Friday, June 11, 2010

Halong Bay Cruise, Part 3!

To those reading, the Dandygrams during my trip in Viet Nam are SO back-logged because often, we stayed at places that didn't have internet (WiFi), or we'll leave our room and lose power when we take the key--thus losing my charge on my MacBook. So I just want to clarify that I am going to get the good stuff out to you in due time, and hopefully, I can get the rest of my Viet Nam trip logged before I leave. As for Part 3 of our Halong Bay cruise (and then going back to Hanoi, visiting Hue, Hoi An, and Nha Trang), I need to definitely catch you up on our adventures and happenings before my memory starts to fade, or worse, I forget places, names, people, etc. So for this post, I'll finish what happened on the last leg of our cruise, and then I'll get to the other cities in the next Dandygram!

. . .

After sleeping the night on our boat, we awoke to Hai (our tour guide) knocking on the door around 7:30am--informing us to come upstairs for breakfast and to get ready for Cat Ba Island. We finished a filling breakfast rather quickly and got right back to our room to start packing up.

It was actually a very nice room, and the beds were comfortable, but I can't say much of the shower because I didn't use it. Well, I thought I would sneak in a shower the day before, but about two minutes into lathering up, Hai came to our door to say that we'd be going swimming/kayaking, so it was a failed attempt.

After packing up our things, we said our goodbyes to Hai and the Vietnamese family (they didn't book a night at Cat Ba and Hai was only assigned to the boat tours). Then, at a completely random place in the middle of the bay, we transferred to another boat bound for Cat Ba Island. Once aboard, we met other backpackers who had booked a night on Cat Ba and started chatting them up, sharing stories, and getting/giving advice.

Since in Viet Nam, I've met two kinds of backpackers: those traveling North and those traveling South. From what I can tell, Halong Bay cruises seemed to be either the beginning or the end of a Viet Nam trip for those we've met; therefore, we have been able to hear about places to go and things to do once we started heading South from those traveling North.

After a short boat ride, we came to Monkey Island--a nice little detour on our way to Cat Ba Island. Monkey Island is a small island known for the wild monkeys that can be seen playing on the beach, swinging from the trees, or climbing on the rocks, and as we approached the beach on the island, we could clearly see monkeys in the distance--moving from tree to tree. Our new tour guide told us if we wanted to see them up close, we needed to take a hike. Upon hearing this, Ruben, Elliott, and I were skeptical because we could see the rocks we needed to climb and we were each wearing flip-flops. Nevertheless, we decided it would be completely worthwhile to find a monkey or even snap a picture with one, so up we went in our resilient Rainbow sandals.

Honestly, I think they call it Monkey Island because the tour guides manage to convince tourists into hiking up the most jagged rocks in search for monkeys, but what turns out instead is tourists looking like monkeys as they scale the incredibly gnarly rocks. During our hike up, it was quite a sight watching those ahead of me making their way up, and meanwhile, we had not had a single monkey sighting . . .

After reaching a point on the rock mountain where we all agreed it was time to stop going up and start making our way back down, I had a chance to capture a few photos from the top:

Once we finally made our way off the jagged rocks and onto a better path in the treed-in area, we actually found a monkey sitting on the rock who was mildly entertaining some of those ahead of us. I have to tell you, I am very fortunate to have been behind the few ahead of me already playing with the monkey because much to my expectation, it was not a friendly little creature. For example, one Vietnamese tourist attempted to sit next to the monkey for a picture, and almost immediately, the monkey slapped his face, knocking his glasses off which startled everyone around. Then, the monkey showed his teeth, and it was at this point where I decided to get my picture and keep moving down toward the beach because I was not looking to get scratched or have a wrestling match with that little guy.

Let me remind you, he is NOT as harmless and cuddly as he looks in this picture!

After our eventful hike around Monkey Island, we got back on the boat and were finally dropped off on Cat Ba Island. Our day's adventures, however, were not yet over because we still had a last stop at Cat Ba National Park for more hiking and more breath-taking views. At this point in the day, all I wanted to do was lay in this hammock I found on the beach at Monkey Island, but there are no party-poopers in our crew, so I eventually peeled myself out . . .

Feeling sticky, hot, tired, and hungry, our bus-load of backpackers were dropped at the entrance to Cat Ba National Park around 10:30am for an extremely long hike before lunch at our hotels, but it was SO worthwhile. The whole time we hiked in the park, you didn't really know what you were hiking to see or what to expect because we didn't have a formal guide for this hike. As we walked (and climbed), we based the fact that we needed to keep going up that mountain from what we were being told about the amazing views from those coming down. Some contemplated this and turned back because it was a really tough hike (especially for those wearing sandals!).

While the pictures above were able to capture a lot of what we experienced, I have to share a video because the views from the top could not truly be captured with any picture:

(SAM_0376) - VIDEO

We spent enough time on top of that rickety lookout tower to start getting a bit nervous and shaky, so we made our way down and hiked all the way back down. At the final steps toward the base of the trail, I swear to you my legs and knees were shaking and felt like they were about to give out. That hike had been a test of our stamina and determination; the heights we reached were not for the weak-hearted either! With our nerves (and knees!) shaken up a bit, we decided to have an ice cold beer at the bottom of the trail--probably the most refreshing beer I have ever drank!

After the last person made it down the trail, we boarded back onto the bus and were taken to our hotels for the night. We grabbed a filling lunch, gathered some laundry to get washed, and nursed our exhaustion with a long nap. A few hours later, we awoke with the sun setting and with enough time to get our free dinner from the hotel. We passed on that meal for a chance to go out to one of the two floating restaurants instead!

It was a great decision because once we pulled up to the restaurant, we were immediately told to follow this little lady and pick our dinner in the back of the restaurant. What? Yes, we approached these two areas in the back of the restaurant filled with seafood and were told to pick a fish from the one and then other assortments of seafood from the other.

It was really fun to see all the fish swimming around, point to the one we wanted to eat, and then watch the little lady try to wrestle it out to be weighed and cooked. We thought our first pick was a good one only to find out it was about $60USD after it was weighed, so we passed on that one and picked a MUCH smaller one instead. Then, we picked a crab, some mussels, and some prawns. We got back to our table, and within about 15 minutes, we had our crab, prawns, and mussels served with a heaping pile of rice and a full plate of morning glory. Soon after, we were also served our fish and another round of beers. What a MEAL!

Now well-rested and full from a large meal, we had room for a few drinks back on the island and time to make new backpacker friends. It's been interesting though, at this point in our trip to Viet Nam, because there are very few we've met who have been from the United States. This is something that remained true throughout our time here. Regardless, it was another fun night with my buddies as we made new friends from all over the world, had a shot of snake whiskey (and nearly gagged afterward), and played card games very late into the night.

Next up on The Dandygram: Back to Hanoi for the Weekend and Visiting "All Things Ho Chi" with a Little Communism on the Side!

1 comment:

  1. Yet another GREAT post, son. I laughed out loud at the monkey's face. Wonderful photos! I'm so glad your flip-flops are reliable on these seemingly-treacherous hikes. xox Mom