Taking a junk boat through the towering limestone islets of Ha Long Bay (Boot) is possibly the most famous (berühmt) tourist activity in Vietnam. The most common (gewöhnlich) route is to book yourself onto a package that buses you from Hanoi and then onto your boat for a day or overnight (übernacht) boat tour. We had, however, been recommended (empfehlen) to travel into the belly of the beast (direkt ins Herz/Zentrum) and stay on Cat Ba Island which is right next to Ha Long Bay and is actually a stop on most overnight boat tours.

Our travel to the island was a fairly uneventful (ziemlich ereignislos) two hour bus from Hanoi to Haiphong port (Hafen), a 30 minute boat to Cat Ba Island and then a further (weitere) hour and a half bus to our hotel for the next three nights; Full Moon Party Hotel. Considering (In Anbetracht) the actual Full Moon Party is held (halten) on another island in another country, we were a little bit confused (verwirrt) by the name but the hotel was ok (if a little basic) all the same. It also provided (liefern/bereitstellen) one of the more memorable (unvergesslich) (and fun) moments of our entire trip.

After chilling for an hour and then having some dinner, we settled in (gemütlich machen/ einnisten) at the hotel bar for a couple of drinks and waited for the advertised (angepriesen) pool tournament to start. The guests who put their names down played off against each other and then the winner would play against ‘Mr Chicken’ (one of the Vietnamese staff called Michael, obviously ALSO not his real name). If the guest beat Mr Chicken, he or she would win the prize (Preis) of ten free beers. And large beers at that! I’ve been playing pool since I was a child and played in pub leagues (Liga) for several years so I fancied (glauben/meinen) I had half a chance of challenging (herausfordern) Mr Chicken.

It was decided (entscheiden) that the eight guests would play pairs (Paare) to whittle us down (runterstutzen) to a victor (Sieger) and I was paired (paaren) with an Australian called Dwayne. He wasn’t a very GOOD pool player but he WAS a lucky pool player and any seasoned pool player will tell you it’s much better to be lucky than good! We breezed past (vorbeischießen) Georges and his wife (a French couple) and then similarly dispatched (abfertigen) French/Cornish bloke (a French guy who has English parents so spoke with a Cornish accent) and Ossie (a chain-smoking (Kettenraucher) Norwegian. More on him later). At this point, Dwayne and I were ready to play off (stechen) against each other to decide (entscheiden) the winner when two Americans – father and son – piped up (such zu Wort melden) that they hadn’t played yet. Not seeming (scheinen) to understand (verstehen) that we were in the middle of the tournament (Turnier), they insisted (auf etw bestehen) they wanted to take part so we agreed (einwilligen) to play them. “Play these two by yourself whilst I go for a cigarette”, Dwayne said to me. “No problem”, I replied (antworten), slightly glad (recent froh) that I wouldn’t have to wait for Dwayne’s luck to run out. I promptly (unverzüglich/umgehend) cleared (räumen) the table without the American’s potting (einlochen) a ball (which they didn’t seem too happy about, for some reason) and as Dwayne returned (zurückkommen), they made a few snarky (abfällig/abfällig) remarks (Bemerkung) about him not being there. Sour grapes of the ripest variety (bedeutet im Prinzip, dass sie sehr bitter wegen des Ergebnisses wares)!

Luckily for me, Dwayne’s good fortune DID desert (verlassen/im Stich lassen) him in our play-off game and I managed to beat him without too much trouble to set up a final against Mr Chicken. The beers were in touching distance (reichbare Entfernung)!

Mr Chicken quickly showed himself to be a formidable (anspruchsvoll) opponent (Gegner) by rattling in (einlochen) a couple of balls but I managed (schaffen) to work the table and get my balls all set up for a clearance (Aufräumen/Beseitigen) before he jawed a shot and his ricocheting yellow rolled over a pocket where I had two of my yellows set. This scuppered any chances of a clear-up and a tight and cagey game ensued. I finally managed to clear the pocket and get down to the black, only to let Mr Chicken in and he cleared his reds to set up a black ball game. The tension was palpable and the gathered crowd were on the edges of their seats!
(Ich hab aufgegeben alles zu übersetzen, ums zusammenzufassen: er hat gegen Mr Chicken gespielt, er hatte fast alle Kugeln eingelocht und gut positioniert, doch dann hat Mr Chicken eine seiner Kugeln nicht eingelocht und die lag dann vor Tom’s Kugel vor dem Loch, was Tom’s komplettes Spiel versaut hat. Dann wurde es spannend, keiner hatte mehr Kugeln übrig, es wurde nur noch um die letzte schwarze Kugel gespielt. Er schreibt, dass es so spannend war, dass jeder auf der Ecke ihrer Sitze gesessen hat…)

