Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 15 – Ha Long Bay to Hai Phong to Cat Ba Island

Before leaving Ha Long Bay I made a stop to visit their new museum. It is a beautiful black glass building, but the collection is a bit of a mish mash of Paleolithic tools, Chinese pottery from several periods, a spotty display about coal mining in the district during the French occupation (including canes used by the company bosses to punish the miners, and a collection of rusted weapons used to repel the American invasion. The most significant piece of knowledge I acquired is that Vietnam has some coal resources.
The 80 km or so to Hai Phong was a mix of crossing over beautiful, modern bridges, a highway in construction, heavy truck traffic, and very poor air quality (dust plus diesel particulates).
Hai Phong is a big city, and I had to cross it to go down the Hai Phong peninsula in my quest for Cat Ba Island. A bit crazy traffic-wise, but actually quite handsome. One canal in particular reminded me a bit of Amsterdam. I was navigating by feeling and did quite well. Eventually I made it to the airport, which was the right direction, but from there it was all guesswork. I had guessed there would be a ferry to Cat Hai Island, and from there another to Cat Ba Island, so from there I asked about a boat to Cat Hai. Fortunately the guard at the airport understood what I had asked, and I thought he was telling me that I had to go back the airport boulevard to the second roundabout and then make a right. I did, and then got to a T intersection. I turned right again and the road became more and more empty as it moved through large container yards, sand and gravel pits, and far apart business parks. Then, to the left on a small street, I saw a sign to Ben Pha, and this stirred a memory of Day 7 and the fact that Ben Pha had led to a ferry. There I a go and … bingo! … there it was, a rusted old ferry waiting to take me across to Cat Hai.
As we approached Cat Hai Island I became a bit disappointed. The island is flat as it can be, without much to recommend it. Sure, the little town was as quaint as any other little town in Vietnam, but I had come a long way to see it and wanted something more for my money. Forging ahead I got to the second ferry. It was a hazy afternoon, and I couldn’t get a very good look at Cat Ba Island, but as the ferry got closer out of the mist a gorgeous landscape of karstic pinnacles came into view.
The 20 km from the ferry to the small town of Cat Ba were absolutely fabulous and, given that I was in a far away island, the traffic had dropped to nearly nil. I did enjoy the ride through a fabulous landscape that made me think of the mountain roads of Gran Canaria. I made it to the port of Cat Ba around 5 pm, and once again scored with a great hotel. Inexpensive (US$ 10 per night) and I my room faces the beautiful bay. I think I will park myself here for two days, spend a third night at Hai Phong, and on the fourth day I will make a bee line to Ha Noi to conclude this trip.

No comments: