Island Paradise (Day 1)
OK Molly, I've got nothing on the amazing photos of Vietnamese island paradise that HNF sends around. But I can tell you that, even on an overcast day, Lan Ha Bay is pretty darn spectacular. Sitting in a kayak in a quiet lagoon, entered via stone archway at low tide, is the farthest from noise and traffic I've been since I left home. It is wonderful. I could spend a week here, but have decided to cut it short to get the bus-boat-bus-killme-pleaseGod-anotherbus-ripofftaxi-nicetaxi back to Hanoi to make sure I make it to the airport on time. I wish I could have stayed at least another few days.
The food here in Cat Ba is variously terrible and wonderful. Dinner was a shocker.
After a harrowing 6-hour journey I arrived after dark with nowhere to stay. Having finally found a decent room (I'm ashamed to say it had neon lights polluting the waterfront view), I tried to find a place where the 'locals' would eat -- to avoid a repeat of the tourist trap experience in Hanoi. That in itself was tough. One of two places near the town had localesque patronage. I managed to pick the one that served 2-minute noodles as a main (though calling it something else). The other, right next door, may not have been any better.
Breakfast though, was a treasure. I followed the local hawks across a bridge to the docks where the fisherfolk brought in their catch. An unsavoury part of the town if only for the smell. But that's where the real food is to be found. A little shopfront doled out bowls of crab noodle soup which were rich and fragrant, with baskets of fresh greens, chopped chilli, and help-yourself tea on the low plastic tables. For $2 I had the best meal in town on a seat by the water.
Another fresh and delicious meal on board the kayaking junk, with coconut flesh cooked in broth as a crunchy, tasty vegetable. Then back on a bus for the hellride back to the mainland.
Pro-tip: Next time I'd take the long road to Cat Ba. Book a tourist trip to Ha Long and take a scenic boat ride through Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba. And I'd stay at least a few days to explore little secluded islands. Then head back via Ha Long.
Up next: Hoi An.
Note: I've not abandoned the comic format. I just have lots to say about Vietnam and, well, words are a lot quicker than pictures.
Cat Ba street food post (this post).