After a snooze on the overnight bus to Hanoi, we arrived at 5am and stayed just overnight before getting the taxi, bus, boat and bus to Cat Ba island, where we stayed in a little straw bungalow high up over looking the bay. It was here we were to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year and we felt it as soon as we got there: everyone goes home to their villages to celebrate with their families, most restaurants and hotels close down and it felt like we had the island pretty much to ourselves!
We were invited to dinner with the hotel owners at midnight. We had to put A and R to bed, but their son Nam (4) was dressed up for the occasion in a little suit and tie. After they put out their religious offerings and prayed we had some wine and beer and ate peanuts and really spicy, chewy, red buffalo skin, along with spring rolls and other treats. We found out afterwards that the first guests you invite to eat with you in the new year, bring you luck for the coming year, so we felt very honored to have been chosen and realized then that we should have taken A and R with us...
The next night we met a French family travelling with 2 kids (Juliette:6 and Elliott 10) and made friends. We saw them again in a restaurant off the beaten track the next day (our next hotel to be called Woodstock) and decided to go for a family scooter ride all together to the National Park. Our 4 scooters set off with much whooping and glee and we climbed up a very steep hill to the top to be greeted with the most amazing panoramic tree top view of the karst mountains all around us. When we returned to our scooters, we had a scary stressful moment when Hester couldn't find her keys. The sun was setting, the roads are bad, the streets not lit and headlamps on these scooters are useless. Bad moment, bad moment, Hester swearing in front of the kids! We did manage to find them after all and guess where they were? In Jeje's bag!!!! We said our goodbyes and made a next rdv in Cambodia as we will be there at the same time.
Next day was time for the boat trip out to the karst islands (thousands of them dotted around), where we met a Yorkshire lass from Hebden Bridge believe it or not!!
We cruised around the islands on a very large, lopsided boat, in blaring, beautiful sunshine. Stopped at a place called Monkey Island where the walk up to the top of the hill was hairy to say the least. Lucky we had good walking shoes on. Some people were in flip flops! Just as we embarked on the beach, we heard a scream and when we looked round, Ruben was being ran after by one of the monkeys the island gets its name from. Turned out he had been scratched quite badly but not bitten. He's fine though...
The boat actually left without us and we ended up being rescued by another little boat which took us to the bigger boat where everyone was laughing at us.
On to the next adventure, which was kayaking. Strangely everything went smoothly!
Had a gorgeous lunch with fish and salad and more spring rolls and other delicacies and then onwards for some snorkeling on a paradise island with white sand in the middle of nowhere (check out the photos). Didn't see many fish but.
Alana made friends with a South African girl called Bodene who had taken her make up and glitter with her on the boat, as you do, and her and Alana played at being mermaids. She was sad to say goodbye when it was all over.
Little excursion by motorbike to the centre of the island to a popular climbing area where we stopped to eat at somebody's house/come restaurant, encountering traditional farming methods with Buffalo;
The next day we went to our next hotel : WOODSTOCK, which lived up to its name. Hippies everywhere, camping and camp fires on the beach, parties until the early hours, puppy dogs and cats everywhere. Dinner was served for everyone round one big table and we all ate together. Jasper, the Norwegian, who had been working there for a few months, set off various games including the ingenious game of picking up 3 peanuts at a time with chopsticks. A lot of fun was had by all. Parents could leave kids sleeping while they parties downstairs!
We have now mastered the art of driving motorbikes while carrying children and 20kg rucksacks over gravel hills... (see photo)
Next move: Mountainous Sapa in the North West...another night bus awaits us!