We slept the whole night like babies, and in the morning found our motorcycles outside the hotel waiting for us -with the saddles covered to prevent overheating- and ready to finally get us to Cat Ba island.
Feeling like cool and experienced travellers we picked one of the many “restaurants” available. We were immediately welcomed by a group of excited and curious old women that seemed to be looking forward to letting us try their mind-blowing pho. They started throwing in very interesting and mysterious ingredients, some of which didn’t really please our delicate westerner palates.
Silvia left some of the pho in her bowl but the immediate disappointment, indignation and disdain in the eyes of the women who served us convinced me to force myself to try finish the soup.
Can’t blame those women: I am sure we would have felt the same way if a foreigner didn’t like a carbonara or some other dish that we consider to be the ultimate treat.
After breakfast we tied our backpacks onto the motorcycles, headed towards the ferry pier and bought some tickets to Cat Ba for us and the motorcycles from a rude woman who was clearly a gangster boss in the area, who also -we found out only later- royally ripped us off.
We finally boarded a very rusty ferry that didn’t exactly feel very reliable, and took a look around while motorcycles and goods were being loaded onto the boat.
We finally left and SLOWLY started cruising through and endless industrial port and this is a little summary of what we saw:
It took us over an hour to navigate through the port, after that we were in the open sea and our view was filled with charming little green islands.
After a further 2 good hours and a half we finally docked at the main port of Cat Ba island, where some men started unloading the boat of all the goods, then something happened and for the first time in seven years of friendship I saw Silvia become angry. The 5 or 6 men who were unloading the boat were asking us for money to unload our motorcycles, which was quite annoying as we had paid a ticket for them specifically and we were never told that there was going to be a further final “tax”, it felt like a tourist rip-off technique and we didn’t really have a choice: the bikes had to come down from the “roof” of the boat and there was no way the two of us could do it without help. So eventually we paid, I was annoyed, but Silvia was furious! Obviously it was more about the way this all happened more than for the fact itself.
The port was full of people picking up things or trying to lure the few tourists that arrived on our same boat to their hotels. We were approached by a man on a scooter and since we had no plan whatsoever, we decided to try and follow him, although we were still very wary and not willing to be ripped off again. The hotel we were shown turned out to be actually okay (for the 5-10 USD/night range), the back of the hotel was built on the mountain so there was rock instead of a wall, which was quite cool. We were given a room on the 4th floor and had to climb quite a few stairs but the view from our window was lovely, there was also a terrace on the top floor from which I took a long exposure panorama picture I am quite happy with (it will be included in the day 4 blog entry). The owner of the hotel -who was the one that picked us up at the port- was very helpful and gave us some suggestions on what to do and see during our stay.
We decided to go visit Cannon Fort, at the top of a hill just outside Cat Ba Town. There we found gun emplacements with Viet Minh mannequins, underground tunnels, a museum and a breathtaking view of the whole island. Apparently the gun emplacements and the tunnels were originally built by the Japanese during World War II but were also used by the French and the Vietnamese during subsequent conflicts.
It was quite mind-blowing to see all of this coexist, in a combination that felt like a paradox: to see the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and the residues of more than one war, made it hard to imagine how death and violence on such a large scale could have happened in a place that was giving us such a sense of peace and wonder.
We spent some time “chillin'” around Fort Cannon enjoying the stunning views and only started heading back when the sun began to set. Once we got back we decided to explore the town on our motorcycles; that didn’t keep us busy for long as Cat Ba Town is really really tiny; especially the part that unfolds along the bay is super small and can be easily walked across in probably less than 30 minutes end to end.
We ended our evening eating some delicious street food at a seafood stand overlooking the bay and decided to stay on the island for an additional night before going back to the mainland and start our long ride towards the south.
Thank you to everyone who has been following the blog so far and if there are any suggestion you would like to make, it would be more than welcome.
As always any comment, like or share would be very appreciated and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing about and remembering what has been the most wonderful trip of my life so far.