Cat Ba: natural park, limestone rocks archipelago and caves.

Dear explorers, after some inland exploration now it is time to switch into a different landscape of Vietnam, so I moved from the inland to the island of Cat Ba by travelling over night from Sapa town.

I want to start by saying that May is not the ‘ideal’ month for the weather conditions, as I arrived on the island an early-morning rain greeted me, however it didn’t bother me much, no matter what the weather, it will always be a riveting challenge! Here below you can look at a picture from my accommodation in the centre and an overview map of the island itself.

View from the main street in Cat Ba

My main desire was to go for a two-days trip which covered off the visit to the national park by ending up at the Viet farm village and then get transferred to a boat to reach a floating home-stay to sleep overnight, and then continue on the second day with a boat trip including kayaking and few secluded spots such as caves and lagoon, the tour agent is Cat Ba Green trail, here below I share the link to the trip schedule in detail: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/plan-your-trip/2-day-tour/17-cat-ba-national-park-lan-ha-bay-ha-long-bay-2-days-1-night-trekking-cycling-kyaking-swimming-tour.html

However, because of the rainy weather and that the previous day was 1st of May bank holiday their office was closed and nobody signed up in advance for such a trip. As a result, I got to flexibly adjust my action plan: I rented a motorbike for the first day to explore the natural park on my own and later on the second day I joined their one-day tour which I link it below: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/plan-your-trip/1-day-tour/14-lan-ha-bay-ha-long-bay-monkey-island-boat-tour.html

In spite of the grey clouds and the light rain, the passing scenery was generous. Look at below:

Once arrived at he national park the terrains were rather wet, however the visit was still worthy 101% and to cap it all the top view point is simply spectacular no matter what the weather is, it just requires some great willingness to trek up to there 🙂

After enjoying such a panorama, since the entrance ticket included also a visit to the Trung Trang caves, I headed straight there and I really was surprised how long the cave was all the way through. Few pictures will be available later on Flickr.

The next day started early, at 7:00am I gathered at the Cat Ba Green trail office with other participants, we were fourteen of us, the right number to be all in-pair when kayaking! Since the very beginning the tour guide was very professional as well as humorous and well-mannered: he explained all us few basic things about the tour such as the importance of starting at 7:30am which was on the purpose to avoid the rushing (usually all the other tours start at 8:00am). We got on the boat from the Beo pier, and the first hour of shipping was just spent chilling and take some photos.

After that, our tour guide approached us and started telling about his life story, how he ran the business and then told us some historical background of La Han Bay as well as Ha Long Bay, as he was mentioning us such detail, the boat was approaching the first floating houses and so he also told us more about people living in such places. Here below I have linked the video about the passing landscape bay:

Surrounding scenery from the boat

The more the boat was sailing, more floating houses were all around, out tour guide mentioned that those houses are usually set up close to the big rocks in order to be safely repaired from the storms of high waves coming through, moreover for those people in order to be settled there they had to get a permission from the state; finally the ones who have children, they send them to a school close to the harbour by a private boat each day and on the way back to the floating house they also have to wait for the scheduled private boat. See below few pictures about the floating village(s).

After getting over the floating village, we approached the area of the caves (dark, bat and bright cave), here we started the kayaking session by first getting off the boat at a small jetty to get into the kayak, that was my third time kayaking in my life, even I struggled a bit at the beginning in keeping the kayak straight I managed not to flip it over 😀

After kayaking, the boat shortly stop at a dive snorkeling point where there were also some harmless jellyfishes, however because of the weather the view of seabed was rather disappointing, all lasted very few minutes. Finally, we had lunch with served food on the boat was really delicious, congrats to the sailors! And just pity that I did not take any picture of the buffet!

The next destination for the afternoon was Monkeys’ island, by the time we arrived there were some flashes of sunshine which made the landscapes looking with more vivid colours as well as brighty. It was time for some rock-climbing by using the hands (not with the ropes). All of us climbed up to the top viewpoint to enjoy the sunshiny part of the trip.