Mr Chicken had a long attempt (Versuch) at the black which he missed (verfehlen) and left me set up. I didn’t need a second invitation (Einladung) and sunk (versenken) the black to win the game and the glorious glorious (ruhmreich) prize of ten free big beers! After considering (erwägen) keeping (behalten) all ten beers for myself and Porky to have a bloody good night, I decided (entscheiden) to do the good thing and share (toilet) my winnings (Gewinn) with the rest of the remaining competitors (verbleibende Konkurrenten). Ossie had already gone to bed looking decidedly worse for wear (er war sturzbetrunken) and, fortunately (glücklicherweise), the bitter Americans had also departed (weggehen) so it meant a beer for everyone and two each for Porky and I.

As we drank (trinken) our sweet sweet free beverages (Getränke) and chatted of our travels and home countries, a familiar voice (bekannte Stimme) sounded (ertönen) and Ossie walked back into the bar. “Ossie, I thought you went to bed?”, Porky asked. “No, I’ve been up the street. I met a Chinese girl. I kissed her on the chin (Kinn)!”, was his reply. “Why the fuck did you kiss her on the chin Ossie?!”, we all asked, falling about laughing (umfallen vor Lachen).

After ascertaining (feststellen) that, despite his impeccable (einwandfrei) English, Ossie had actually meant to say “cheek” (Wange) and not “chin”, we went back to our drinking and welcomed Ossie back with a free beer. At one point, Ossie and French/Cornish bloke challenged (herausfordern) each other to a game of pool which we all assumed (vermuten) French/Cornish bloke would win because he was actually fairly decent (recent gut) at pool and Ossie was absolutely trashed (sturzbetrunken). Things didn’t quite go according to the script though (Es lief nicht wie erwartet).

Ossie pranced around (tänzeln/stolzieren) the table, barely (kaum) paying attention to the game whilst continuing (fortführen) to tell us about his interaction with the Chinese girl he kissed on the chin. “Hold”, he’d hilariously demand (fordern), thrusting (stoßen/aufdrängen) his cigarette at the nearest person when his shot came around (went er an der Reihe war). “We need some music on. I love Queen. I’ll put on some Queen”, he declared (verkünden), putting his phone onto the pool table with “Under Pressure” blazing. This song proved quite apt (passend) because Ossie was, by this point, well on top of the pool match against French/Cornish bloke. “Imagine losing to someone as drunk as me hahahaha” (“Stell dir vor gegen jemand zu verlieren, der so betrunken ist wie ich!”) , Ossie shouted maniacally (wahnsinnig), as we all joined (anschließen) in laughing. The threat (Drohung) didn’t seem to encourage (ermutigen/ermuntern) French/Cornish bloke enough though as he lost (verlieren) to a delighted (entzückt) Ossie!

The bar at the hotel had closed by this point so Porky, French/Cornish bloke, Ossie and I headed to the street to hopefully find Ossie’s Chinese beau (Verehrerin) to witness (beobachten/Zeuge sein) him give her another kiss on the chin.

We eventually rolled in at 12:30am and I found Tessa watching Liverpool vs Spurs (or it might have been Gilmore Girls) and she was delighted (erfreut) the next morning to see that her team had turned around their poor start to 2017 by recording a 2-0 win.

Next morning, we hired mopeds to go have an explore of the island. After checking out the nearby beaches, we headed to the Hospital Cave (Krankenhaus Höhle) just north of Cat Ba Town. Cat Ba was a hide-out (Versteck) for Viet Cong leaders during the Vietnam War and so was heavily bombed (bombardiers) by the Americans. The Vietnamese dig out (ausgraben) a cave and built a hospital inside which was essentially (grunsdätzlich) bomb- and detection-proof. The engineering achievement (Leistung) of such a structure is incredibly impressive (unglaublich beeindruckend). There are about 30 rooms in the ground floor of the cave with a further story (Etage) on top which acted as a local headquarters (Hauptquartier) for the North Vietnamese commanders. Despite having to inform ourselves of the Hospital Cave’s importance (Bedeutung) via Wikipedia as there was no signage (Beschilderung) of any sort, it was an interesting place to visit.

Next stop was Trung Trang Cave which is a smaller, narrower (schmal) cave with many stalagmites (stehender Tropfstein) and stalactites (hängender Tropfstein). This cave was actually closed for so me reason but Porky and I climbed over the gate and had a peek (kurzer Blick) inside anyway. Of course, Tessa would be doing her nation a great disservice (Bärendienst) by taking part (teilnehmen) in such reckless (waghalsig) rule-breaking (regelbrechend) so she stayed outside the entrance safely behind the gate. (Tessa:”I’m sure there was a reason why they closed the cave down! And installing barriers isn’t for fun either.”)

