Ride day 6: Phuong Cua Ong to Cat Ba
20 May 2016
As is becoming usual, we were out of our Nha Nghi just before 8.00 a.m. A quick ride down the ramp down the stairs before loading up the bikes for the day.
With the bikes having now done over 1,000km, it was time to get the oil changed and chains tightened. We found a mechanic on the other side of town and stopped off. He was busy washing down a car, so we went to the local market and got some fresh pineapples for breakfast.
At the mechanics we pointed and touched the parts that needed serviced and were then shown to sit in plastic seats. We poured ourselves a cup of tea and ate our pineapple whilst watching the mechanics quickly and efficiently service both bikes. We paid our 100,000 VND per bike and were on our way to Cat Ba.
The first part of the days ride was a continuation along the main highway we’d been riding the night before. Traffic was exceptionally heavy still and the dust was almost unbearable in places. Should have worn our dust masks! The huge open cast Cam Pha Mines were still clearly visible along the side of the road for most of the ride in to Halong. Open cast mines on the right, stunning Halong Bay on the left!
As Halong town opened up in front of us, we could see a huge fairground type wheel on the hill in the distance. This looked to be in the direction we were going and seemed strangely out of place given the rest of the surroundings. A fairly brisk pas trough Halong, we saw a small area of parkland around a lake which looked good for a break. Unfortunately at this point we were stuck on an elevated road that kept us going up past the big wheel and on to the bridge away from Halong. We could see beautiful Halong bay still on our left and what we assumed to be northern Cat Ba island ahead of us across the water.
The heat and humidity were tremendous, so we pulled in at a street side vendor to get some fresh sugar and juice and ice to refresh us, then on to the ferry port.
The area around the ferry port to Cat Ba is a collection of relatively modern and expensive looking wharfs and hotels, with junk boats of all shapes and sizes moored up and moving about to take boat loads of tourists on in to Halong bay itself. We buy our tickets for the ferry (90,000VND each including motorbike) and then park up under cover to wait to board. We got talking to a Taiwanese couple who were cycling all round south east Asia carrying all their gear with them. They’d already come through China and were heading in to Laos next. Whilst we were talking a huge engine noise interrupted us and we watched as a small sea plane drove up out of the water and on to the dock side. Quite the way to travel – we found out later that a connection from Hanoi to Halong via seaplane is c. $200USD per person.
Time to board the ferry. Complete carnage as the gate opens and trucks, cars, people and motorbikes all head down the ramp. We squeeze down the side of the trucks and park up. Slightly worried about whether the bikes would stay upright, but turns out that wasn’t a worry at all … Flat as a pancake!
As the ferry heads off at a very slow pace, no one moves us away from the car deck. So we take up a position right at the front looking out over Halong bay for the entire crossing. Amazing views!
The ferry comes in to port in the very north of cat ba. The moment the metal ramp makes contact with the shore, engines are starting and people are moving. We let all the vehicles go before us to give us and slowly ride off and start down the last 40km to cat ba town. It’s a road we’ve ridden before back in September 2015, so know it well. It’s still a stunning ride, cruising past forests and the Eco centre and over the two passes before dropping in to cat ba itself. We make our way to the lake area and scoot round slowly to find outer hotel for the next three nights. A very friendly welcome at the Cat Ba Central Hotel 2, then a quick shower and off to get food. We were keen to have a dish we’d had last time in cat ba (potatoes with beef). We scoured the restaurants along the front and went in to the one we thought we remembered. The dish was ordered but unfortunately it wasn’t the same place or same dish as last time.
We opt to take a quick run on the bikes in the early evening to check out the beach areas around Cat Ba. No sooner have we set off than the rain starts. Now… When you see all the locals running for cover and the roads clearing, that should be a sign. But it was a sign we didn’t take. The rain got heavier and heavier until it was torrential and the roads were flooding. We were hiding out under a tree, but that was not doing the job, so we opted to just go for it and ride back in the rain. Drenched to the skin, and riding in water the whole way back to the hotel. We lock up and head in for the night. No sooner are we in than the electricity goes out. Quite the storm! Time for bed.
The whole route for the day here: