The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/173860040
The chat: The influx of (domestic) tourists for the five day national holiday told us it was time to go – all the hotels in Cat Ba were fully booked and the hills and solitude of North Vietnam were beckoning. After a lazy morning – blogging (it may seem effortless in the reading but it’s a labour of love I promise), route planning (ditto) and eating (needless to say) we set off to cross the island to the ferry bound for Ha Long City on the mainland. We left later than planned, leaving ourselves an hour to cover 23 hilly kilometres. Despite a tailwind and a time trial-like effort, we rolled into the harbour in time to watch the car ferry chugging away – it had left early. Fortunately, a passenger speedboat agreed to take the tandem (and us) and we zoomed out of the harbour, leaving the car ferry for dust (spray?), and smugly enjoyed more fantastic karst scenery at high speed.
Halong City, while no beauty, still enjoys a fantastic view across its eponymous bay, and is not without charm. As the centrepiece for the Victory Day celebrations, the beach and town were teeming with Vietnamese middle-class families in festive mood. Hotels were again charging a premium, with even the pokiest dirtiest rooms going for $50. After a lot of searching and a bit of haggling we settled on $20 (a bargain at just twice the normal rate) and hit the beach in time for sunset. The beer drinking, ice cream slurping and shellfish shucking was in full flow as was the souvenir buying and mobile phone-camera snapping (the Vietnamese certainly embrace capitalism when celebrating victory over its greatest proponents) and we got stuck in. After a hilariously disappointing clam soup (I was thinking chowder, the chef was thinking a thimbleful of pond water complete with a couple of snails) we toured the pop-up food stalls until we could barely move, all the while enjoying the buzz and chatter of the street party, and the lack of the backpacker pitched banana pancakes/happy hour options. What fickle folk we are…