Friday, May 28, 2010

Totally relaxed in Cat Ba

Our last day in Sa Pa was really foggy and quite rainy - still felt like a relief from the heat of Southern Vietnam! Casey and I went on a "trek" which was really just taking a minibus up to a waterfall, climbing up some stairs (quite a few) around the waterfall, coming down, and going back on the bus to a higher point, the Tram Ton Pass. Unfortunately visibility was about 2 feet from there, so we couldn't do the trekking bit that is supposed to be nice around there. We got back on the bus and headed home! The rest of the day was just running around, getting prepared for our night train back to Ha Noi.

The night train was much better this time, as the a/c was working fine for the most part, and the train was cool when we got on. Thank goodness! We arrived in Ha Noi at 4:50am, where Beth and I parted ways with Casey (sniff sniff). He was staying in Ha Noi for one night and then flying out of Saigon the day after - though he just told me via facebook that his flight to Hong Kong was canceled so he's in Saigon still. Weird! That's the same flight I take on Monday, so I hope it was just a fluke that his was canceled.

After saying goodbye to Casey, Beth and I cabbed over to the Ha Noi bus station and caught the 5:20am bus to Cat Ba. Well, after a couple of bus transfers and one ferry ride, we arrived on Cat Ba Island. This is a big vacation spot for the Vietnamese, and it's quite lovely. Many people like to take boat tours from Ha Noi that go into Ha Long Bay, because there are huge limestone rock formations ("karsts") that rise out of the ocean. I don't think all that many foreigners make it to Cat Ba (a little farther away), but from here you can sail to Ha Long bay or Lan Ha Bay, which also has those formations. We came here mostly because Beth really wanted to do some rock climbing, and convinced me to do it too (!) So we arrived on Cat Ba and, after our little splurge for a nice hotel in Sa Pa, we had every intention of being a bit more frugal. We checked into the Noble House hostel, showered, and even took a nap on the rock hard bed. AFter that though, we grabbed a nice lunch at the Green Mango restaurant, and walked down to Cat Co 3 Beach, which is the home of the Sunrise Resort... big mistake! We had been debating all week about whether we should just stay there, as it is really lush. Once we saw it, we were hooked. It is definitely more expensive than other options here, but it's not that much since, after all, we're in Vietnam. And we asked for and received a deal. Anyway, it's great, there is a semi-private beach, pool, plenty of a/c, and good food.

After moving here the first night, we went back into town to attend a trip planning meeting at Slo Pony, the climbing/touring outfitters here run by Americans. Actually, it is the first and only climbing company in Vietnam, started by someone who went to Beth's university. At the meeting, we found out that several other people were interested in a climbing trip, so we were all set. Then it was off for dinner (yummy fresh crab, and noodles) and back to our paradise for a good night's sleep.

We didn't do much in the morning - I spent a good deal of time on the internet getting my flight back to Saigon, hotel in Saigon, etc.) and then we met up with the climbing group at 12. They bused us out to the site, we had lunch, and then it was up the mountain we go! I've climbed a couple times (literally, twice) and quite liked it, but it was a while ago, so I was pretty nervous. Beth is a monster in terms of all things sporty/outdoors, so she was really amped. I did 3 climbs, and had some trouble with the first (we thought it was the hardest!), but still finished it. The other 2 felt like cake in comparison. The hardest thing is to stop on the way up and get stuck, because it is so hard to keep going. But lots of shouts of encouragement from below were awesome motivation! Anyway, it was a really fun afternoon - and I've got a ton of shin bruises and scrapes to prove it, and the group we went with was pretty cool. Beth did awesome. The guides even set up an advanced climb and she did it without slipping. She's a maniac! [I think I mentioned that she summitted Mt. Fansipan in one day, when usually it's at least a 2 day affair. Her guide didn't even want to take her at first. When she walked in to book him, he said that her skin was so pale, he knew she worked in an office so he didn't think she could make it. I guess guides also don't like to take women... But she did it, and was amazing. We just met a couple who had her guide for a trek a couple of days after. They said he was very impressed with her, and even HE had to take the day after off, because he was so tired! She's legendary in Sa Pa!!]

When we got back into Cat Ba town, we stayed for the next trip planning meeting, where Beth was 'convinced' to go Deep Water Solo climbing. This means that you go out on the water in a kayak or boat, boulder onto a rock, and start climbing. No ropes, no harnesses, nothing. If you fall, you technically should just fall into the water. Pretty awesome, but quite scary!! They got a good group together and that's where she is right now. I of course bowed out because I probably wouldn't even make it onto the rock! Instead I opted for a very nice, relaxing day, which turned out to be amazing. I signed up for a boat tour (wanted to see those karsts!) last night, and this morning it turned out that I was the only one! Luckily there was no minimum so I basically got a private boat tour for 4 hours. I was able to tell the captain that I wanted to sail further than they normally go, not to stop for kayaking (I would totally have done it with another person, but we heard lots of stories of people getting lost/sucked into caves so I wasn't super keen to go at it alone), and to only spend a little time on "Monkey Island." The trip was superb. Lots of sailing, lots of karsts, a little beach time (with a short mountain trek), some monkey sightings, and a trip to a floating fishing operation that was really cool.

After that, I came back into town, had lunch (squid cooked with garlic - yum, though they don't really believe in cleaning seafood here so I had to take out the backbone, etc. myself) and came back to the resort. I just got out of a 2 hour massage (yes, 2 hours). It was heavenly. The masseuse was in all sorts of crazy positions - lots of mounting, walking on me, etc. and cracked many things I never even knew could crack. But I came out in a heady fog of bliss. Ahhhhhh.

Tomorrow morning we have one more delicious resort buffet breakfast (seriously, we are truly enjoying this resort) and then it's back on the bus/ferry to Ha Noi. I have one night there, Beth flies out in the afternoon), and then I have one more night in Saigon before I head to Hong Kong.

What a trip this has been! I am glad we followed up the seriously hard work with some seriously hard play. And Vietnam is so affordable, it's been nice to travel pretty comfortably without worrying about pinching pennies.

Oh, funny note - I am keeping track of how many times people say something to the effect of "BUT, you asian?" as in, they don't understand why I am "western" but look like them. (I'm up to 16 now.) It really confuses them. And they also lose interest, because I guess I'm not as exciting as a caucasian or european foreigner. We in North America (and other countries) are so used to being part of a multicultural society, but here, it's really not like that. They don't see many foreigners in general, I guess, and in particular "western" asians? It's really interesting. I've also been asked if I am Korean, Singaporean, and Japanese (not Chinese though!). So the Vietnamese don't seem to be able to distinguish among asians that well, either!

Well... time to sit by the pool and wait for Beth to return. Life is so hard!


riceandwheat said...

michelle -- your vacation is sounding awesome thus far and i'm loving reading about it!! glad you got some serious relaxation in after some serious manual labor... you deserve it! ^_^ i'm jealous of that 2-hr massage...angi

Miche said...

Thanks Angi! It has been a terrific trip, really different and pretty hassle-free so far (hope I didn't jinx it!) Get yourself a 2 hour massage one day - it's such a treat!