The route: A boat ride, plus a few km around the island, sans Mr G
The chat: We knew we were well and truly back in tourist-ville when we were charged 33% more for the ferry tickets than everyone else – that was, until we stamped our self-entitled little feet (in a very middle class, restrained fashion of course) and paid the same price as all the other tourists. Vietnamese they may have been, but we were damned if we were going to pay more than passengers toting Louis Vuitton luggage and teenagers with an ipad and ipod apiece.
Cat Ba town is hardly unspoiled, but the island itself is the biggest of the fantastic Halong Bay archipelago, a visit to which we hoped would be one of our tour highlights. We checked in to (and rapidly checked out of) the inappropriately named Noble House hotel – the manageress decided to spring the $35 public holiday surcharge on us after we had unpacked, which didn’t go down well, and then had the nerve to ask us to pay an hourly rate for the time our bags had occupied the by then empty room. A much friendlier place off the main strip had the pleasure of our well established Modus Operandi – filthy shoes on the landing, DIY clothes horse and of course, a gentle insistence that a tandem’s rightful place is inside (at night at least).
The day got distinctly better thereafter – a gentle 10km ride into the beautiful interior of the island brought us to a war hospital, built in a cave by the Viet Cong to withstand the aerial onslaught from the US imperialists. It was dark and a bit damp but safe, a bit like the Underground during the Blitz, or a womb. Next we rode up an incredibly steep sealed track to a (20th century) fort, complete with model soldiers for our amusement. And the views from the top were truly spectacular, giving us an opportunity to pick out which of the multitude of tiny beaches on uninhabited islands we could picnic at the next day. We do tell ourselves how lucky we are not infrequently.