CATBA ISLAND, AND THE MONKEY INCIDENT.
t started off well. A three hour bus/boat/bus ride from Hanoi, and we were settling in to Catba Central Hotel, on Catba Island, in Lanha Bay. Lanha Bay borders onto Ha Long Bay, and the topography is similarly stunning, with hundreds, if not thousands, of cast sandstone mountains rising straight out of the sea. Ha Long Bay was somewhere I was very keen to get to (Kate was there 15 years ago, so it wasn’t such a strong desire for her), and after a fair bit of research, we decided that Catba Island was the place to see it from, being still in the early days of its development as a tourist destination.
“ All was going great until Alice, the mother of the family, leapt out of the water suddenly, yelping in pain.”
We arrived late in the day, so headed straight out to sample the local cuisine (the squid Pho was delicious), and then back to the hotel to get the tiny folk to bed. We were fortunate that the 3 day power outage across the island (which we came to learn was a very common occurrence) ended as we put the kids to bed, Catba is a hot, and very sticky place, and I’m pretty sure sleep would have been in short supply without the air con working.
CATBA 2 BEACH.
Creatively named Catba 1, Catba 2, and Catba 3, the beaches around Catba town overlook Lanha Bay
We rented a scooter in Catba town, piled on, 4 in a row, a headed, very slowly, to the beach.
he next morning we decided to live a little, and headed down to one of the many bike rental places to rent a scooter. 150,000vnd, about $8, no ID required, and we were on the road. We piled on, all four of us, Hanoi style, Arch in front, me driving, Kate behind, and Stevie in the backpack, and headed off, very slowly, to the beach, known by the very creative name of Cat Ba 2. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the beach, overlooking Lanha bay, was stunning. We decided to splash out, and spent 150,000vnd on hiring a spot in the shade, two loungers under a palm umbrella, resort style. We swam and lounged for a while, and got chatting to an Australian family who were sitting next to us.
All was going great until Alice, the mother of the family, leapt out of the water suddenly, yelping in pain. Looking around I noticed a Jelly Fish floating behind her. She had been stung in several spots, and was in a lot of pain. This pretty much put an end to our swimming, so after helping Alice treat the stings, we headed home for a nap. After lunch we went on a slow ride to the other end of the island, through mountains and jungles, to a run down coffee shop, where we stopped for an icecream. I don’t think there was a huge demand for icecreams at this particular spot, as we had to break through solid ice in the freezer to get to them.
he next day we headed out on a full day tour of Lanha Bay, 8 hours around the bay by boat. The scenery was unbelievable, past floating villages hiding between jungle covered islands, with vertical cliffs high above us, fishermen hard at work everywhere. We stopped to go kayaking, which we all loved, especially the kids, then got back aboard for lunch. Given the size of the galley the were cooking in, a small room with one double gas cooker, it was incredible the amount of food that was produced. Fresh fish, chips, rice, stirfried beef, salads. There must have been fifty or more people on board, all hungry after kayaking, and there was food leftover on every table.
We continued on our way. By this time it was scorching hot, and there was no reprieve aboard the boat. We stopped for a swim at a spot which was said to be great for snorkeling. Unfortunately we were moored quite a way off shore, and were supposed to swim across to the beach to snorkel, which was not going to happen with either of the kids, so we stayed aboard, managing a brief dip once we figured out how the get Stevie down the ladder safely.
Our final stop was Monkey Island. No surprises for guessing where it gets its name. Monkeys were imported there from elsewhere on the mainland, and live wild on the island. The monkeys are a major tourist attraction, and when we arrived there were dozens of people feeding them junk food from the kiosk. At first we didn’t really think much about it, and allowed the kids to feed them a bit of bread. One of them jumped on Stevie, and was quite aggressive, but as soon as we had detached it, she happily stated “That’s my monkey”, and carried on watching them. Unfortunately the monkeys are pretty picky about what they eat, preferring a diet of sugar and beer, and when Arch offered one of them the wrong thing, it leapt on him, pulling his hair and biting his finger. In hindsight we realised that the whole thing was just wrong, and we should never have let the kids anywhere near the monkeys, but at the time we just got swept along with the crowd. It wasn’t even until that evening, when we were back at the hotel, that Kate had the realisation that there was a risk of rabies. We did some frantic research, and realised that we needed to get back to Hanoi asap, to get Archie to a doctor to have his finger checked over. We contacted International SOS clinic in Hanoi, one of the few places in Vietnam likely to have the required medications on hand, and made a booking for the following afternoon. A quick phonecall to our friends at the Hanoi Old Quarter Homestay, and our tickets back to Hanoi were moved forward 3 days.
Next morning we got on the bus at 8, and headed to the other end of the island to the port, where we were to catch a boat home. As we arrived the rain started pelting down. We were offloaded into a waiting room, a large tin roofed shelter with half a wall on one side, where about a hundred other people were waiting as well. The rain got heavier, the wind picked up, and everyone huddled behind the walled area. At one stage we were pretty convinced the wall was going to come down, it was bending so much in the wind. After an hour or so of watching the storm build, so much so that by the end it had been classified as a typhoon, we were told that the President of the region had ordered all boats stopped for the day, so we piled back on the buses, and headed back to our hotels for the night
We were pretty panicked by this stage, as a lot of our research had led us to believe that the rabies treatment, if required, needed to be started within 24 hours. After a few phonecalls to various medical professionals, in Vietnam, and also in Australia, through our travel insurance, we were informed that it could actually be up to 7 days, so we breathed a sigh of relief, and climbed into bed. Of course, the power was off again, for about the 6th time since we’d been on the island, so it was hot and sticky, and no-one really slept very well.
Next day the weather was clear, and we made it safely back to Hanoi, where Archie was given a series of 4 injections, and placed on a course of antibiotics and antiviral medications. He also needed further injections, on days 3, 7, and 14. This meant some hasty reshuffling of our plans, cancelling and rebooking accommodation and transport, but even though the dates had changed, with some juggling and trickery, we were still able to do everything we had originally planned. The following day we boarded an evening train headed to Ninh Binh, which we discovered is nothing at all like Nimbin, although almost as psychedelic in its own way. Stay tuned for tales of our adventures in Ninh Binh, visiting temples, boating through caves, drinking homemade rice wine, and much more……
Adjacent to Halong Bay lies Lanha Bay, which is every bit as stunning as its more famous neighbour.