We should have read the signs.
At the point our kayaking trip to Lan Ha Bay was cancelled yesterday, by order of the harbour master, we should have escaped.
It’s not like we’ve really enjoyed Cat Ba Town.
The hotel’s been awful, the restaurants over-priced and the sound of terrible karaoke has plagued every evening.
All the signs were saying GET AWAY.
Yesterday afternoon they even cleared the harbour. The boats were taken to safer moorings, waiting areas closed off, even the floating restaurants have disappeared!
So why did we stick around?
Well partly because we had booked a room, a bus and a ferry, none of which could be cancelled.
But partly because there’s barely been a hint of storm.
Yes, there’s been the odd flurry of rain, but we’d seen blue sky for the first time since we’d arrived! Whilst the internet gives very little information about the storm, anything we had seen suggested everything would be normal until lunchtime the following day.
So you can imagine our shock when we received this email 30 minutes before our bus was due to arrive the next morning.
All ferries off the island cancelled.
It seemed bizarre, the weather was still pretty good.
Having headed down to the office and pleaded with the company, we then consoled ourselves by heading into every other bus office in town to make sure we weren’t being spun a lie.
We only needed to take one look at the scattered groups of westerners dotted along the roadsides to know there was no way off.
Everyone we spoke to was in just as much disbelief.
“But, the sky is blue”.
“They’d take a boat out if this was the Channel”.
“Why didn’t they mention there might be a problem it when we booked yesterday, at least then we’d have had a chance”.
Some were in even worse trouble than us, flights to catch, visas running low.
As long as we made it back to Hanoi by Saturday night, we could at least catch our flight, even if we were missing out on our intended final destination of this sabbatical.
So here we are.
It’s a Wednesday in July, and we’re stuck on Cat Ba Island.
No-one knows if we’ll be able to leave tomorrow, of even Friday. Some are saying the storm could last a few days (though we’ve not seen much evidence of one yet!).
We’ve swapped hotels, so now have a bed not forged from concrete, and a window that isn’t trying to force light through a postage stamp opening.
It’s time to batten down the hatches and hope for the best.
We always did say we wanted an adventure….
And the story’s not quite over.
If you’ve a believer in everything happening for a reason here’s one for you.
Having been informed we weren’t leaving, and moved to our new hotel, I went for a walk by myself to clear a few cobwebs.
And this happened.
No storm = no stranding = no bird rescue = one less beautiful life in the world.
If that doesn’t buy us some karma, I don’t know what will!
EDIT: At 5pm in the afternoon this happened….
It seems karma really does exist.
I emailed the bus company about 1400 to see if they had any news about tomorrow’s ferries.
They said there might be a short window to get off the island today, and we should try and find someone to book a ticket with.
Slightly confused, as we had been told there was no chance, we headed into town and spoke to a travel agency. After a quick phone call, they told us there were going to be some boats leaving.
We walked down to the Cat Ba Express office to cancel our ticket, but it turns out they were running a bus, and the travel agency we’d just spoken to worked with them anyway! We’d gone from having no way off the island, to four tickets!
We cancelled one set and were told to arrive back at the office at 1530 for the bus.
We had a quick bit of lunch and went back to the hotel where we negotiated on the price of the room. We’d only been there half a day, and were now not going to be staying the night. They agreed we could have it for half price, which was more reasonable than I expected.
As soon as the Wifi connected, an email came through from the bus company.
Mr Reeve, please come to the office soon, the bus will leave early as
weather is now forecast to get worse.
This was not a day for the faint of heart!
We quickly gathered out things, and rushed back to the office.
Lucky we got the email, as the bus left at 1517!
A young chap called Tony, from the company read all our names out from a list as we sped off through the town. Maybe they would have waited if we hadn’t got the email? Or maybe not, as towards the end, the name ‘Tomas Fabian’ was read out, and there was no response!
Tony quickly glossed over it.
What unfolded over the next hour was like the final scenes from a poorly scripted disaster movie.
Our bus shot down the narrow, pot-holed roads of Cat Ba towards the harbour.
Tony jumped on the mic to tell us we were very lucky, as Cat Ba Express had negotiated the last boat off the island. After us, no-one was leaving that day, and potentially no more for three days. Tony seemed happy at the prospect of a few days off, but it was starting to sink in for the rest of us what a close call this was!
Cheers went up on the bus, and fevered discussions were taking place, everyone telling their own story of how they managed to find a ticket, and rush to the office to be there on time.
The more cynical amongst us felt it was only to be believed when we were on that boat!
It was clear now that this was no minor storm. The sky had quickly turned an inky black, and the wind was buffeting the coach from both sides. An the exposed roads close to the coast we were like a sail, with each gust attempting to knock us off into the rice fields.
When we got to the harbour, we were whisked off to a private mooring, presumably to stop a crowd of people trying to stake a claim to space on this small boat. We grabbed our rucksacks from the bowels of the coach, and made sure we didn’t lose sight of the people ahead of us. This was not a day to be accidentally left behind!
Besides us, a few men with scooters negotiated the narrow plank to get onboard, and before we knew it we were away!
It was so dark now it felt like dusk had come without a sunset. There was the odd narrow beam of light piercing the gloom, but the typhoon was set to chase us off the island!
My last look at Cat Ba Island, showed mountains half consumed by the shadow, and half still clinging on to the last rays of light. It wouldn’t be long before this tropical paradise was overrun by the oncoming barrage of wind and rain.
So there we have it.
Quite a story, quite a day.
If travelling is about adventures, then this had been a good day!
We never did make it to Halong Bay, but we came away with an experience that was much more unique, and will live long in our memories!
The day we escaped from a typhoon….
Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.