone through millions of years of in transformation to become the towering structures that they are now. It was breathtaking, even the photographs featured here will do it little to no justice. Our first stop was a 40 minute kayak adventure where we were able to paddle through narrow caves that have been carved out of the rocks by years and years of changing tides. As we entered one of the dark caverns I heard a loud scream, Natalie had almost been impaled by a bat as we were paddling through. We looked up and into the darkness where we could see no end and started to hear the screeching of bats, how many I have no idea, but it sounded like a lot…
Lots of people live in Halong bay, not in regular homes but instead on floating fishing villages scattered about in almost every cove. Nets are hung between each narrow walking plank to keep the daily catch or their farmed fish that are sold at the markets. Walking along the planks the large fish swim underneath hoping that you’ll toss some food in or even fall in yourself. I have never seen anything like it before in my life. The people of Ha Long Bay live on the sea, eat from the sea and make a living from the sea. It’s quite an incredible lifestyle and culture to experience.
Seafood dinner on the cheap:
Natalie and I are pro bargainers – well we would like to think we are. On the boat tour of Ha Long bay we met a few friends who told us about their meal the night before naming it “The most expensive meal in Vietnam”. They had visited one of Cat Ba’s floating restaurants where nobody who worked there could speak any English (I doubt it). At the end of the meal the bill came out to 1,600,000 dong or $80.00. Natalie and I had been eying tanks of seafood since we arrived and were determined to get our hands on some. We walked around the town scoping out each restaurant trying to find the best place for the money. We found a tiny spot away from the water where a Vietnamese couple was enjoying dinner. We peaked in to see their huge dish of raw squid, clams, fish, oysters and giant prawn like critters that they were cooking themselves in a boiling pot of broth. We sat down and asked how much for the same dish they were having – 500,000 dong quickly became 300,000 dong thanks to our bargaining skills. One of the best meals of our lives for a whopping $14.00 including beer. A perfect ending to an even more amazing day.
In short – Rent a motorbike, don’t ever eat dog, visit Halong Bay Vietnam , and bargain for your seafood.
With lots of love,
Natalie & Dylan