Well we nearly didn't make it to Cat Ba Island thanks to one of the most incompetent taxi drivers I've ever come across. As we are now travel savvy (ahem) we decided to flag down a taxi sans backpack (backpacks) so we weren't taken for a ride. We failed and proceeded to search with all our possessions...and a Kia Picante decided to pick us up. All four of us and all four backpacks poured into the tiny automobile. Now, we have discovered that our Vietnamese is less than understandable, so we showed him the name of the bus station written down. And pointed to it on a map. And acted out bus station cherades style. Being a fairly major bus point you'd assume he'd know where he was going. He didn't. The usual break neck paced traffic in Hanoi was instead crawling along at a glacial pace as we set off in the wrong direction. Watching the minutes slowly ebb away and the meter slowly creep up we were becoming ever so slightly concerned that we were going to miss our bus. Still he continued to look at our map and no amount of pointing to the lake was actually getting us there (we could direct from the lake you see). We even showed him 'bus' in Vietnamese at which he nodded enthusiastically, said 'yes, yes' and pretended he suddenly understood. Eventually we hit the main road we needed to and instructed him to go straight (with use of yet more pointing) but he kept slowing down and pulling over despite our pleas to keep moving in a straight line. At this point he was chuckling and I'm sure he was winding us up. With 10minutes to make our bus it wasn't actually that funny. All I could hear was Bryony and Lauren in the back sniggering at my failing attempts to convey anything to our idiot driver. The most irritating bit? When we finally saw the fork we needed to take he said 'ohhhh, Luong Yen'. Exactly what we had said, pointed at and showed him to read. This was obviously hilarious for him and he dropped us off laughing (presumably at us, not with us). He then spent forever getting our change and actually opening the boot. We arrived to an angry Vietnamese man who hurried us on to the bus which promptly left the moment we were on.
The bus/bus/boat/bus journey onwards was pretty event free (aside from a very questionable toilet break. Closing the door involved picking it up and placing it over the frame) and we arrived at Cat Ba. It isn't quite the idyllic Giliesque island I had pictured but I'm sure it might be prettier if the sun made an appearance!
We booked on a junk boat to take us kayaking around Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay (almost all the other activities involve fully functioning toes). The sun was trying, the water was very calm, the karsts very pretty indeed and the guides good fun. We had planned to spend the night on the boat too, but a swift look at our group and the less than balmy weather changed our minds. As a group of three a tandem kayak poses quite the dilemma. I nearly ended up with my ginger German nemesis (I'm sure she was nice, but I mocked her outfit and the girls then decided it was almost identical to mine which obviously they found most amusing) and we mugged off the Germans in favour of the handsome guide. Which then backfired thanks to an 8 year old who needed help. So Dennis and I ended up in a kayak, with Dennis steering in the rear and me paddling away up front. Dennis was a lovely older chap from Washington (state, not DC) but we weren't exactly the dream team. Our navigation was more of a zig-zag form than straight lines and I was regularly splashed. Still, we managed to navigate various lagoons, waterways and beaches and had a lovely morning. Back aboard our vessel lunch was somewhat marred by a very annoying Belgian lady who liked China and Climbing. She proceeded to bore us with how much she liked China and climbing until we retreated to the (not so sun) deck for a post lunch snooze. We dropped off the climbers and went for another Kayak. This time Dennis had ditched me in favour of his wife Linda so handsome guide Tom shared my kayak and proceeded to tell me how I was clearly the weak link in the felicity-Dennis team as he was getting along excellently with Linda. At this point we were still considering an overnight stay on the boat and Tom asked Dennis and Linda if they would care to join us. Unfortunately Dennis couldn't as he needed his breathing machine... Well I felt bad for making him work hard in the morning!
(Mum, block the following paragraph). The following day we decided we should explore the island further, and how better to explore than on a scooter. At breakfast we got chatting to a lovely northern couple who decided that they would join us in our maiden scooter voyage and we found a foot massage place to rent from (obviously). After nervously riding up and down the road a few times we journeyed further afield with thoughts of cat bas fabled beaches in our minds. We found the beaches and they looked not unlike cess pits (and cat co 2 was a nudist beach) so swimming was off the agenda. Instead we headed further in land towards the national park which was excellent fun with very pretty scenery (a nice change from the 'sea front' we are staying on. There is nothing quite like the theill of the open road and the feeling of the wind beneath your toenails. We are now almost confident bikers on the look out for goggles and tasseled leather jackets to complete our looks.