We chose to explore the limestone monoliths of Ha Long, from Cat Ba Island for two reasons; to avoid to inevitable swarms of lens heavy tourist groups staying at Ha Long Bay City, and because we are living in Haiphong for a while, a twenty minute scooter ride to the port from where we live.

First things first, Cat Ba Island is not to be overlooked, sitting pretty on the very east of the Vietnamese coastline it serves as the perfect alternative to Ha Long Bay City. Only 240,000VND for two people and our little ‘scooter that could’, on the fast boat to the north of Cat Ba, passed the lengthy ports of Haiphong and giant bridges under construction linking the many islands that bathe here.

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From the boat it’s a beautiful single road 20km all the way to Cat Ba’s port hub, dressed in a few restaurants and bars floating on the water, don’t expect much and you will never be disappointed. There’s a few small, pretty beaches to take in the floating peaks in the distance, for a meagre 40,000VND you can gain entrance to the national park and hike up to the roof of Vietnam.

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We arranged our boat trip to Ha Long Bay through ‘L Travel’ the night before, at just $12 dollars we didn’t expect much. A bus picked us up at 8am the next morning, ten minutes later we were on the old wooden two storey boat, and twenty minutes later we were in paradise. Rounding the cove towards Ha Long Bay is one of those ‘where the fuck am i’ moments; the purposeful flatness of the turquoise ocean is devastated all around by these limestone peaks, ascending and falling like forest green soundwaves across the day. Giant birds of prey weave and unravel, fish relieve themselves from the toils of a marine existence arbitrarily across the blue, skyscraper like rocks shoot up from beneath the water and stand not in accordance with the laws and principles that govern the rest of the universe. What a sight to behold.

Next up in our twelve dollar day, we kayaked through the caves of Ha Long Bay, left to our own devices we raced, played and marvelled for an hour like babies under a flickering night light. Then a feast on the boat (all included in that $12 dollar ticket), and then docked just off shore from a private slither of white sand at the foot of one of the limestone candles jutting up from the ocean floor, we jumped off the roof of the boat and swam out to sun ourselves on the dust of prehistoric bones.

Well into the day now, on the roof of the boat, basking in the heat of our most precious star, our boat plodded on through the water, the engines grunts echoing from the cliffs like a helicopter coming in to land, we arrived for the death throes of the day on ‘monkey island’, a well oiled money machine, but a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and all the monkey shenanigans you could ever wish for. We arrived back at 5pm after navigating a path through the expanse of floating fishing villages just off shore.

$12 for a day spent wondering at some of mother natures greatest art, swimming in postcard oceans, kayaking what felt like uncharted earth and getting up close and personal with some of humankinds earliest ancestors.

For twelve dollars….twelve.