Happy New Year!

The past week or so on Cat Ba island has seen us celebrating a fair bit!  We have accidentally become sort of like travel advisors for other distraught travellers who have made it through the gaunlet to Cat Ba.  As we mentioned before we came here via Halong Bay so were very lucky – it seems the stories of why not to come via public transport were true and heaps of people arrive here in not-so-happy states.  The upside of this for us is that we have made quite a few friends here!

We have spent a lot of time on the beaches, and coastal cliff walkway and have also motorbiked around the island and visited the national park again also.  We really have been very lucky to stay here for a couple of weeks and getting to see the beautiful bays of Ha Long, Bac Bo and Lan Ha and Cat Ba every day.

Our time in the National Park was particularly fun because we were the only ones in the spot we chose to hang out in and there were millions of butterflies around us so it was really cool.  We took the bike on the path that was meant to take us to the lake in the park, funnily enough though the neither the map or the guy we rented the bike off mentioned that after a few km’s the path became stairs – not so bike-friendly.  It turned out to be a really nice afternoon though to just sit amongst the trees in the sun for a while and also ride along the pretty coastline.

One crazy phenomena here is that because it’s the middle of winter, there is a lot of mist/fog/cloud around and it means that most of the time you can look directly at the sun and it is sort of just like looking at the moon – not bright, and ranging between white and dark red depending on how high it is in the sky.  The photo above was the last sunset for 2010 which was pretty cool!

For Dre’s birthday we pretty much just chilled, ate, drank and spent time seeing the beautiful bay.  We saw yet another awesome sunset and then went to dinner with some of our new friends Mike (from USA) and Dykla (from Israel) which turned out to be a hilarious and really fun night.

New Years Eve was much of the same, we got our hopes up early in the night because the Vietnamese set up a stage with lights and flags and massive speakers, and at about 5pm started playing some really cool music – like actual western music that is cool and not just the stuff you usually hear in Asia… so we were getting all pumped that we would have awesome music for New Years and were really enjoying listening to it… and then it finished at 9pm!  What? – it’s NYE!  So many people were mystified as to why it would finish so early, but hey, that’s just part of the fun of being on this crazy continent!  We ended up finding our Canadian friends again that we’d met the day before so welcomed in the new year with them and Mike and Dykla.  Our hotel showed us the Sydney fireworks on TV and we were sad to have missed them after the awesomeness of last year, but then reminded ourselves that we are here in Asia which is still pretty fun in itself!  We are really looking forward to 2011 and seeing more of the world, re-visiting Luang Namtha and seeing our families and friends again.  We miss you guys!  Our photos are here.

Cat Ba Island

View our location map on  Cat Ba Island

We arrived on Cat Ba Island after our cruise through Ha Long Bay and had to pinch ourselves – we had a huge room with a stunning view of Bac Bo Bay and the sun was about to set!  We have been so lucky with everywhere we have stayed and once again we have hit the jackpot.

Our first day here we visited the National Park, and climbed to the top of one of the mountains for amazing views over the karsts both on Cat Ba Island and out into Lan Ha Bay (which has the same scenery and is joined onto Ha Long Bay).  About 90% of the island is National Park so we will probably do some more exploring in there over the coming week/s.

We have finally got an amazing running track again – it is a coastal track from Cat Ba town around to beaches Cat Co 3 and 1 (in true Asian fashion, the beaches are named “1” or “2” and are ordered 3,1,2) with stunning views out into Bac Bo and  Lan Ha Bays.  The sunrises and sunsets from here are beautiful and we already spend most of our time up on the coastal track watching the many sea eagles and changing view.

Cat Ba Island is way more chilled out than anywhere else we have been in Vietnam so far, and this, combined with the views and the coastal track have meant that we have decided to spend Christmas, Dre’s birthday and New Years here.  Earlier in the year when Dre said he wanted to spend his birthday and NYE on an island, neither of us imagined it would have views out into the ocean with enormous limestone karsts jutting out right in front of the window of our room as well as 3 white sand beaches that are basically deserted.

There is heaps of seafood here (as expected) including huge 60cm horseshoe crabs, mantis shrimps, and clams which are the local delicacy.  You can get snake, seahorse or eagle wine, which is exactly what you think it is – preserved animals inside the jar of alcohol.  We have also finally found a good Pho (rice noodle soup) lady at the morning market, still not up to Luang Namtha standards but the best we’ve found in Vietnam so far (and she makes it with shrimps which is awesome!).  Our photos of Cat Ba so far are here.