Everything a budding super-villain needs

Cat Ba Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 10 › view all entries
If I've been a bit lax on the whole gushing adjective thing thus far, its because I've been saving myself for a torrent of superlatives at this stage: Halong Bay.  This extraordinary, stunning landscape (Tomorrow Never Dies, Top Gear Series 12) is hauntingly beautiful in the mist and just downright amazing in the bright sunshine.  On our three day jaunt here we got both.

We decided to go a bit upmarket for this tour and chose the slightly more expensive Ocean Tours package that involved slightly less lying around on beaches on the second and third days and slightly more doing stuff and seeing stuff.  For our extra dollars we got good service (a guide that remembers your name, occasionally asks you how you are etc), and all meals included in the price (and we did get some amazing seafood over the three days, mmmmmm!), a few drinks, plus we didn't have to stay in a resort town big hotel for one night, instead getting two nights on a privately owned island with beach fronted bungalows, and a bar overlooking the bay.  So, so, so, so, so worth it.

The first day was misty, visibility wasn't great and from Halong Bay harbour a few shots of slightly darker grey against a backdrop of grey threatened to make photos and views a tad disappointing.  Boarding our rather nice boat (which we only got for the first day, but it was pretty cool, almost swish, tablecloths and everything!) we headed out into the bay, and islands got a little larger, the mist a little thinner the place took on a new view.  You couldn't see far, but what you could was lurkingly beautiful (is that a word combination that's allowed?).  At this point, whistling the theme to Pirates of The Caribbean seemed appropriate.  It all seemed like a great place to be a pirate.  We went kayaking for an hour or so in the afternoon, kayaking through caves into hidden lagoons, with high walls and lush vegetation preventing any other way out.  This time, the Jurassic Park theme seemed more relevant.  Though unfortunately we didn't sight any pterosaurs. Its was amazing, although Alex didn't seem to understand the idea of relaxing exercise, so I just gave up paddling our double canoe and we still went faster than everyone else.  As we sailed towards the island for an amazing dinner (though the alleged "creme caramel" was a little disturbing) we even caught a glimpse of the sun.  Dinner was good and there was a lengthy several hour kind of chat that you get with a group of about ten people of five different nationalities that were with us on the tour.  As the evening progressed people retired to bed until it was just me and two Canadian guys drinking rum and coke, as you do.

For the second day, the other people with us went on their less active tour and left Alex and I pretty much on our own for the remaining two days! Though one of the boat captains continued as our guide (and he was pretty good fun to be fair!) and we went for a hike on Cat Ba Island. Just a few hours, though the sun was making more of an appearance.  This was preceded by the best boat-ride of the trip as we weaved our way through the densely packed islands just offshore from Cat Ba island.  A walk along the flat valley went via a velociraptor pit a la Jurassic Park.  We hiked up the highest hill on the island guided by a local reasonably old lady.  At only 268m it wasn't exactly very difficult, but it was hot and sweaty enough.  The views from the top were brilliant, if a little hazy still.  Instead of the vistas of sea and islands I was expecting the view was actually just the islands, since they are packed a little too closely together to see down into the ocean.  But several (perhaps eight) rows of islands made the scenery seem to stretch on forever.  There were two dozen hawk type things circling about the tops of the islands that we could see, soaring on the thermals, and occasionally we got a few coming over for a look.  A rather spectacular view all in all, and worth the few hours of sailing and hiking to see it.  Made me realise how few birds we've seen on this trip.  It could well be because I think the locals eat them.  Somewhat more depressingly, the same could be said for the abundance of puppies we've seen also.  Though they are always very cute puppies, especially the ones bounding around the little village restaurant where we had lunch that day.  Our evening consisted of cocktails and cards and felt rather refined!

On the third day we went cycling, again on Cat Ba island, and completed the trip about twice as fast as they expected.  We left the guide behind us on the long hill, waited for him at the top, and fifteen minutes later he arrived in the vehicle carrying our luggage.  He says his bike broke.  We think we were just too awesome!  We went for an extended trip around some more of the island past the water farms detailed below, before returning to lunch.  This was followed up by a much quicker speedboat jaunt to Haiphong followed by the stupidly long and slow trip back to Hanoi, encountering all the joys of Friday afternoon traffic, with the final 50k covered in just under two hours!

The weather on the third day was even brighter and with it came the realisation that perhaps this place wasn't the ideal location for pirating at all, but rather the whole place is one giant super-villain hideout a la You Only Live Twice.  Though rather than a volcano base we had to make do with a real-life cave base in the form of a former vietcong military base and hospital, complete with swimming pool and movie theatre.  A few soft furnishings, some halogen down-lighters and some shiny metal machines monitoring the core temperature of some kind of reactor and it would become a home fit for a small white cat who enjoys being stroked.  Plus down towards the coast there were lots of aquatic farms for growing man-eating piranhas and sharks for the man-eating piranha and shark pool that every underground lair needs.  Plus of course, some rice and fish for a growing army of local nameless henchmen.  As well as some shrubbery farms.  Though we never did quite figure out why.

Just one question remains after visiting Halong Bay, can super-villains and pirates and raptors coexist peacefully?
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Cat Ba
photo by: ulysses