Finally, the name itself monkeys’ island, Yes, monkey were there at the bottom among the trees jumping around, we did not miss chance to record some of them who indeed played some naughty games, see the pictures below:

In conclusion, the one-day trip was fairly enough with a professional and friendly tour guide, I just cannot remember his name, however you can check their website for any other available tour (the ink is at the bottom). Just be aware that favorable weather conditions in the island are on October-November and March-April, after that rains are frequent, but if you are not that paranoid then you’ll enjoy the Cat Ba experience regardless the weather 😉

For further details about their tours just refer to their web page: https://www.catbagreentrail.com/about-us/contact-us.html

Any remark and comments are warmly welcomed!

Giuseppe

SAPA: second day OFF the beaten tracks among the remote villages

Following my previous post for the first day of trekking, for completion I dedicate this post for the second day of SaPa adventure 🙂

First of all, the home-stay where we slept was nicely arranged for us foreigners and I was surprised since they even had a western toilet with shower (my guess is that they would not have the same toilet in other houses/shelters in the village), the reason behind that is that they cooperate with Sapa O’ Chau tour which is one of the most reliable and best rated tour agent in SaPa and besides that, Sapa has become a popular destination nowadays. However, be sure that if you ever end up sleeping at a casual house in such villages you could never expect a western toilet! The experience in Indonesia (Flores) taught me something.

Secondly, like in every village the morning starts very soon, at 5am you can already observe ‘women at work’ taking care of the chickens, goats and cows already awoken, and myself I caught the chance to get up to record the scenery during the sun-raising , after that I just returned to the bed to sleep a bit more. Finally we all got up around 7:30am to enjoy the offered breakfast and get ready to set off.

Not until we started off, we had to trek further up to a steep hill on a muddy trail, despite the conditions of the trails local people ventures to get through by scooter, I could imagine how often they break the suspensions 😀

When we arrived at the top-point of Soi Thau village there were two kids playing with each other and smiling to us like to say ‘Welcome aliens!’

Once we reached the top point, the trail upfront looked at our eyes long and well-distributed throughout the immense landscape, compared to what we had to trek the day before this was a way easier, after one hour of trekking we got to pass through a weak water-stream originated by a small waterfall see the picture below:

Water pool in-between the trail

it was nothing impressive, we stop by to record some scenery around, then when we continued, we finally got to trek gradually upper and upper, the trail itself had been carved along the perimeter of the hills and it was wide enough so that we were fully-safe 🙂

at one point we end up passing one more farm house, as aliens we said ‘xin chao‘ to the local guy outside the house, however he did not react: our tour guide Su explained us that most of them are rather shy with the aliens and therefore they will barely react, in addition there is the title of the tour itself ‘OFF the beaten track’ 🙂 During the first day of the tour I made an estimation that we met max. three more foreigners who probably were with another tour guide, other than that no one more was around. See below the surrounding scenery 🙂

At one point we arrived at the top point of the last hill, and after that we only experienced downhill, the more we were getting down and more we started observing more and more houses which was the sign we were slowly approaching the semi-rural life, at one house in the outdoor space there were five kids who were fighting to drink from a bottle of water, it was just funny to observe them how cute as well as ‘naughty’, see below:

Here at this point our trekking turned into a walking down to the village of Ta Giang Phing, because we end up being on concrete narrow road which meant the beginning of the conventional civilization had taken over 😦 all the second day trekking lasted about four and half hours.

We stop at a typical open-air Vietnamese tavern to enjoy a pork noodle soup spice with lime, chili and mint!

All in all, this is an experience I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to get away from the agitation of the conventional civilization, it is worthy for the money, moreover if personally I were to travel back to SaPa, I would surely go for a motorbike tour off the beaten track.

As for the tour agent trips, check out their website here below:
http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/

Any remark is welcomed!

Giuseppe

SAPA: first day OFF the beaten tracks in the rice fields terraces and rural villages

Dear explorers, I have finally completed out my 6th journey mission in South-East Asia, this time I dedicated my attention to Vietnam.

Unlike my previous deep experience with Indonesia, here I had less time to spend and so I had to draw a narrowed draft plan out of a total of fifteen days, perhaps here some might argue by saying that it is enough time, however unfortunately it is not enough for all Vietnam 😦

Because the time frame of my exploratory holiday was just fifteen days, I decided to divide it in two parts: the challenging part and the soft part.

Why that?

The reason behind is simple: if you first challenge yourself with a hard task then you will be able to appreciate the chilling part, on the contrary it would not work out much.

