I arrived in Cat Ba after taking the scenic route to the island. We first took the train from Gia Lam station for about 2 hours to Haiphong City. At the station, we got suckered into purchasing 150K VND (foreigner price) ferry tickets through a company called HADECO. It was only until we got to the port that we realized it was not the same ferry Bella and I had gone on last time, and instead involved taking a bus trip to another port.
After doing a quick search on Google and finding a post, “say no to HADECO” we were left feeling dejected.
After about a 15 min ride we finally reached the dock and got on a small speed boat that took us to the northwest part of Cat Ba in about 10 min. We then took another bus south into town for about 30 min.
Victor Charlie hostel was the name of the place we stayed at and it was decent. An old Vietnamese lady greeted us, as she sat on the downstairs couch. She didn’t know any English but seemed super friendly. We found out later from a younger guy named Vu, or by his English name, Vinh for Vin Diesel, that the lady was 90 years old. She was very active, popping the asian squat and moving baskets of eggs and vegetables that were on the ground, getting breakfast prepared.
Vinh’s English was great and he told Florian and I over breakfast and coffee that he used to work at an English center in Haiphong, but wanted to experience the beach life on Cat Ba. He referenced Afroman lyrics and Snoop Dogg when he mentioned how he learned to speak some English.
We got picked up at our hotel later that morning and were driven to the central-eastern part of the island to catch the boat to Dai San Floating Homestay.
The father of the main guide, Kenny, took us by boat. When we arrived the other guests hopped on the boat we just got off of. The whole floating homestay is a family operation. The dock is surrounded by nets sectioned off to contain all the different kinds of fish. Grouper, catfish, crustaceans, and various other kinds of fish. Florian came over and told us that we have to check out this 100kg fish. No way, we thought. Like a total of a bunch of fish at 100kg, maybe, but one!? As we followed Florian back to the main dock/reception area, the guide, Kenny, got down on all fours and started to remove the wood planks on the floor. The floorboards once removed revealed a hidden area surrounded by a net, and when he put his hand in the water and made a splash, to call the fish, named, “Lucky”, the most massive fish I’d ever seen came up to greet us. A 100kg Grouper that had been living under the homestay for over 12 years. It was completely insane and didn’t seem real.
After swimming around the dock and getting some lunch, we took kayaks out to other beaches across the bay.
We started checking out some of the small islands and pretended that we were castaways and needed to figure out ways to survive. Finding resources and climbing around, we got tired and decided to kayak to this other beach. We found out that one of our friends who we were showing around Hanoi from a few days before was actually, coincidentally on the beach, as well. We found him sleeping and gave him a scare/surprise. We all then decided to kayak back to Dai San and stay the rest of the evening on the floating house.
Later that night we ate dinner, then behind from where we were sitting saw a fisherman with a lantern hanging on a wooden bamboo pole off the edge of the deck.
The guy was squid fishing and we got poles to fish for hours until the guy told us to go to sleep. Between Florian and myself we ended up catching 30 squid! The squid would swim by in schools and circle around the light. Our bait looked like smaller squids with an octo-hook dangling. The trick to catching squid is to lure them to the top, tempt them with the bait then go limp and sink. Quick upward movements followed by sinking, the squid will chase the bait to the top and then dive down. Once the squid goes for the bait, a snap of the wrist and you easily hook them. They shoot out their black ink and if you pull them out of the water, look out because they make a loud squirting sound and black ink flies in all directions. My clothes and skin ended up looking like I had an accident with a printer. We were covered.
The last day on Cat Ba we spent a few hours stuck on the bus heading back to catch the ferry. We spent the entire time playing cards to kill the time. It was a bit of a relief to finally get off the island and back to Hanoi, considering the trip took us almost 7 hours!
The island had a ton of visitors, but for the last view, instead of remembering a bunch of people piled together struggling to get on board the ferry boat, I’d like to remember this one, as we set off into the evening and made our way back home.