Good Morning Vietnam!So I have finally left Tonsai, believe it or not! I relaxed my last days away and soaked up the ambiance as much as possible, relaxed on the beach with friends and said my goodbyes to the locals and my fellow climbers. The guys at Sawadee Bar, my favourite regular bar on the beach, all gave me a bottle of Sangsum as a farewell present and I got a great pic with all of them - Dap, Lek, Wit & Kong - I'll miss you guys, thanks for all the good times :-)I said goodbye to most of my friends on my last night then early the next morning I woke Chris to say goodbye then headed off solo to the beach. It was very sad to leave that beautiful place but I know for cedrtain that I will return soon enough. One longtail boat ride, one taxi and two flights later I was in Hanoi, Vietnam yesterday afternoon. I jumped in a taxi and headed straight to a hotel in the Old Quarter, checked in, had my first hot shower in 3 months (Bliss!) and then headed into the night to check out the place.Sensory overload. I was on my own, spoke no Vietnamese, it was night time... then it started raining. I checked out the night market briefly but decided it was all too much at the time so I bought some food and retreated to my hotel room where I ate food, drank beer and watched Discovery Channel all night. The next morning I got up and had breakfast then headed out for a proper look around the Old Quarter. Crazy is the only way to describe it. Chaotic traffic - taxi's, trucks, rickshaws, bikes, scooters... all on narrow, vendor lined streets full of food, noise and people trying to sell you Lonely Planet books and maps or take you on a tour. I headed to the lake and took some photo's of the lake and the monuments on it, then I talked for a while with some students who were desperate for someone to practice their english on (they loved it and all wanted photo's with me afterwards haha). I got back to my hotel, packed my things and headed off in a taxi to Luong Yen Station to get a bus/ferry to Cat Ba Island. A 4 1/2 hour trip later and I was in Cat Ba Town on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay!I checked into a room in the guest house on the 4th floor above Slopony Adventures, the guide company here. An early dinner, a bad movie and a few games of pool later (the bar is literally below my room, 1 flight of stairs seperates me from cheap beers haha) and now I have a buddy to climb with in the morning so it's off to bed - To sleep, perchance to dream... or perchance to get out and taste some Vietnamese limestone routes in the morning!It will be interesting to see how long I stay here. I want to be in Yangshuo, China by the 14th April for a friends birthday, but the Slopony guys think there is only about 6 actual climbers in Cat Ba right now so climbing partners are a bit thin on the ground. If it proves too hard to find people to climb with (my friend for the morning leaves tomorrow afternoon) then I may leave earlier, but if things work out well then longer is possible too. We will have to see how things pan out :-)But for now its excitement-ville, keen as mustard to get up in the morning, hire a motorbike and get amoungst it!
Well what a mixed bag Cat Ba is turning out to be. After my initial dismay about there being not many people to climb with (which is true) I have had an amazing 2 days so far. Here's what has transpired in the last 2 days. For a start there is a massive 4 day festival going on in Cat Ba, based right on the main promenade outside my hotel. It is something to do with the anniversary of Mr Ho Chi Min visiting 40 or 50 years ago and they celebrate it every year apparently. So there is a plethora of street stalls playing crazy music all day from 6am until about midnight and a massive main stage that I can watch from my balcony that has performances on it all day and night. So the place is alive and buzzing with excitement and crazy shenanigans. Only bad part is being woken up by loud music right outside my hotel at 6am!Day one I headed out to Butterfly Valley, the main bolted crag on the island, with Ryan, an ex-pat aussie dentist living and working in Hanoi. We got a lift out on motorbikes in the morning by some locals and spent the day climbing some great routes where I did some onsighting up to 7a and tried one of the harder routes out there. Butterfly Valley is in the middle of the hills on the island and is a gorgeous farm tucked away in a little valley ensconsed in hills with cliffs lining one side. There were local villagers farming the land with cows, buffalo and dogs roaming around. I even rode on one of the water buffalo haha. The people that live there provide a great lunch and beers (at a small cost) and we sat and ate with them in the middle of the day between climbing. Such a pretty place, great routes, great people and fun routes. And it isn't called Butterly Valley for no reason. There were different butterly's all over the place, so many colours, shapes and sizes... amazing. Apparently in the summer there are hudreds of them everywhere, so cool.Ryan was off this morning but may be back in a few days which would be great. At breakfast I met a nice girl from Leeds in England called Susie and we decided to head out on a ride for the day. She convinced me that mountain bikes were better than going on a scooter so we walked to the next bay, had coffee at one of the floating resteraunts there, picked up some mountain bikes and then headed off north up the middle of the island. We rode all the way to Cat Ba National Park and headed into the park to try and see the worlds rarest monkey - the Cat Ba Langur. We didn't see them of course, haha, there are only about 60 of them alive and they are pretty impossible to find, but we rode well into the park, riding nice trails and carrying our bikes up massive long stairs carved into the jungle clad hills. Such an amazing place, moutnains and cliffs strewn with thick jungle and shrouded in mist. We eventually got stopped by some trees fallen over the trail, which by this stage was a fairly rough and minimal path. We turned around and headed back out of the park and back down the road to Cat Ba Town. By the time we got back we had walked a fair few kilometres and rode 30+ kilometres. We were pretty worn by it all (Me more than Sus have to admit haha - she is a mountain biker back at home) so beers were in order followed by an early dinner of fresh crab (live crabs, pick your own from a tank and they go cook it for you), fresh squid and this great spinach and garlic dish you get everywhere here. We had a fun night having drinks and playing cards now it's off to bed ready for another fun day tomorrow. If we feel alright we may climb at Butterfly Valley again, if not we might go check out the beaches on the island. The biggest objective is trying to rustle up some more folk for an overnight boat trip into Ha Long Bay to go kayaking and Deep Water Soloing, which is my main objective here in Vietnam. Here's hoping we can find enough people!
Today I am sitting around relaxing and doing nothing as I am pretty tired after our ride yesterday. The weather here is overcast and fairly cool each day, wish I could have some sunshine to go relax on the beach... I miss the beach! I had some breakfast, strolled around the crazy markets in downtown Cat Ba and now I have just finished fixing a little computer issue that I have been having trouble with (Where were you when I needed you Richo? haha) that has been stopping me working on photo's. Now it's all fixed and I am back on track with my camera :-)We are working on getting out on a boat for a day or maybe overnight but it is proving difficult to find the people to go. Hopefully it will come through as we only have the right tides for the next 2 days then I won't get the chance as I have booked a flight to Hong Kong for the 6th of April. Flights were expensive and hard to get from Hanoi to Hong Kong so I had to go a bit earlier to get a good price, but it is all good. I will spend a few days in Hong Kong, sort out a Chinese visa then head out to Yangshuo for a month or two with all the great folk from Tonsai that are there now. Now I am off to keep chasing people for a boat trip! Wish me luck!
Left to Right - Dap, Lek, Me, Wit & Kong
The Old Quarter in Hanoi