I can see the sea…

16 July 2019

Saturday 13 July 19 – Hanoi to Hai Phong – 108km

We broke one of our own rules today, which made us realise why we have these rules in the first place…

We felt like it was definitely time to move on and explore some more of Vietnam, but it was difficult to leave our digs in Hanoi. It’s times like this when we realise some of the things that we miss about not having a permanent address – a washing machine and kettle for a start! Hanoi was great and there’s still loads of northern Vietnam that we haven’t seen and won’t be able to during this tour, so it’s likely we’ll be back.

We were up and out early, not only to beat the heat but to beat the traffic too, and it worked. Our route out of Hanoi was relatively painless – except for a faff finding the road to get onto the bridge that goes over the Red River. The roads were busy as you’d expect of a capital city, but there was a nice wide hard shoulder for us to cycle on. Our destination for the day had initially been Hai Duong, but as our escape had been so easy we were there by 10:30am. At this point we decided we would push on and try to make it to Hai Phong on the coast, which was another 50km away. It was already hot so it would mean peddling past midday and this is where we broke our rule – we don’t like cycling past midday unless we really have to as it gets so hot, and it is why we tend to get on the road by 5 or 6am –  we can have our cycling done before we cook. Today reinforced why we do this – we cycled well past midday in our quest to get to Hai Phong and it was really tough. The traffic remained the same, the road went through some industrial areas so it was relatively dull but it just got hotter.  And when we finally got to destination we were a bit burnt, even though we’d slapped on loads of factor 50 sun cream. An unpleasant reminder as to why we have this rule!

Hai Phong is a really nice place – all leafy avenues with some old colonial buildings and it had a prosperous feel to it with some nice-looking new apartment buildings as we came into town. It’s the main port in the north of Vietnam which is probably why it’s reasonably wealthy, but port towns aren’t normally this nice. We went for dinner and found a local place that did noodle soup with meatballs (Martina’s choice) and ravioli (my choice), both of which were delicious and different from what we’ve had before as we are getting a bit tired of Bun Cha every day…

We also tried these local specialty ‘bread sticks’ filled with pate (Banh My Cay) and served with a very hot sauce, which were also very good.

As it had been a tough day we were back at base for an early night and managed to catch the last set of  the ladies final at Wimbledon, which considering where we are in the world was a very bizarre experience!

Sunday 14 July 19 – Hai Phong to Cat Ba – 55km

We have mentioned that it’s been very humid recently as it’s the rainy season.  Today it was probably at its highest and even before we got on our bikes we were sweating profusely! The road out of town took us for 20km through the port area towards a ferry to Cat Ba Island, our destination for the day. The route was flat, rather dull and, because of the high humidity, grey! We crossed a long causeway/bridge which gave us our first glimpse (and smell) of the sea since Kolkata…

We also had our first ferry crossing for ages and had given ourselves an hour of waiting at the port because reviews had said it can take a long time to get on a ferry, especially at the weekend. But we managed to elbow our way onto the first one that came along and didn’t have to wait at all!  When in Rome etc… And it’s was so nice to be able to just wheel our bikes on there and not have to take everything off!

When we reached Cat Ba Island, the road along the southwest coast was really nice and gave us some early views of the craggy limestone cliffs and islands that this area is famous for…

To us the town of Cat Ba wasn’t that inspiring, which is probably because we are middle-aged and it’s geared up for youngsters wanting a party! And looked like it needs a good lick of paint…

…although the sea front is nice enough with all the tourist and fishing boats (and a couple of bikes!), though it did smell pretty bad and not just of the sea!

Monday 15 July 19 – Lan Ha Bay

Cat Ba Island and the surrounding sea area are the most visited places in northern Vietnam, so we expected to see quite a few tourists here. It’s actually high season for Vietnamese tourists rather than western tourists at the moment – but western season should kick in any day now.

One of the main activities here is to take a boat trip out into Lan Ha Bay and it’s more famous big brother, Ha Long Bay, so we booked a morning boat trip and were collected from our digs by Susan (a Derry girl from near Martina’s hometown!) and her boyfriend Zoom, a Vietnamese local.

We were been a bit worried that the weather might still be grey and murky as it has been for the last couple of days, but we really lucked in and it was very bright and clear – and hot of course!

We didn’t realise it when we booked, but it was a private tour so it was just us, Susan and Zoom on a small (but covered) boat, which was great as it meant we could go into areas that many of the bigger boats couldn’t. Coming out of the port we passed some of the local floating fishing village…

Rafts floating on the water with small shacks on top where families live – a whole community living on the water with shops, restaurants, refuse collection, water and fuel deliveries. Just like being on land but using boats to get around instead of scooters. There are many different types of fishing here – from squid fishing using high-powered lights to attract the fish, to clam diving and crab pots – plus there are loads of fish farms here.

Once away from the port we were into Lan Ha Bay proper and some unbelievably spectacular scenery…

Limestone cliffs have been worn away to create sharp craggy islands and islets by the hundred…

Really enjoyable to sit and watch it all pass by…

We reached the edge of Ha Long Bay, which is more famous and more touristy and attracts large cruise boats which stay overnight. We rather liked our small boat that chugged happily between the smaller islands…

We stopped in a very secluded bay and went for a swim in what felt like warm bath water. There was a beach with a temple on it and not much else to it – and we had to swim from the boat to get there, but it was lovely just to get in the water.  Spot the two white bodies on the beach…..and until now we thought we were tanned! We also saw a live starfish in the sea there…

On our way back to port we visited one of the floating homes – it’s a fish farm that also doubles up as a bed and breakfast for tourists on overnight trips. We got to see the different fish that they farm, and these ones were particularly shark-like

A really interesting and close-up insight into to see how these fishermen and their families live…

We only booked a half day, which was enough for us – and it’s definitely something we’d recommend anyone to do if they are in this area even though it’s touristy! Our one criticism of the day was that there was a lot of rubbish in the water, but that’s a worldwide problem that just doesn’t seem to go away.

Tuesday 16 July 19 – Cat Ba to Do Son – 73km

We really did luck in with the weather for our boat trip yesterday.  As we left Cat Ba this morning it was murky and grey once again, but we didn’t mind as we’d seen what we came to see. We retraced our path back to the mainland – not much to report other than we got soaked in a downpour and I got all ‘arty’ with the camera as the light was rather strange…

Martina was happy – we stopped in Hai Phong to stock up so she got to shop at a supermarket (Big C, one of her favourites!) on the outskirts of town. Our destination for the day was Do Son which is literally the other side of the water from Cat Ba. It turned out to be quite a find. Whereas Cat Ba caters for Vietnamese and international tourists, Do Son is a tourist resort for wealthier Vietnamese.

Before finding accommodation we stopped on the waterfront for lunch, which felt reminiscent of some of our lunch stops in Europe…

Once we had checked in and indulged in our regular afternoon snooze we went for a walk along the peninsula that the town sits on. There’s one main beach that was packed with people…

We were definitely the only westerners there, which meant we had a bit of celebrity “walk about” saying hello and waving at loads of people. But we did manage to find a quiet spot on the seawall as the sun went down…

 

We rather liked Do Son – don’t tell anyone, but we liked it more that Cat Ba town!

From start to end it was a really lovely day.

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