After making some research, I decided it was worthy to visit the SaPa area with its breathtaking nature characterized by rice fields terraces, because I always like to get off the beaten tracks (suitable for the lazy ones), I booked the following two-days tour by Sapa O’Chau tour:

http://sapaochau.org/sapa-trekking-and-homestay/sapa-trek-and-tour/trekking-tours/off-the-beaten-track-2-day/

Overview map of SaPa

Despite the attendance for the tour was only myself with the tour guide ‘Laju Su’, as soon as I arrived at the Sapa O’Chau office I found out that one more attendee signed up at last minute which was a pleasant news for my pockets since the actual price was decreased of almost 50%, in addition to that, as a nice coincidence the other participant was an Italian compatriot woman called ‘Elena’, I never imagined to be trekking with a woman solo traveler as a companion however we all know that at this world there are also brave women up for such an amazing trekking 🙂

As first, we were brought by car to the starting point of our trekking which was the Ta Phin village, while starting the hike in the village some local ladies approached us by asking to buy their hand-made hats, however since we were keen to enjoy the nature we did not buy any, perhaps on a next time!

As we approached the first uphill we enjoyed the first amazing landscape view with rice field terraces and a village nearby as shown above, and soon we had to deal with a broken path, probably caused by a natural disaster, fortunately there were two bulldozers in action which tried to pave and clear the broken path in front of us, however we had to carefully watch our steps, see image below:

Blocked trail

the more we trekked uphill the more we got into the a secluded valley, on the way we met few women as farmers who were carrying vegetables and few locals riding a motorbike through the path.

After three and half hour of trekking we reached the first remote village named Phin Ho, we stopped at a farm house where our clever tour guide managed to prepare for us two maxi-sandwiches (just look at it below), in addition to that, we noticed that the owner of the house was chilling out by smoking some herbs by using a big bamboo pipe which was really funny for me as a non-smoker guy 😀

After our lunch break, we resumed our trekking by getting a bit to the bottom of the deep valley, the scenery on the way down was more and more breathtaking and at one peak viewpoint we decided to take one more break with a short nap. Here, I caught the chance to record such a video of such amazing surrounding scenery, just watch it below!

Deep valley on the way to Suoi Thau village

After our chilling break we continued on the trail to Ta Giang Phing village (final destination on the second day) and here we approached the deepest point of the green valley:

We got to cross two bridges, the first one was a bit challenging because rope-less, only one person at once could traverse it to avoid the risk of collapsing, moreover the frame was made by bamboo pipes not fixed but shaking instead! Having had similar challenges in the past in the first moment I believed I could make it with hassle-free, however my first approach was not such good one: I approached it by putting down my feet almost straight in-line on the pipes, as a result my body balance was getting compromised, the tour guide realized it and invited me to reverse myself and step back, the spring of nervousness tripped out :-O although the guide wanted to convince me to get down by the small channel and then up, I stayed focused on the bridge challenge by letting the Italian girl to go first, I just observed her relaxed approach and as she crossed it, I acted accordingly by counterbalancing the second half of my body and angling my feed to keep safe my balance on the shaking bamboo pipes, even slow, the challenge was accomplished with no need to get down by the channel 🙂 Safety is never enough when dealing with the wild nature ;-D

After that, we got to hike farther until we end up crossing a proper safe pedestrian bridge.

After one more hours, we approached our target destination of the first day
Soi Thau village. Here we observed such an amazing rural life of the local people taking care of their goats and buffaloes as well as people who were building up a brand-new house.

That was the beginning of the destination village of Suoi Thau, we had to trek up farther over a hill to reach our home stay, the trail was aggressively steep up to the hill with some spread-ed mud around, I started feeling a bit powerless, nevertheless we achieved our day target by arriving there around 4:30pm, where we chilled-out at the home stay and we were provided with such a proper delicious Vietnamese BIO-food 🙂

Our first trekking day was nicely over, all we needed was just a good dinner and a sound sleep what we got.

A new post will follow soon by covering the 2nd day of trekking. GoPro movie session is now available at the video section of my blog: https://theblogofeggiamp.com/video-posts/

Flickr images powered by Sony alpha 6000 are availabe at my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuseppegiampino/

Any remark is warmly welcomed 😉

Giuseppe