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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cat Ba and Halong Bay

13th – 16th December

With more than 3000 islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country's natural marvels. The vegetation covered islands are dotted with innumerable grottos created by the wind and the waves.

5 hours after leaving Hanoi, we arrived in Cat Ba town. The description in the Lying Planet guidebook had us envisage a peaceful picturesque town by a small port. We arrived in Blackpool.* High rise hotels dominated the seafront town and although the island is very beautiful, the town is not.

A kitsch 80’s throwback hotel room, with sea view of course, was ours for $5. We set out to explore and find some food. We didn’t have much success, and all 3 of the dinners we had on Cat Ba were memorable for the wrong reasons – no recommendations here then! The beaches near Cat Ba town were probably once very beautiful, but the mass of concrete and new ‘resort’ hotels, it was all a bit of an eyesore really.

One day, we signed up for a 1 day tour of Halong Bay with a company called Slo Pony. They promised a ‘cooler’ style of day trip than the other companies, offering rock climbing (expensive!), kayaking, and a fun backpacker crowd. We had a good day, but question if it was worth the extra money that it cost over a tour with the other local companies on Cat Ba.

Halong Bay is spectacular, as you’ll see from the photos. It’s just a shame the weather wasn’t better. Grey skies have been a familiar sight through Vietnam so far.

*For our readers not from the UK, Blackpool is a large seaside town in the north of England, famous for its fairground, Christmas illuminations and ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats!

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