Feeling nervous as I drove away from my group of friends and into the unknown, I waited at the ferry point smiling at everyone who passed in the hope of making a new friend, whilst also being engrossed in the first Game of Thrones book which I had started reading earlier in the week.
I had got chatting to a Dutch girl on the ferry, together with her and her friend who she met earlier that day, we went off in search of somewhere to stay. I wanted to stay in a hostel so I could meet other people, but found myself looking at guesthouses with these 2 girls. The one they liked only had a 2 bedded room available, after an awkward few minutes standing in the street debating what to do, I said I would just leave and go find a hostel. Thank god I did, as it was Cat Ba island where I met Lauren and Lucie, 2 Southern English girls who had spent the last 3 months volunteering in Sri Lanka. They bounced into the room discussing food, snacks and alcohol, I knew these were more my kind of girls. Also in the dorm was a Chinese American guy, who after knowing me for 2 minutes propped himself (and his dirty feet) up on my bed, rolled a joint and started telling me about how self-fulfilling his travels had been, how he had cried at the beauty of Halong Bay and just how spiritual this journey was for him. Each to there own, I promptly invited myself out for food with Lauren and Lucie. We were faced with a variety of sea creatures including crabs, lobster and squid in giant fish tanks outside each restaurant; the addiction to seafood fried rice began.
Lauren, Lucie and I hired motorbikes the next day to explore the island, which was much bigger and busier than I had expected. It was also a Vietnamese independence festival as I was there, resulting in hundreds of Vietnamese people on holiday and celebrating. The first stop was Fort Cannon, which provided some great views of the island, selfies with the fake army statues and Lauren screaming out the toilet, as a spider as big as my hand made her acquaintance. It was leaving the fort when Lucie fell over with her motorbike, resulting in a painful ankle and her spending the rest of the day back at the hostel, and a local man helping us to walk her motorbike back down the steep hill.
Once we had got Lucie settled in the dorm, Lauren and I headed back out for the Hospital Cave, which was unsurprisingly a hospital inside a cave. Working in hospitals at home I found this site really interesting, especially as the operating theatre was just a small stone room. It was used to treat Vietnamese soldiers for 8 years during the war, could house 200 patients at a time and it took 3 years to build.
The final stop on the motorbike tour was the National Park, which has been one of my favourite experiences so far. The climb to the top was a tough one taking around 45 minutes, it involved crooked unsecured metal ladders, lots of rock climbing and clambering through the trees. The moment we reached the top we knew it had been worth it, the view out over the trees and mountains was a rewarding treat for our struggle to the top. There were no other people in sight, and it was silent bar a few animal noises. After a mini photo-shoot Lauren and I just sat there quietly, underneath a rusty metal tower taking in the view and appreciating the entire island from above. The walk back down was much quicker, as we tried to escape the hordes of mosquitos, it was also in this national park where Lauren’s scrunchie came to it’s sticky ending…
My main reason for visiting Cat Ba island was to have a go at rock climbing, after Lauren and I were fitted for our uncomfortable climbing shoes we headed onto the boat with Lucie for a morning of kayaking. It made a nice change from Halong bay to be kayaking in the sun as we paddled through low hanging caves, blue lagoons and around the impressive limestone rock formations. It was similar to Halong Bay, except with less people and litter around. After another tasty buffet lunch on the boat Lauren and I hit the rocks, they were giant limestone walls, with some hanging over the ocean. We watched in awe as the instructors seemed to fly up the rocks and prepare the ropes, there were only a few of us in the group with no climbing experience, Lauren and I were in that category. I did 3 climbs, only just not reaching the top on one of those as my body just went weak. It was hard work, trying to locate the next tiny ledge to place your feet, or the least jagged rock to hold onto and pull yourself up..whilst also holding your entire weight balanced on a tiny crevice.The rocks were really sharp, my hands and knees bled and legs almost instantly bruised, but it definitely got my heart racing in fear and excitement.
My time on Cat Ba island was a lot better than I expected, it was also easier than expected to make friends., It was with these two new friends I left Cat Ba and made my way back to the mainland, heading for Hue on a sleeper bus, where I would meet Roxanne and the others again.
The National Park view…