Friday, November 23, 2012

Exploring Cát Bà Island

After perfect balmy weather over the past few days for our cruise, today was cool and overcast. We hired a car to take us around the island. None of us had decent footwear for hiking, so the long scenic trek through the national park wasn't a viable option.  Nevertheless, we went first to see the Hospital Cave. During the American war when this region was being bombed mercilessly, this natural cave was converted into a hospital to provide a safe haven for the injured. It took several years to build, for they only had 2 old lorries and only worked at night to avoid detection. The hospital cave remained a secret for the duration of the war. Unfortunately, after hostilities ceased it was stripped, so it stands empty today and visitors have to imagine what it must have been like for the people who lived and worked here.

It's a very steep path to the entrance..

... which is high above the valley.

I imagine this entrance would be very easy to defend!

This large cavern was used at times as a cinema for the hospital personnel and local villagers as well.  It was very damp underfoot.

The original cavern was so large, the hospital built within it has three stories and includes a fresh water cistern fed from springs, and a pool.  The secondary entrance has easier access and is closer to the road.

On a clear day, the view from here must be very beautiful.

Our next stop was a walking path into the National Park.  The weather was very overcast and it was wet underfoot - not the best combination with just thongs on our feet... 

After a while we left this path and headed up a rocky track through the rainforest. It was very pretty, but the misty rain made it very slippery. We all assumed we were headed for some feature... a waterfall, or a lookout?  But after an hour or so the mosquitoes were getting savage and Katie asked the guide what was up ahead..?  Nothing in particular...just more of the same!! So we abruptly did an about-face!  By then it had started to drizzle rain and we were all very hot and sweaty and thirsty, and there were leaches.....

Going downhill should be easier than climbing uphill, right?  Wrong if you're wearing tri-focal glasses!!  The bottom part of the lenses on my glasses are focused up close for reading, which is fine under normal circumstances. But when I'm trying to see my feet and the ground is sloping away it's all blurry... aaargh!  Khánh came to my rescue yet again, giving me a hand (or his shoulder on the steep bits) while I stumbled and slipped out of my thongs all the way back down.  Never again will I wear rubber thongs when I don't know exactly what we'll be doing!!  I just have to get some sandals that strap on!

We picked up only a few leaches...  Hanny had a minor miracle... she was swarmed by mozzies and her legs were covered in bites - so many it looked like she had chicken pox!  So Katie started to pray for her... and continued to do so all the way down the track. By the time we got back to the car her legs were completely clear... not a bite to be seen.  Praise God!

After a drink of water and a bit of a rest we continued our tour of the island and came to this gorgeous rough little restaurant on a fish-farming pond.

They were expecting us, so we didn't have to wait long for lunch... prawns and nem and the usual...   Great!

Next stop was a walk through the most beautiful little village I've seen.

Very friendly locals.

This is the primary school. 

And this is the village kindergarten... 

The darling little kids were very excited when they saw us watching them through the gate ...  waving and smiling ...  so happy and full of life!

Here are some of Hannah's photos

Back in  Cát Bà township by mid afternoon, we said goodbye to our guide and set out for a walk to check out the neighbourhood.

Then found a handy spot to enjoy Happy Hour

By evening we ended up back at The Good Bar playing pool... lots of fun

We couldn't be bothered to go wandering to look for somewhere for dinner, so we just ordered pizzas...

By then some other tourists had arrived, so there were more for pool...

Katie, Lauren, Paul, Katy and Ed ... from Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland but I can't remember who's from where!

Katie was pretty impressed with Paul's fancy glove. 

It was this Katy's birthday.

Team sports are always exciting... 
...especially when you win!

Needless to say, it was another great night.  At some stage Adam went down to the night market and bought a pearl necklace and ear-rings for his grandmother. a beaut boat and a couple of other souvenirs. When we went back to the hotel I went to bed and the young'ns partied on in the other room. 

We all agreed that we should do this again... such a beaut holiday!  On Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel after breakfast and caught the 9am Hydrofoil back to Hải Phòng. 

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