When you think about Vietnam, you will quickly think about the Halong Bay. But the attractivity of this unique landscape along with the strong entrepreneur spirit of Vietnamese may have transformed this perfect postal card into one of the most exploited tourist place on earth… So after some research on travel blogs and the Lonely Planet, we thought we could still try to have a slice of the Halong Bay, but getting-in from the “backdoor”, through the Cat Ba island.
Arriving in Cat Ba after a pretty long bus-ferry-bus trip we got mixed feelings as most of the island consists of krastic hills and lush nature while Cat Ba “city” is a coastal touristic town, built too fast with too high slim hotels along the shore.
We tried to “escape” by renting a scooter directly but we didn’t find any hotel free out of the city. So we came back to one of the many seafront hotel which still had the big advantage of a great view over the bay.
The cruise around the island on a scooter is nice and can lead you to a beach, to a cave-hidden military base dating from the Vietnam war or else to a 360 hilltop view point which is perfect to enjoy the sunset. But the main show is elswhere… as very close lies the Halong Bay that we got to discover the day after on a a boat with a solo guide-driver. This unique landscape of krastic limestone formations in the middle of the sea are creating a maze where a real life has been developed, a Water-World like one: here some fishermen on tiny boats, there some floating villages of piscicultures guarded by dogs and here some crab traps gatherers…
One of the tourist activity there is also to wander on a kayak in the middle of this fantastic landscape and access to places you can’t go to on a boat. We’ll keep in our memories for long the sort of natural giant swimming pool we were allowed to enter through a narrow entrance where we even had to lie on our kayak to go through. We finished the day on the so-called “Monkey Island” beach where a short walk can lead you to a great viewpoint of the area.
So we won’t be able to compare with the “normal” tour of the Halong Bay but this solution through Cat Ba was meeting our expectations and really quiet.
We really loved Vietnam for this mix of rich history, strong culture (special mention for the gastronomy!), dynamism and unique natural landscapes. We’ll be back for sure but this time we may go in the South to discover an other face of this country.
And the good thing is that we could even get a glimpse of Bangkok on our way back as our stepover was quite long (8 hours). But that was actually perfect as we had enough time to go once again (it was our 3rd time) to the famous Chatuchak market (which is conveniently pretty near from Bangkok’s second airport, DMK). We’re never tired of this fascinating market offering a bit of everything in a bazaar atmosphere that we love. To reflect this unique atmosphere and the diversity of its vendors, we’ve even shot a small photo series you can check here.