Day 46:  19th February: Tuan Chau Island, Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba, Cat Ba island: 23km.

We woke, packed up quickly, and made our way the few hundred metres to the ferry terminal to take the public ferry to Cat Ba island- the cheapskates way of getting a boat through this magical area.  The ferry left at 8.30am and hence more or less on time – this was not Laos.  It was a tiny RoRo car ferry which was similar to the ferries that cross between Scottish islands.  There were some other cyclists (locals I think but no common language so we could not do more than thumbs up), lots of motor bikes (of course, a few cars and enough room for a bus in the middle.  The route took us between the uninhabited karst islands – lumps of rock emerging from the sea with vegetation clinging to the sides and on top.

We met two free spirit women who were originally from Liverpool – a social worker and a yoga teacher – who were travelling together in Vietnam and Cambodia to celebrate their 60th birthdays.  Husbands did not fancy the rucksack life so, good to them, they were off for adventures on their own, and having a great time.  There were also a group of well dressed Chinese young women – posing for group photos and selfies and behaving just as we would expect.  We must seem so scruffy to them!

The boat slipped through channels between the amazing Karst structures, giving us all a great views in the emerging morning light.  It was overcast but not raining, as we watched numerous other with unidentified cargos boats negotiating passages through the narrow channels.  It had rained overnight but we have still not got our raingear out of the panniers.  We might get through this whole trip without using it – what a waste of effort that would have been to carry it!

We arrived at the northern port of Cat Ba island after an hour and cycled off the ferry.  Navigation from here was not a challenge as there was only one road, but in reasonable condition.  The karst structures that dominated the seascape equally dominated the landscape, coming up from the valleys. This was all a national park and the vegetation was thick and undisturbed, starting at the edge of the road and going up at precipitous angles to the top of the mountains.  We had 22 km to cycle and enjoyed the ride.

Half way along we stopped to visit some caves.  These were created when the sea level was higher and tidal flows pushed vast quantities of water into and out of the stone structures on a daily basis, finding small gaps and then expanding them.   A 300m path had been created through the cave structure, with the ceiling being so low at some points that Bernie had to duck.  I was not quite on my hands and knees but almost so. We saw the usual cave features – stalactites and stalagmites – and some evidence that bats were present in the caves, but no bats.

The final 10km into the town involved a few hills and it was starting to get warm, so that produced a veneer of sweat as we struggled up the steep slopes.  Then we swept down into the inhabited areas, starting with a place called “Hospital Cave” which we did not visit but understand that caves were used to develop a complete subterranean hospital service during the war.  

The Cat Ba town sits at the southern end of the island, with a westerly facing bay.  It is famed for its sunsets but not on overcast days like today.  Like Tuan Chau Island, it has had huge amounts of investment in recent years to develop a tourist infrastructure. It has not been done in too unsympathetic a way, albeit large hotels are never that beautiful.  It could have been Cornwall, except that the temperature was high enough in the winter not to need a jumper.

We checked into our hotel and decided that a combination of the need for another day’s recuperation and the beautiful surroundings meant that we were not looking to rush away from here.  That means we could book a full day’s boat tour for tomorrow and not need to rush to experience the wider bay area today.

Later in the afternoon we walked along the bay, across a headland and saw the town’s beaches – imaginatively called Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2 and (you will be knocked over to learn) Cat Co 3.  There was a delightful cliff walk between Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2, but again this was not Cornwall.  The path was fully paved with steps where needed all along the 2 mile stretch.  It had lovely views across the bay and was a very civilised stroll.  There was a glimpse of the sun but no sunset – maybe tomorrow.

We met up with our scousers for a drink in the evening (by chance – this is a small place) and retired to the room by about 8.30.  Although there are places which accommodate the need for Western tourists to party all night, the Vietnamese eat early and appear to retire early, and to start the following day early.  That suits us fine as it gives time to read, recover and prepare for the next day.

2 thoughts on “Day 46:  19th February: Tuan Chau Island, Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba, Cat Ba island: 23km.

  1. What a beautiful place. Excellent decision to stay a bit longer and I’m sure the boat trip will have been wonderful.

  2. My brother and I were there on Cat Ba Island two months ago. It was an amazing experience. We walked the cliffside trail between the hotels and enjoyed the beaches. The cave that you exploded would have been fun but we did not know about it. Thanks for bringing back fresh memories.

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