We next headed to Cat Ba National Park entrance to take a hike through the forests and up to two viewpoints which promised (versprechen) views of the island. After a challenging (herausfordernd) (and very sweaty (schweißtreibend)) hike up to the top, we were greeted (grüßen) with absolutely spectacular views of the lush (üppig/satt) rainforest (Regenwald) all around.

After climbing down, we continued on the bikes to the northern tip (nördliche Spitze) of the island where there is a small port (Hafen) where the Ha Long Bay boat tours arrive onto Cat Ba. As well as being a beautiful bay in it’s own right, the spot offers views of the famous limestone (Kalkstein) towers of Ha Long Bay which whetted our appetite (Appetit schärfen) for our own boat tour we’d be doing the next day.

Our final destination for the day was the Cannon Fort which overlooks Cat Ba Town. The military fort was initially built by the Japanese during World War Two but was later utilised (nutzen) by the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. There are several (mehrere) old buildings like a store room and a barracks as well as original anti-aircraft guns (Gewehre) which were used to shoot down the American bombers headed (anzielen) for the mainland. The real attraction of the fort though are the incredible views across Cat Ba and the neighbouring Lan Ha Bay – some of the best we’d seen in the whole of Vietnam.

After heading home, showering and then getting some dinner, we got an early night. No pool tournament tonight 🙂

Next morning, we were picked up at 8:30am for our boat tour through Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay. After piling onto (an Bord gehen) the (somewhat luxurious, compared to others we’d been on) boat, we set off through the floating Fisherman’s Village towards Monkey Island. The island turned out to not have so many monkeys and the main attraction was a rocky climb up to a viewpoint which would have been enjoyable were it not for the dozens (tausende) of other people trying to climb up and down at the same time. This made for slow and annoying (nervend) progress (Vorankommen) but the view at the top was still impressive (beeindruckend).

Next, we traveled for an hour north-east through Lan Ha Bay to a fish farm (which had some gigantic fish which they clearly keep extremely well fed) which was also the jumping off point for kayaking. We kayaked through caves into the ‘Secret Lagoon’ which opens out to a vast (rießig) lake with spectacular views of the surrounding rainforest-topped cliffs.

On returning to the boat, we had a very filling (sättigend) lunch and met two Australian blokes; Seb and Jules. They suggested (vorschlagen) we play some cards and they taught us a version of Rummy called Dummy Rummy which Tessa and I have since started playing regularly (regelmäßig). Cheers guys!

As we ate lunch, the boat travelled on to Ha Long Bay and the it’s easy to see why the trip through the limestone (Kalkstein) towers is so popular. Hundreds of white cliffs raising hundreds of feet high dot the water all around (Hunderte von Kaltsteinkliffen kann man in der Halong Bucht finden).

We eventually stopped in a small bay where we’d have an hour and a half to lounge (faulenzen) in the sea and swim to a nearby beach. In the spirit of our earlier Happy Boat trip on Koh Phi Phi, I showed (zeigen) Porky how to wear a lifejacket (Rettungsweste) as a nappy (Windel) and we bobbed (schweben/flößen) in the sea with our beers – no better way to enjoy Ha Long Bay, I’d say! As the weather had been fairly cold, the sea was suitably chilly (kühl) so we didn’t last too long (see habens nicht lange ausgehalten) before climbing back onto the boat to dry off and warm up.

The return leg (Rückfahrt) of the journey was a winding (schlängeln) route back through the Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay islets. As we approached (annähern) the Fisherman’s Village on the eastern edge of Cat Ba again, the whole place seemed (scheinen) to have changed. We’d not paid too much attention (Aufmerksamkeit) to the floating houses earlier in the morning but by evening, the place was abuzz with boats (roll met Booten) weaving (schlängeln) their way through the platforms. We observed (beobachten) how their houses and communities (Gemeinden) were so similar (ähnlich) to the on-land variety – people hopping in (reinspringen) their boats to visit their friends across the ‘street’, women in tub boats rowing (paddeln) between houses selling food ingredients (Zutaten) and other goods, dogs keeping guard (Wache halten) (we were a little puzzled by that one), even satellite dishes (Satellitenschüsseln) on the roofs (Dächer) of the basic living huts. It was quite a fascinating insight (Einsicht) into their daily routines.

Next morning we’d head back to Hanoi where Porky would be flying back home. So we spent our final evening with few beers in the hotel bar whilst playing our newly learned Dummy card game.

We were very glad that we’d spent the time to come a little off the beaten track (abseits der bekannten Backpacker Pfade) and stay to Cat Ba Island. We were sure that, whilst we’d seen the famous Ha Long Bay, we’d also seen a lot more besides which had provided (bieten) a better insight to the area (as well as a lot of fun!).