I got up just before 6am and went up on deck to do some Vietnamese tai chi. A beautiful morning and the movements got my body and blood moving, though tai chi Vietnamese-style seems to also include some pretty basic calisthenics. I followed it up with a delicious omelette for breakfast.
It was soon time for the two of us to transfer to a ‘day boat’, as we’re the only people on board doing the 2 night trip instead of one. The new boat was also very new and comfortable (though not as stylishly decorated), and our guide was the very friendly Bong (company name David), who took care of us all day. After about 15 minutes we took on board several more couples from another ship, then we all headed down the eastern side of Cat Ba island – cruising past absolutely stunning pinnacles and cliffs of limestone, little beaches, floating villages (made up of separate floating shacks surrounded by pontoons) with the occasionally barking dog running along the floating beams – until we reached a small bay. Here we disembarked via a small motorboat and got on brand new bicycles, their cardboard packing boxes still discarded nearby. We cycled along a narrow concrete road built along the coastline, up and over a small hill, and into the countryside. My first sight of thick Vietnamese bush, blanketed by creeping vine.
A 15 or 20 minute cycle took us into a small valley surrounded by protecting peaks, and the village of Viet Hai. Since this whole tourist itinerary of La Hong Bay was only approved 2 years ago, this once poor village – previously just a refuge for the members of floating villages in times of typhoon, now part of the government programme to resettle such villagers on land – is now enjoying electricity, the benefits of a little hospital, and a measure of prosperity. This inevitably means, sadly, that tourism will bring all the usual disadvantages too, but who can blame anyone for wanting a bit of modernity. It’s usually only tourists who want villagers to remain in picturesque poverty.
We cycled to the end of the village and were given a talk about the Lan Ha area and Cat Ba island by Bong. Those of us who enjoyed having their feet nibbled by little fish got to experience that too – we gave it a miss!
On the way back through the village we stopped at an old mud and thatch house, a rare example of how people used to live in the village, now solely used by the owners (now in an ugly but far more spacious and comfortable concrete building next door) when making rice wine. Bong talked us through the process, and we tried a couple of varieties flavoured with flowers and honey. We decided not to try the snake-flavoured one. Surprise surprise, the latter is supposed to increase virility. It can also kill you if the snake hasn’t been soaking in the jar long enough!
A great cycle back to the bay, and then back to the main boat. Retracing our route, we stopped on the way for some kayaking. It had been a beautiful sunny day, but now it started to get overcast and a bit cooler. Carol and I kayaked to a lovely little beach with a tiny temple building right on the edge of the sand.
On the cruise back to the Perla Dawn, we soon took leave of the other couple, and then had the entire day boat to ourselves for about half an hour as it motored along the coast. Beautiful.
A lovely welcome back to the ship, where a group of new guests were being installed. We had showers and got ready for the evening.
I could certainly get very used to balmy evenings on the top deck, starting with a dry martini and continuing with a fantastic meal and musical entertainment! As soon as we were sitting at our table our new friend Cuong came over to talk with us, and despite the fact he was manager for the night, he spent about an hour with us giving us language lessons. A very interesting conversation about Vietnamese pronunciation, among other topics.
There’s a new tour guide, a young woman called Tom Tom, and she MC’d while another man entertained us with traditional music and singing over the latter half of dinner.
We were both tired after our long day – and all that eating and drinking – so I gave the squid fishing a miss and we went to bed.