A Travellerspoint blog

Finished the Most Strenuous Hike of My Life!

sunny 22 °C

We were picked up by a bus after breakfast that drove up to the national park here on Cat Ba Island. We had a group of 10 people and a guide for the "1 Day Trekking Experience". As soon as we got off the bus, the guide says to me, "Are you sure you want to do this?" He had picked out the weakest link in the group, for sure. There was a middle aged couple, who were very fit, and everyone else was a 20-something. He didn't question Don at all, but made a point of showing me the map and telling me how difficult it would be. But even though I felt some trepidation, I said I could do it.
We hiked for about 4 hours (10 kilometres) to a village for lunch. This included some level trail which was well developed with concrete paving. It also included climbing over 6 mountains and down the other side. (It was only 5 for me, but the others did 6.) Sometimes on the steep climbs there were rock stairways and sometimes just red arrows painted on the rock face to show you which way to climb. The guide made a walking stick for me, quite early on in the hike, while it was quite level. It was very helpful most of the time, but when climbing up the rocks, sometimes I needed both hands to hold onto the rock and pull myself up!
Rock stairway

Rock stairway

Jumble of rocks

Jumble of rocks

Working hard to climb

Working hard to climb


As we got close to the village, we came to a fork in the path. The guide told me to take the left one and go to the village and wait for them to arrive. They took the other path and climbed up over another mountain so they could see the view of the village in the valley. I was very thankful to walk a flat easy trail the last kilometre or so into the village.
View of the village from the top of the last mountain

View of the village from the top of the last mountain

A plow in the village

A plow in the village


When they arrived, we had lunch at a restaurant. Lots of good food, although the comment was made - "Is this food this good, or is it just because I was so hungry?" After a rest period, we walked another 5 kilometres along a fairly flat, concrete road which led to the dock. We even got to walk thru a little tunnel through a mountain. (Way easier than going over the top!) We boarded a boat, which was like the one we were on yesterday, and joined the people on board. We had a slow trip through the floating fishing village and back to the main dock. Then it was time to get in the van and return to our hotels. When we got back, we just showered and changed and went out for supper. It was not long after that, that I went to bed and out like a light! It was a very strenuous day, but I'm glad I did it. My only complaint is that the guide did not give us any information about the forest we walked thru, unless we asked a direct question and sometimes not even then. I was the slowest member of the group and the others waited patiently at rest stops for me to show up. I could not believe how fast they could scramble up and down the jumble of rocks!
Entering the tunnel

Entering the tunnel


Sunset after a strenuous day

Sunset after a strenuous day


I wanted to include a video of our kayaking yesterday. It was pretty difficult at times, with groups of kayaker, some of which had never done it before, I'm sure. Traffic jams and collisions, but fun.

Posted by katdill 16:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Cat Ba Boat Excursion

semi-overcast 20 °C

Our tour started with being picked up around 7:45 or so. After filling the van with passengers from other hotels, we drove to the dock. After another short wait we boarded our boat for the day, the Red Coral. After dropping some people off at a houseboat (they must have been doing an overnight tour), there were 16 of us on our boat.
The Red Coral

The Red Coral


Don on board

Don on board


We passed thru the floating fisherman village which lies just outside the dock area. These people live in these little houses surrounded by floating fish cages. And they have pet dogs, for protection from thieves according to our guide. Not much space for a dog to run, they just travel around on the wooden walkways like the people.
Fishing boat with lights for attracting fish

Fishing boat with lights for attracting fish

Part of floating village

Part of floating village


We travelled for an hour or so, far enough into Halong Bay to be able to see Halong City on the horizon. The rock formations are amazing. Thousands of small and large karst islands, mostly covered in greenery. We stopped to kayak thru some cave tunnels under some of the formations. We spent about an hour in the kayak, enjoying the quiet scenery, being run into by tourists who didn't know how to handle a kayak, and following our guide, who admitted that he loves the kayaking part of the tour, the best.
One of the many amazing rocks

One of the many amazing rocks

The first tunnel

The first tunnel


Our kayak selfie

Our kayak selfie


When we returned to our boat, lunch was ready. They had set the tables with lace tablecloths and brought out quite a variety of dishes. Really very good and cooked on board the ship.
After lunch was over, we set off again. The next stop was a quiet cove for snorkelling. Don and Inez (a Belgian woman) were the only two who snorkelled, although there were a couple of other men who had a swim. When it was time to go, they blew the boat whistle to tell Don it was time to come back. He spent the whole time there in the water, although he said there weren't a lot of fish to see and only a little coral.
One of the young swimmers jumping from the top of the boat

