• Beautiful and terrifying – Getting active in Cat Ba Island

    Go! Why are you even reading this blog! Go now to Cat Ba Island!

    Go! Why are you even reading this blog! Go now to Cat Ba Island!

    Having high expectations of a place when travelling is always a dangerous thing. So often you can build something up to the point that the reality has no way of meeting the illusion you have created in your mind. Often for me, I will arrive at a place to find that an over abundance of tourists and purveyors of tat and overpriced tours clashes with my dreams of Indiana Jonesesq exploration. And then there are issues like the weather to factor in. It’s fair to say my expectations of Zhangjiajie in China, which I had been told was the inspiration for the scenery in the film of Avatar, were not met after the weather decided to intervene…

    Fog - theres nothing else to see!

    The views from the worlds longest cable car at Zhangjiajie are spectacular. Apparently…

    foggy filling a canyon in the rock

    The fog did make for some fun photos though

    Tourists peering out into the mist

    The weather didn’t stop the tourists!

    Bridge fading into the mist

    Cross if you dare…

    So it’s always nice when you have sky-high expectations of a place (Halong Bay – thank you Top Gear Vietnam Special) and it actually meets them!

    Well sort of. I didn’t actually go to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is only one part of a geological karst phenomenon of vegitation covered craggy limestone peaks dotting the water that covers a much larger area. As a result I actually went to Cat Ba Island which is directly below Halong Bay. In short you get pretty much the same scenery without the same number of tourists (although during Summer it is apparently a hotspot for domestic Vietnamese tourists.) And by avoiding the expensive tours hostels and hotels will try to force feed you as soon as you arrive in Hanoi you should save a lot of money.

    Karsts in the sea

    Not Halong Bay – but still awesome

    The skies were grey when I was there but the views spectacular nonetheless. You could easily spend a week here exploring the island and doing activities in the bay. However being in a rush I only spent one full day there, kayaking and doing something called Deep Water Soloing…

    I had never heard of deep water soloing before. It is essentially just rock climbing, but over deep water. And doing it without any ropes, hence the “solo” part. I’m not a great climber, and if you’ve read this blog before you will know I’m not a fantastic swimmer either… Still it looked fun and I if I was terrible at it, I would still enjoy the afternoon of kayaking that followed, and last time I almost drowned it at least gave me a good anecdote, so I signed up. I went with Asia Outdoors, and I can thoroughly recommend them.

    3 climbers on the rock

    Deep Water Soloing

    The best way to describe Deep Water Soloing I think, is climbing, with lots of added fear. The fear factor definitely goes up several notches. Even the experienced climbers in our group had a look approaching horror on their faces the first time they turned away from the rock to jump off into the water. We were given some basic safety instructions – if you fall, try to kick away from the rock face with your feet to make sure you hit the water – and that the easiest way to jump off is to turn around and look to the horizon and jump. We were also told that the way to stop your body rotating too far forward or back after jumping is to move you arms in a strange “winding the windows down” motion while you fall, which frankly makes you look like a complete wally. (I guess with the 20th century now long behind us this safety advice will soon need to be updated for those who know of nothing but electric windows…) Emphasising how much of a wally we looked our instructor went for a climb of his own – and backflipped off the rock. It’s fair to say he looked rather cooler than we did…

    Jumping in you will look a wally

    Jumping in you will look a wally

    I cannot recommend this activity enough – at one stage, after the boat put me onto the wall, it disappeared round the corner of the rock to put some more climbers on. I soon found myself clinging to the wall, not particularly confident about climbing further up, not particularly confident at how long I would be able to stay in the water waiting for the boat to come back if I fell or jumped off. I could see or hear no one. The “solo” aspect of deep water soloing could not have been more apparent. I found myself looking out across the water at the stunning scenery with a feeling that was that beautiful combination of exhilaration, wonder and sheer terror.

    I also found myself desperate for a pee. Which was inconvenient…

    Its easy to get distracted by the scenary

    It’s easy to get distracted by the scenery

    After a lunch on the boat (and a pee) we spent the afternoon kayaking around the karts, another fantastic experience, even if I did have to share my kayak with an 18-year-old Austrian Justin Bieber look-alike who seem to have little concept of the idea of “steering” and seemed keen to play “bumper cars” with the other kayaks when ever possible. Possibly this was in revenge for the fact I kept saying he was German. And that he looked like Justin Bieber. Oh and I might have mentioned a failed Austrian artist with a stupid moustache once or twice…

    If you aren't into climbing then the kayaking is just as highly recommended

    If you aren’t into climbing then the kayaking is just as highly recommended

    DSC00597 (Large)

    DSC00582 (Large)

    Not Justin Bieber

    Not Justin Bieber

    Me and my Kayak

    Trying to look stylish with my kayak…

    Kayak on the beach

    Artsy shot

    All in all, it was awesome. I am 100% doing this again sometime, and have spent most of the last few days blabbering on about this to other backpackers telling them they have to go give it a go. I should be on commission!

    Getting to Cat Ba independently is a breeze. Be sure to check bus times when you arrive in Vietnam, but essentially the easiest way is to buy a through bus ticket from the Luong Yen bus station through the Hoang Long Bus Company. Price should be 220,000-240,000 Dong depending on season. Currently they leave at 0720, 0920 and 1320. They take approximately 4 and a half hours (bit longer on the way back) and include all ferry transfers etc. Their website is here, although it currently states there is an 0520 bus, which had been chalked out at the bus station.

    Floating island

    Locals farming fish

    I sorted the climbing/kayaking out with AsiaOutdoors, whose website is here. Their shop is actually a tad difficult to find. It wasn’t until Not-Justin-Bieber rang his sister who had been there before were we able to find it. It’s on the sea front, just ahead of where the bus from Hanoi will drop you off, above a western style restaurant. Locals will hopefully be able to point you in the right direction if you can’t find it – we probably just asked the wrong ones!

    View of islands from a cave

    Did I mention the scenery was stunning?

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Roger says:

    Good to see that expensive degree in medieval history taught you the difference between wear and where … Looks like you need to add spelling as well as facts to your list of things to check.

    Hope you are enjoying Cambodia

    • Thanks – its been fun, off to try to get to Bangkok tomorrow – bus to the boarder then with a bit of luck train to Bangkok. I will be sure to post another spelling error strewn blog-post detailing anything useful I find out…

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