In the days to now I can say that we have been fully immersed with the “Lets do it all.” And with today’s adventure I can say that we have certainly done that here in Cat Ba. With last nights conversation on “what’s next?” Morgan and I decided to see Hong La Bay via kayaking, boat tour, spelunking, and finish it all with a quick visit to monkey island.
In our last hike of Cat Ba National Park, with a new friend, the tour was strongly suggested by using
the company of his hotel. Normally I might need to check around to confirm this lead, but before we were introduced to this friend we over heard a conversation with the group looking for the cheapest and best tour for Ha Long Bay. This was not just the best deal but we discovered every hotel, hostel, and resort used this same package but upped the price to best suit there own pocket for the connection. That connection would lead everyone to Captain Jack of Ngoc Hoa Hotel in the center of Cat Ba
Town just a few doors down from our hotel Sunset. (Which we found gave us the best rate on the island, $5 for the both of us. This did take some haggling to get it down from $7. But asking our fellow travelers everyone else was paying more and we had two beds with a balcony looking over the beautiful cove) But back to Captain Jack, we meet him as we were walking back to our room after our awesome moto bike ride and National Park hike that Morgan wrote about in the last blog post. Captain Jack confirmed the price our friend Hachan told us but before booking I told the Captain we wanted to see how many others we could rally for the tour.
After cleaning up and getting a quick bite to eat at a cheap restaurant Morgan and I headed down to
the infamous Asian Outdoors to grab a night cap. This was the hot spot for climbers and travelers to drink and listen to choice music while sitting outside. Sitting next to some new people we strike up conversation while waiting for the others to show. The three expressed interest in seeing Ha Long so I told them of the deal I found and they would join us. Just then the other three we were waiting for showed and again I asked if they wanted to tag along. With a little convincing they too would join the group. Needing us all to book soon I went ahead of the group to tell Captain Jack our good news of 8 people in the tour. He instantly gained posture and rose to his feet in a hand shake with a shared smile saying, “friend you go for free. Tell your friends to come pay now and your girlfriend can pay tomorrow. But you pay nothing!” Not expecting this I thanked him and went back to ask everyone to come with us to meet Captain Jack and pay for our fun day to come. He happily greeted everyone with a large color map pointing out the boating adventure with all that it included; a ride to the boat dock, a boat ride through Ha Lang Bay with 300 islands, a cave tour, then we kaiak for a hour and a half, a sea food lunch, then more boating through the beautiful Ha Long Bay with more than 400 islands, stopping at Monkey island for photos and a short hike, then a ride back to the hotel. All this for $20! Well free for some…
Morgan and I showed up at Ngoc Hoa Hotel early for breakfast where we found the best Vietnamese coffee we’ve had so far. Our breakfast on the other hand took 15 minutes, for 2 eggs with bread. Any other time it could of taken an hour without me caring, but this held up the minibus with others from the outside resorts waiting as Morgan and I rush through our eggs in a few bites. With a few quick sips of our amazing, now cool enough to drink coffee, we were off to start the tour.
Hopping into the minibus, half full of our on lookers, I apologized for our tardiness. With a short
drive to the pier we would wait again, but this time outside of the wind protected minibus. So as it always seems, the wait is always worth it so don’t rush or become frustrated with the inevitable. The vessel is clean of barnacles, weather ware and with a shinny new coat of brown she shows to be more than sea ready. The interior carries cushioned bench seats and a row of tables in the center isle. Later this will be our dinning room for the sea food lunch. A morning mist lingers in the salty air keeping many of us in the window lined cabin. Though there is a good view from inside Morgan and I chose to ride the tour on the open bow, well as much as we could comfortablably stand.
Returning to the interior of the cabin, feeling the down spirits from the not so sunny day, and feeling like I did a bit of convincing, I remind my group that the day was still in the morning hours and that soon the sun will find us. With a few half smiles Morgan and I start chatting with two Norwegian girls (Linda and Marion) whom we new from the start of Cat Ba. Finding out more of their travel plans we discover they are headed to San Francisco to start a travel in the States with a beginning to Coachella. This was the first I’ve heard of someone excited to travel the US so we, with matched excitement, share all the hot spots of America including our last home in Utah where we promise a free and fun stay with our old roommates John and Kevin. Maybe the finest and most giving people we know! With mutual spirits lifted, we arrive at our first stop, a cave.
Not the coolest cave we’ve visited but it gave us all a chance to get off the boat and stretch our legs. With fresh eyes outside of the cave we feel the warmer air and though still over cast I think we’re all bit ready to go kayaking. With a short boat ride many more of us are outside taking pictures and sharing stores. While pushing off from the cave I get a chance to converse with a man that is traveling with his wife and two young girls. Unbelievable, I discover the four have been traveling for eleven months with two more to come. Also I find that they are French and that their next stop will be in Hong Kong. Morgan and I turn to each other in a smile where she turns to them and asks, “Do you like wine?” and they respond, “Of course, we are french.” Another perfect opportunity to pass on a gift to a deserving traveler. This being the connection to a family owned wine bar in Hong Kong, California Vintage. Exchanging emails we invite the two for some much needed pampering as they thank us in delight for the experience to come. Finishing this conversation we arrive at a floating dock holding a handful of two seater kayaks. We quickly jump into our vessel and head toward a cave to explore.
Quickly we find that this cave went further than natural light could shine and we turn around to
retrieve our head lamps. (Note to others don’t forget to bring head lamps!) This being the coolest part of the trip and without anyone telling to do so we were glad to have brought ours. With some more exploring on the other side of the cave we head back to the boat where we find lunch not only ready but half way finished, but the kindness of the others our portion was saved and only slightly chilled.
With full bellies we were off again to now take more photos and stop at Monkey Island. My gambling habit still intact I make a bet for the first one to see a monkey gets a 1,000 dong ($0.50). Just as I finish verbalizing this bet Linda shouts out “MONKEY!” And just like Reno, I lost again. Sorry Linda I don’t think I ever got the chance to pay up. Taking photos of the monkeys lead to a short over populated hike. Back at our
docked beach I play with the little French girls exchanging shells found in the sand and we draw in the sprawling canvas of sand. Such beautiful out going little girls. Back on the boat for our last leg of the tour I share my cookies with the girls and show photos of the monkeys with the youngest of the two. Scrolling through the pictures one of my self pops up where she yells, “MONKEY!” and begins tugging on my beard. Though this did hurt I got her hand off by tugging of her pig tail and tickling her. We laughed and giggled until the boat docked at our original pier. Thinking we would all load on the minibus we never got to say a proper good bye and good luck. But with a big wave from the family we look forward to them having a good experience at Morgan’s family wine bar in Hong Kong. Walking back to clean up from our adventure, Morgan and I agreed that it was our best money spent and we would suggest anyone staying in Cat Ba visit Captain Jack at Ngoc Hoa Hotel to take the #3 Tour and don’t forget your headlamps!