As previously mentioned as part of my travels in Haiphong I wanted to visit Cat Ba Island and visit it I did! Setting off mid afternoon on Saturday, myself and a few others arrived at the port and set out to find something to do.
Immediately upon arriving you notice how much of a tourist attraction the island is as there are more westerners than Vietnamese. That’s not a problem, you kind of expect when going to the places that pop up in every travel book, but the sad thing is the loss of culture in an attempt to appease the western desire for home comforts when abroad. However I will talk about this later on and focus on the pretty side of things for now!
The first thing we did was head to a ‘secret’ beach. I wouldn’t say it was completely secret as there were other people there, but it had no cafes, bars, or other amenities that definitely lent it a more natural feel. We got there quite late so it was just a bit of paddling before heading off to drive around the island a little bit.
Once we had actually got on the road and away from the main town it became a lot less congested and you could smell the lush greenery that littered the roads. The smell of damp green reminded me of home. Alas we didn’t have much time so we made a beeline back to the hotel in order to grab some food to fuel ourselves for the morrow!
Well rested and showered we set off to the National Park (about a 15/20 minute drive). As mentioned before the ride was pleasant and you travel through a few small villages on the way, receiving glances from locals and cheery “hellos” from the excited children.
The national park itself was nice, a fairly steep incline through densely wooded surroundings that shielded us from the sun meant we didn’t work up too much of a sweat. As I am getting more and more acquainted with my camera I have been trying to take increasingly sophisticated shots and have found that shots of live nature (especially fleeting moments of nature) are incredibly rewarding when you manage to capture it before it flies away! So I took many photos of butterflies and a few of the panorama from the peak.
As with my photos of the Great Wall, I don’t feel they do justice to what you see with your eyes as a camera can never seem to capture what your eye can. Some of the more interesting moments where the light plays with the canopy of trees can be difficult to convey through a still picture without all the other senses that help make a moment what it is. However here is a photo that hopefully captures some of the misty atmosphere that we encountered on our ascent.
Overall the climb up was very pretty and peaceful and once we got to the top we had a short rest and a little biscuit.
Our timing was pretty perfect, as when we decided to head down we encountered two tour bus loads of visitors which would have made the narrow paths much more difficult to navigate. The last thing we saw before we left the national park unfortunately left a bitter aftertaste. To be honest I think the picture says more than my words can.
Whilst above their cages the words ‘temporary rescue facility’ were written, it felt more like those words were just lip service to appease western tourists. The monkeys seemed incredibly agitated or despondent. There was a lot of trash within the cages and the a couple of the monkeys were very aggressive when approached, making me think they feel threatened by humans.
Obviously I cannot read their minds so have no idea how they are feeling, but I think this photo shows a sorrowful face, containing defeat and surrender.
The last thing we did was to go back to the aforementioned beach for a nighttime party. Now that the sun had set it really did feel a lot more secret as our group was the only sign of human life on the beach. We proceeded to create a very large fire out of dried palm tree fronds and something that resembled bamboo which we found all over the beach. We had a good time just drinking a little, playing some music and getting some good stargazing in.
Unfortunately the clouds soon swept over the sky’s canvas and covered up the stars so we decided to head to the sea to agitate some plankton. So yeah, this sounds strange but it makes sense when you know that the plankton are a particular type that are bioluminescent. Once their peaceful drifting is disturbed by your movements the briefly flash in an attempt to warn their brethren but also startle and disturb their predators. It’s a very interesting defence mechanism given the fact that they are so small and, as far as I’m aware, completely incapable of defending themselves. We spent the night on the beach waiting for midnight to approach, bringing around our friend Li’s birthday. Wishing her many years of happiness we then left and made our way back for our last night of sleep on the island.
So, coming back to what I said at the beginning. I find it terribly sad that in order to entertain westerners that big tourist attractions lose their heritage by becoming part of the amorphous blob that is western culture. Sure, they still serve Vietnamese dishes, but they are a far cry from the street food you will find down small alleys that look like a bad idea late at night. I understand the need to attract tourists to make money but I don’t understand why that means you have to offer them exactly what they could get in any other country. Wall shaking bass and cheap alcohol, McDonalds and KFC. What’s the point in travelling half way around the world to experience exactly the same things?
I could rant for a long time but feel that would detract from the positive experiences I had with my friends. I hope cultures won’t continue to lose their identity and I’ll see you in Hanoi!