I would like to ask you in opening to excuse any typos you may or may not find in the following post seeing as I am currently riding the BOUNCIEST bus anyone has ever ridden in the history of the world and can barely keep my hands on the keyboard on the way from Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh.
Anyone who’s ever met me knows that my vocabulary is that of an incredibly well-educated sailor. For those of you who don’t know me, let’s just say I paint a very vivid picture with words. For the purposes of this post (particularly the beginning) I’ll be using the method my mother asks me to employ when there are small humans around – which is substituting my curse words with the word “asparagus” – so as not to get beat up by their parents.
So let’s asparagus go, boys and girls.
Our taxi and ferry ride to the island of Cat Ba was uneventful in every regard – which is a good thing, let me tell you. It wasn’t until we arrived at the island’s port, which was on the opposite site of the island as the city center, that our troubles began. So listen. We got off the ferry with about another 10 backpackers that as of yet we had not communicated with. As soon as we were on land, we were surrounded by taxi drivers telling us that the bus that would normally take us to the city center was broken down. Well asparagus us, right? Ky and I’s initial thought was to just walk - bc we like getting our steps in bc it makes us feel accomplished – but we soon found out we were about 13km (almost 9mi) out of town, a distance we would embrace with open arms if we weren’t carrying our entire lives on our backs. Some of the backpackers were talking in a group up ahead so we decided to join them and see if we could figure out a game plan, all while being followed and re-surrounded and harassed by taxi drivers every time we stepped in one direction or another. As we deliberated, the taxi drivers slowly offered us lower and lower prices to get into the city center (asparagus surprise, right?), but we decided to wait and see if a bus would come by, just in case they were trying to tourist us real hard core like a bunch of asparaguses. Unfortunately, the public bus did not come, but a tour bus for an organized group tour was going into the city and we and the other 8 travelers had plans to be on that bus when it left. One of our group was an aggressive haggler and got the price down to 25,000 VND per person (approximately $1), which is what the public bus would have cost us. It was honestly an asparagus event in and of itself, and I shudder to think what Ky and I would have paid for transport into the city if we didn’t have EIGHT OTHER ASPARAGUS BACKPACKERS to keep a strong front with, but luckily we didn’t have to find out. An hour-long bus ride filled with laughter at our situation and the exchanging of travel stories later, we made it into the city in one piece, only to find out our hostel was another 2 miles away from the center itself. We made a friend with a local restaurant worker whose friend drove a taxi and spent less than a dollar each to get us to the hostel with more money in our pockets than we ever could have had without the group effort that went into our transport. Team work makes the asparagus dream work, people.
After a very long afternoon, we settled into our freaking awesome hostel (which was called Cat Ba Central Backpackers Hostel – not the one in the city center, the one outside of it). It boasted incredible views, great facilities (except for the cold showers), cheap food, free breakfast, and a particularly friendly staff all for the amazing price of only $5. If it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on it, I am. This place was awesome, and all it took was five minutes for us to agree that this would be a three-night stay rather than the one or two we had planned.
Ky and I spent our evening planning out the next few days of our trip and came to quite the realization. You know when you’re in high school and you have to get approval for literally everything ever, including going to the bathroom? And then you go to college and you have more freedom than you know what to do with? This trip is essentially that. When I travel, I usually have such a limited window of time that I have to plan the majority of it before I even go. This time around, I have nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there, and there’s almost too many options (almost, but not quite). We can go wherever the wind takes us and I am loving every minute of it.
