Today was our earliest morning of the whole trip. We were at the breakfast table at 7am preparing to set out on our half-day sea kayak journey. There was an animated German man telling stories of his jolly travels in Asia and the urgency by which he must return to Hanoi for a date he had been promised. At 7:30 we climbed on the back of three separate scooters en route to the tourist harbor, just over a hill behind all the hotels. There the hotel manager set us up with two two-person kayaks and a transport boat to take us out into the bay. The kayaks were heavier than any I had seen before, but they assured me I would have no trouble piloting one of these solo. I was just happy to have a modern kayak for the day, because in Bai Chay we could not find anyone with kayak or rock climbing equipment.
One hour out into the bay, the captain set us loose in the kayaks. There was no instruction except a reminder that the locally assembled paddles would not float, so tying them to the kayak is critical. As promised, the boats were quite easy to navigate, especially in this calm water with, surprisingly, no other boats around. We explored along the walls of the karst towers and found a couple openings where we could drive the boats in a bit. Kayaking for more than an
hour can be tiring, so we stopped at a couple sandy beaches and took some breaks on the open water now and then too. The calm was such a welcome contrast to the unrelenting stream of traffic, peddlers, construction, and just plain noise which we had been bombarded with over the last week.
Kayaking was followed by another stellar dinner of fish, shrimp, vegetables and rice. At almost every meal it seemed like we have been presented with an unreasonable amount of food. However, without exception, we have managed to clean the table at every meal.
Back at the hotel, our Mr. Thuyet let us use the shower behind the reception desk to clean up while we prepared our luggage for the beginning of our return home. I decided to part with my bike in Cat Ba to avoid carrying it on the trains, boats, and planes ahead. Aside from the shifter troubles and a headset that is pretty much shot, the bike is still in pretty good shape. Mr. Thuyet agreed to keep it at the hotel and try to lend it to tourists now and again so that they can explore the island in style too. If you are ever in the neighborhood, look up the Tra My Hotel, just to the right as you come off the pier from the speed boat from Haiphong. Or you can try to catch Mr. Thuyet personally at 031-888-023.
Merry and I grabbed a Walls ice cream cone which I had been looking forward to for a while. The speedboat ride was smooth. I napped while the others watched Charlie Chaplan and Mr. Bean on TV. Next I caught a cylco ride across Haiphong City while Merry and Scott followed close behind. We went right down Dien Bien Phu St. which did not look at all like the main street of a major industrial city. Arrangements at the train station were easier than ever with the only mishap being at the streetshop out front. We passed a half hour
there drinking beer and eating bread only to be told we had incurred a bill of almost eight dollars. I wrote out the bill for the woman in prices that we were more familiar with and left the money on the table for her. I am not sure if this conforms with the passages in the guidebook regarding saving face (I guess this is some pan-Asian thing that all guidebooks are obliged to cover -- unfortunately I never have time to read those pages of the guidebook until the end of the trip) but in the end the woman did give a brief smile. We loaded up the bike and took our spots on the train.
Two hours later we were in Hanoi where I found a moto driver to give me a ride back to the Green Park Hotel where we had left the box for the tandem. I
almost got us lost, but managed to direct him to the right place. Our favorite woman was working at the desk and we managed to talk her into giving us the last room in the place for 55USD. The seventy that we had originally paid seemed insane compared to the six dollars we paid last night. She saw things our way.
We asked for tips about nightlife in Hanoi, including any info for tomorrow, New Years Eve. The two women at the desk came up with no particular ideas, so I just went out for a latenight haircut. This was an adventure in itself and provided to be quite entertaining for the woman at the shop down the street. I read a bit of a novel Merry brought and went to sleep around midnight.