One of the young swimmers jumping from the top of the boat


We had another longish ride to return to Monkey Island, and yes there were monkeys there. There is no dock there, so we had to transfer to the island in a little boat. The attraction on the island, apart from the monkeys, is a climb up a karst rock for the view at the top. This is a very steep, hands holding on, kind of climb. I admit I didn't go all the way to the top, but Don did, of course. It is a nice view from up there, but the access is very difficult. When we came back down and joined the young people for a beer, they said our parents would never have done that climb. And we are older than their parents!
Rough rock trail

Rough rock trail


View from the top

View from the top


We had quite the time getting on and off the little transfer boat at the island without getting soaked! But we did it, although on the return, everyone thought I was going to roll right into the ocean! Life with boats, always interesting!
We met some nice young people on board, a couple from Paris, a couple from Belgium (Inez and Geert), and a nice American fellow (Nick). We spent some of the travelling time sharing travel stories with them. One couple is travelling for 9 months, the other for 5 months!

Posted by katdill 15:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Dong Hoi to Hanoi to Cat Ba

Another 2 Days in One

semi-overcast 20 °C

We caught the 9:00 am train to Hanoi without any difficulty. The train wasn't very full as we left Dong Hoi, but as we got closer and closer to Hanoi it filled up. We had better seats for this trip with even a little table in front of us. But it was another long trip, we didn't arrive in Hanoi until 8:00 pm. We managed to bring along food to eat on the way, so we didn't have to rely on the train food. We did get some pictures of the country side, but it is challenging trying to take pictures from a quickly moving train, through a dirty window, when you can't see what is coming along. But I did finally manage to get a poor photo of a farmer plowing with his buffalo. I've seen this several times, but only just got this one photo.
Farmer plowing with water buffalo

Farmer plowing with water buffalo


We passed thru an amazing amount of rice fields, in all stages of growth. Some just being seeded, some being transplanted, some dried up and ripening. Such flat country and then suddenly there is a mountain of rock. One thing we have noticed over and over in our travels thru Vietnam is the cemeteries. Each little village has a cemetery, which are often very elaborate. Family plots with walls around them and little pagodas as well. This is another thing that is difficult to photograph while flying by on the bus or train.
A glimpse of a cemetery

A glimpse of a cemetery


When we arrived in Hanoi, we got a taxi to our homestay or rather he dropped us off by the street it is on...no cars can go down that street, just motorbikes. We walked in and found it with little difficulty. They were expecting us and we were given a large room. We went out for a little walk around the streets, so we could get our blood circulating after sitting on the train all day. We even found a gelato shop! Then to bed.

This morning was spent walking around a lake near where we are staying, Old Quarter Hanoi Homestay. This lake is in the heart of the city with sidewalks and lovely flower beds all around it. We also did a little camera shopping, in case Don decides to replace his camera while we are here. We had lunch at a restaurant with a meat menu and a vegetarian menu, Cai Mam, which also had poetry up on the walls. Quite a unique, quirky place with good food.
Everyone having breakfast on the sidewalk

Everyone having breakfast on the sidewalk

Deer in flower bed

Deer in flower bed

Propaganda anyone?

Propaganda anyone?

Stove for a street restaurant

Stove for a street restaurant


We were picked up at the homestay about 2:15 by the bus to Cat Ba. We rode the bus around picking up other people in the city before setting out to Hai Phong. It took about 3 hours until we finally got to the speedboat dock. Then we loaded onto the boat and headed for the island. The boat ride is about 25 minutes and then back on another bus for another 1/2 hour ride into town. So we finally got dropped off at our hotel, about 6:30. We checked in and signed up for tours for the next two days. Finally found some supper at the Green Mango restaurant, which was quite a bit more expensive than we've been used to paying. But it was good food, if very slow.

Posted by katdill 06:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Dong Hoi

Two Days in One

overcast 18 °C

Yesterday morning we got up hoping to go to the Botanical Garden again, to walk some of the trails there. But it was raining again and we were told that most of the trails there are just dirt and so would be mud. So we reluctantly gave up the idea. We did have a little walk and discovered the local market, which was quite a lot bigger than we expected.
Don sitting by the fire our last night in Son Trach

Don sitting by the fire our last night in Son Trach

Friendly woman with her daughter at the Bamboo Cafe

Friendly woman with her daughter at the Bamboo Cafe


Hai, who was our guide yesterday for the tour, tried to arrange a ride to Dong Hoi with a friend of his, that would be returning with an empty car. Unfortunately, this did not turn out as planned. We waited for about 2 hours (and had lunch while we waited) to then find out that there had been some kind of "manifestation" or demonstration about opening the beaches and the road had been blocked. So the friend ended up not coming after all and we took the local bus instead. This was a very crowded bus that bounced along the country roads, stopping in each little village. We couldn't see out very well because the windows were steamed up. When we arrived in Dong Hoi, the bus actually took us to within 3 blocks of our hotel. They had us get off at a hotel with a similar name, but we had no difficulty finding the right hotel (although we were walking in the rain!)
So after checking in and finding ourselves in a very spacious room, we dried out a bit before going out to find supper. We ate at the Treehugger Cafe, a very small place quite near by, that is very environmentally conscious and vegetarian friendly. They also give out walking trail maps for the city, so we took one to help us find our way around.
After breakfast here at the hotel, this morning we set out on the walking trail. We visited all that is left of a church - Dong Hoi was bombed to complete rubble in February, 1965 by the Americans. There were only 3 structures that survived the bombing, the remains of the church is one of them.
Tam Toa Church

Tam Toa Church


We walked over a long bridge and had a good look at the fishing fleet. We also visited the angry ocean again. It seems to be angry a lot these days!
It seemed that today was a lucky day to get married. Almost everywhere we went we saw preparations for weddings or weddings in progress. Of course, the market was on the walking trail and we had some fun conversations there - everyone wants to say Hello or any other English they know. I had a good look at some live crabs, all tied up so they couldn't move and hurt each other.
Fishing boat with lights to attract the fish

Fishing boat with lights to attract the fish

Fishing fleet flying the flag

Fishing fleet flying the flag

Tent set up for wedding reception

Tent set up for wedding reception

The food prep area outside the tent

The food prep area outside the tent


Live crab all tied up

Live crab all tied up

Everywhere we walk we see little street side gardens like this.

Everywhere we walk we see little street side gardens like this.


We did some shopping for food for the train trip tomorrow and had both lunch and supper at 7th Heaven, a delightful little restaurant with good food and nice ambiance.

Posted by katdill 04:18 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Paradise Cave

overcast 20 °C

We arranged a tour thru our homestay to visit the Botanical Garden and Paradise Cave. We were picked up in a mini-van, along with 7 young men from the hostel across the street. When we arrived at the Botanical Garden it was raining. We walked in and visited the building with some very sad displays of stuffed animals that live in the forest. Then we went to visit some monkeys that were fenced in a recovery area because they were injured and there was a Asian porcupine in with them. They look quite different from the porcupines we are used to. We couldn't walk the trail to the waterfall because they said the trail was too slippery from all the rain. So we didn't really see much of the Botanical Garden at all due to the rain. The most interesting thing was having to cross two little bamboo bridges.
Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge


So we drove on to Paradise Cave. Once we got there, we took electric trolleys in from the parking lot to the base of the trail. We had to climb a mountain to get to the mouth of the cave. It was a steep climb, but it was a concrete trail with a handrail. It took me awhile, with lots of breathing breaks, but I made it. We climbed to an altitude of 316 meters where our guide gave us the final talk about the cave. It was only discovered in 2005, but they have it well developed for tourism now.
Looking out at the mountains as we climb.

Looking out at the mountains as we climb.


Once we entered the cave, we had to go down many wooden steps. There is a wooden walkway throughout the cave to keep everyone on the trail. The walkway extends for 1 km into the 31 km cave. It is a much bigger cave than Phong Nha, up to 70 meters high and up to 80 meters wide, very open and spacious. It is very well lit so it is pretty easy to take pictures. We walked to the end of the trail and then back out. It was a very interesting cave and we enjoyed it a lot. Then back down the mountain by a different path which is all steps, to the trolleys and back to the parking lot. There our guide told us, since the other people were going on to the Dark Cave tour, we went back to town in another bus. It seems switching people from one tour to another is a pretty common practice.
Looking back up at the entrance as we go down the first flight of steps

Looking back up at the entrance as we go down the first flight of steps

Looking down into the cavern

Looking down into the cavern

Rock with character

Rock with character

More cave

More cave


We had lunch next door at the Bamboo Cafe once we got back to town. We rested up and tried to figure out how to see the Botanical Garden again. We would like to walk the trails thru the forest, because the jungle here is so thick, if there is not a trail - there is not a walk! We did some walking around town, having fun interacting with the small children, who love to say "Hello" and run up and give us a "high five".
View of the town as we return from the cave.

View of the town as we return from the cave.


We changed our plan and are going to leave tomorrow instead of staying another day. It's a very small town with nothing but the caves to do. Hopefully, we can visit the Botanical Garden with a rented motorbike in the morning before we leave.

Posted by katdill 15:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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