Even though we scheduled a late breakfast to allow us to sleep in, we woke up at 7am. At least we used the time to pack up and get ready to head out on the bikes again. Breakfast consisted of delicious fried eggs, bread, and traditional Vietnamese coffee made by the adorable grandmother running the hotel. We took a picture with her adorable eight-year-old grandson and headed out on the bikes, making it five minutes down the road before pulling over to a mechanic for a few minor repairs.
The city was quiet and the roads were empty as we crossed a bridge to the island of Tuan Chau. With no one around, we explored the island on the bikes and saw one after another of abandoned hotels and resorts. We thought this was odd, but then we saw an entire amusement park shut down and left to rot for years, which was even weirder. We rode through an empty golf course, a creepy Snow White and the Seven Dwarves display, broken arcade games, rusting rides and a huge outdoor theater with a water stage and elaborate dragon carvings. Being there gave us an eerie feeling, so we took some pictures after exploring a bit and left with many questions about what happened there.
We drove around more of the island and found entire housing developments, all varying in levels of decay. Large flashy signs showed examples of what these places were supposed to look like with luxury cars parked in the driveways and happy rich people walking around. This scene was far from the reality of the place and added to our curiosity about the island.
Somehow we found a few restaurants that actually weren’t abandoned and had delicious fried noodles for lunch before driving to the ferry port. Even the harbor had luxurious looking buildings intended for shops and restaurants, but they were all empty and starting to age. Squatters made themselves at home in some of them, as indicated by their hanging laundry and old TVs inside.
At the ferry terminal, we ran into the two guys motorcycling the same route as us, as well as two new guys also with the same plans. We all loaded our matching Honda Win bikes onto the ferry and soon we were chugging through the maze of giant limestone rock formations, covered in lush vegetation (apparently limestone is very porous and allows for roots to dig in deep).
Everyone on the boat was taking pictures of the amazing scenery, especially as we passed by a floating fishing village in which families live in tiny shacks on floating rafts. It’s amazing because they have dogs, satellite dishes, and even floating schools and markets. Many people rarely ever have to step foot on solid land.
The ferry docked on Cat Ba Island and we rolled our motorbikes onto the single road cutting through the island to Cat Ba Town. The winding road put our gears to the test going up steep inclines and then plunging down again into valleys of small villages and farms. On either side of us were huge green hills, making for quite a scenic ride. Soon we were driving past street restaurants and cafes along the southern harbor, with many happy white people inside. Cat Ba Town is a resort town with Western menus and endless hotels to choose from, even in the off season.
After a bit of a struggle, we found our accommodation for the night, the Cat Ba Beach Resort. We wanted to experience the priciest hotel on the island (at a mere $42 a night) and celebrate my birthday in style. The resort had palm trees lining the path that led us to our little cottage–past the sauna, a beautiful beach, and a tiki bar. Our little thatched-roof hut had a lounging porch, a tiny room big enough for the bed, and a bathroom with stones on the floor and a coconut shower head with bamboo piping. Kitschy but cute.
We rushed to the bar with fifteen minutes left to enjoy our complimentary beverage, and then decided to put on our bathing suits, sprint into the water, and then warm up again in the sauna. The water was chilly, but at least now I can say I’ve swam in part of the South China Sea.