OH MY GO D THIS BUS WILL NOT STOPP BOUNCIN G I AM GOING TO THEOW MY COMPUTER OUT THE ASPARAGUS WINDOK!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyway. We woke up at 7AM the next day so that we could enjoy our free breakfast before going on a guided tour which included a boat tour of Ha Long Bay, kayaking at Lan Ha Bay, and a quick hike (which was more of a climb) on Monkey Island. After a quick breakfast of eggs and fruit – and about 5 cups of brown coffee which is black coffee with sweetened condensed milk in it – we were on our way. It was cool out on the water but the views were worth the slight chill, and it wasn’t long before we were kayaking through caves that opened up to stunning views in every direction. It was truly unbelievable, and we just kept laughing in awe of the fact that we were in the middle of Vietnam kayaking in a place that looked like it was straight out of one of the aerial views of the islands in Jurassic Park II. Luckily I had the waterproof case my grandma gave me bc heaven knows I’m too clumsy to carry my unprotected phone into the waters of Vietnam on an inherently unstable kayak with the likes of Kyle (who is likely to tip us over on purpose) so I got some decent shots before we sped back to the junk boat for lunch with the other travelers. HOLY BUMPS ON THE ROAD I AM PERSONALLY GOING TO FUND THE INITIATIVE FOR GETTING VIETNAM NEW ROADS OH MY ASPARAGUS GOD I AM LOSING MY ASPARAGUS MIND.
After lunch, we headed to Monkey Island (exactly what you think it is – monkeys everywhere) for a hike/climb to the highest peak so we could get a birds-eye view of the surrounding islands. It was amazing. What was decidedly less amazing was the little monkey that thought he should steal Ky and I’s water – the little asparagus snuck up from behind and grabbed it and it was all I could do to grab the other end before it ran off to tell its parents about the mean lady it met on the beach. At this stage I was imagining that scene from Tarzan where the baboons attack Jane (bc I am a child and all of my movie references are from one animated film or another) so I was glad to see our junk boat docking on the island to pick us back up and head to the hostel. The rest of the night was spent researching masters programs in Germany until heading to bed shortly after dinner bc we are on the sleep schedules of 70-year old geriatrics seeing as we’re up by 7 and in bed by 9.
The next day was set to be a chill day, and a chill day it was. We slept in till 8 (yeah, you read that right – slept in) and headed downstairs to drink all the coffee we could poor and have a slow breakfast, something we enjoyed more than I can say. I wasn’t quite mentally prepared to work on masters applications yet, so we decided to take a walk into Cat Ba proper and grab lunch. Seven miles and a wallet-lightening $2 lunch later, we were back in the hostel for the day.
Half an hour later found us in the common area – me working on my second of eight masters applications and Ky trying to beat himself at solitaire. In the span of about an hour and a half I had completed almost the entire application – a feat which would be more impressive if that wasn’t the most productive I’ve been since I graduated college. This was followed by a much needed break of some heated card games, which Ky beat me in every single time bc he is a horrible human being and literally the worst card game opponent ever bc he always asparagus wins. Cards were followed by dinner and chats HOLY ASPARAGUS ASPARAGUSES ARE YOU KIDDING ME MY COMPUTER ALMOST JUST FELL OUT OF MY LAP AND MY BUTT LEFT MY SEAT ARE WE DRIVING ON ROADS OR ICE TRAYS YOU HAVE GOT TO BE ASPARAGUS KIDDING ME as we discussed everything from our families to our futures and laughed about how far we’d come since we re-met in high school all those years ago. It was at this stage that I realized I have about 27 different plans for my life before I even hit 30. Between now and then, I want to get my masters in Germany, spend a year on a working-holiday visa in New Zealand, do a two year stint in the Peace Corps, and teach Spanish in Latin America for a year. Juuuuust a few things. But considering I just turned 23 and my life could go in one of a million different directions right now, I’ll enjoy my tentative plans and take things as they come.
As for right now, I am enjoying the asparagus out of this 5h bus to Ninh Binh, in case you couldn’t tell by all my very calm and collected caps-locked outbursts throughout the course of this post. The conditions of this bus do kind of make up for it however – the bus itself is ridiculously luxurious with Wi-Fi and complimentary water – and it cost us almost nothing, so I can’t actually complain. Like I said though, you can blame any typos that render this work illegible on the atrocious quality of Vietnamese infrastructure. I for one am just happy to be here, bruised butt and all.
Until next time, ladies and gentlemen (and everybody else).
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)