Shortly before we left on our South East Asia Adventure my dad remarked that it was difficult for him to relate to our plans since he "spent most of my 20s trying to avoid an all expense paid trip to South East Asia." Dad was afraid of meeting his maker in Vietnam and that's understandable because even without a war raging this country is a danger zone. I know that I have, perhaps, a lower bar than most for declaring my eminent demise (see: here, here...) but in just 2 days on Cat Ba island I almost died 10-400 times.
(to the tune of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover)
The problem can't be just inside my head, you must agree
This place is cursed as you will quickly see
You should stop reading now if you are my mom
There must be fifty ways to die in 'Nam
Cat Ba is located in northern Vietnam at the south end of Halong Bay. We visited in the lowest of low season when the bay was misty and the water cold and the hotel rooms with a balcony facing the sea were only $6 (which got you not only a bed and a shower but, inexplicitly, also a huge poster of a naked lady!). Most of our first full day in town was spent cruising around Halong Bay oohing and awwing at the limestone islands, and while I'm sure we could have fallen overboard and drown (esp after the lunch time beers) all felt fairly safe until we arrived at our last stop on Monkey Island.
When we wondered off of the boat and there were 5 primates on the beach surrounded by 10 or so people from another tour. The monkeys were rolling around in the sand and scurrying about which was 100% cute until we discovered that someone had given the smallest monkey some beer, then suddenly it was 90% sad and only about 10% hilarious. It soon became 30% sad, 5% hilarious and 65% life threatening when two monkeys suddenly charged Geoff grabbing him around the ankles and baring their teeth as he tried to kick them off while running towards the surf... Avoid the drunk primate, Kate...Thankfully, the monkeys seemed adverse to swimming in the chilly water (or maybe they just smartly wanted to avoid the beach ball sized jellyfish that patrol the bay... Don't get stung by a jelly, Kelly).
We started out our second day on Cat Ba island with bike rentals -- the national park where they keep the supposedly adorable ginger haired langers was only 12 or 18 kilometers away (depending on your source) which (mostly because I forgot how to convert miles to kilometers) sort of sounding like a distance that I could bike. Barely out of town my bike started making a weird clicking noise which was the perfect excuse to dismount and walk up the first punishing cliff... Could be a heart attack, Jack... The hills did not quit, 6% grade, 9%... and I was reduced over and over again walking the bike. Thank god Geoff and the new friends we had hooked up with were also huge wimps because if I'd had to watch Lance Armstrong breeze up and down the hills urging me to live strong I'd probably be rotting in a Vietnamese prison finding out if communists are pro death penalty (You could get the chair, Blair).
The national park is lush and misty and the steps up the hillside are covered in a slick coating of mud... Try not to slip and fall, Paul...It would be beautiful if I could spare any time from my "oh god the bees are going to eat me" dance. I have never been stung by a bee due primarily to a strict implementation of the brilliant "when you see a be run away" plan. But I can't run up or down or into the forest without risking a slip slide off of the mountain top so instead I stomp my feet and spin around and say things like "Oh god Geoff! They're coming for me!" Our new friends totally thought I was the coolest girl ever. As I gingerly climb hill number 4027 which involves a rusted out ladder precariously balanced over a sea of jagged boulders a pair of Aussie girls are descending. They mention that the top is not far off, that the view is fabulous and that, golly gee, the bees are in no way swarming like everyone said they would be. OH. MY. GOD...Just avoid the bee swarm, Norm...
The top of the mountain is indeed breathtaking and capped with a rickety set of stairs climbing even higher into the atmosphere. The copula at the tippy top is all cracked boards and rusted metal but my god the view was somehow enough to distract me from peeing my pants (but not enough to keep the "I am about to fall through the floor and into the forest" look out of my pictures.). ... Don't fall to your death, Beth....
Down we climb. Back to the bikes and a new route that the park ranger swears is all flat and easy. Liar Liar Liar. The buses squeak by us forcing me to hug my bike up against the edge of each limestone cliff... Don't get run over, Grover... My legs, oh my legs. I start to wonder what will happen if I physically cannot continue to propel my body over the hills. Will I sleep here on the gravel? Will one of these large construction trucks pick me up? Will Geoff be able to carry me and my bike on his back while peddling?
Somehow I make it back to town sore but alive and after much beer drinking and a $3 massage I head to bed hopeful that my aching muscles won't render me paralyzed come morning.
If I'm lucky I won't die in my sleep tonight
And I hope in the morning my legs will work alright
And then I passed out and I thought, as usual I was right
There must be fifty ways to die in 'Nam
Fifty ways to die in 'Nam