Cat Ba, Vietnam

The Laundry Boat Express.

After I finished my tour of duty in Vietnam with SNV I had a few days off before heading home. I went to a cooking class, had a massage (and no, not one with a happy ending!) and went on a 3-day cruise of Halong Bay. The cooking class (with Hidden Hanoi) was fantastic. There were only three of us in the class and we cooked up Vietnamese spring rolls, BBQ’d pork balls, fish sauce soup with green papaya and fresh bun noodle. We spent almost three hours cutting, dicing, slicing and cooking then I ate my body weight in food. It was the best spring rolls I’ve ever had – even if I do say so myself.

I booked my ‘cruise’ online and I really didn’t have much idea what the cruise or Halong Bay would be like. Busy, is what it is. My ‘transfer’ bus was packed, the monolithic souvenir store selling monolithic marble statues we stopped at halfway there was packed with tour buses and Halong Bay harbour was packed solid with tourists waiting to get on their boats. And there were plenty of them. They were all queueing up to load passengers and crates of beer.

Our 16 berth boat however only had nine passengers. Four couples on a romantic getaway and me. This is our boat…
Halong Bay

…and this is my rather salubrious cabin…
Halong Bay

Most of the first day was spent ‘cruising’ around the towering limestone islands lounging about on the sun deck…
Halong Bay

… visiting a cave and doing a bit of kayaking (we kayaked in the bay here…)
Halong Bay

…with the other fleet of tourist boats. We did, however, get away from the hordes and had views that looked something like this…

Halong Bay

After a sunset swim (jumping from the boat) and a banquet dinner it was time for my favourite part of the trip – karaoke! I even got the Norwegian couple to sing ‘Take on me’ by A-ha. The next morning, after a big sleep (the cheap bottle of Vietnamese win and the beers might have helped there) we transfered to Cat Ba island, where we were dropped off at various hotels in Cat Ba town. Except me. I was left on the bus and the driver motioned for me to jump on the back of a passing scooter. I was then taken down to a small harbour and he promptly rode off. I had no idea what was going on or where I was. I had paid extra to stay in a ‘beach bungalow’, but there wasn’t a bungalow in sight. A lady with a large bag of groceries, who seemed to be just walking by, told me to get on a small wooden flat boat that was piled high with with bags of  clean laundry. She spoke no English and the boat driver spoke no English, but I jumped aboard anyway. I do love an adventure. Although, after 30 minutes of chugging out past a floating village and seemingly towards the ocean I was getting a tad worried.

Finally, 45 minutes later we rounded an island and in front of me was a small perfectly idyllic resort and my perfectly idyllic bungalow on the beach…
Halong Bay

…and this is the view from my balcony…
Halong Bay

Not bad. eh? I’m so glad I didn’t stay in noisy, built-up Cat Ba town and paid the extra $10. There were only two other couples staying in the resort and, amazingly, one of those was the lovely couple from New York that I did the cooking course with in Hanoi.

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