Catba Bites Back; or, Catba – Not The Cat’s Meow; or, An Impuurrrrfect Stay in Catba; or, Catba’s No Catnap; or, Catscratch Fever in Catba

Posted on Posted in Travel Update

Before we address the food poisoning cliffhanger from the last post, we have to talk about Hanoi.


Vietnam’s capitol, Hanoi is a bustling city centered around ‘old town’ and it’s many themes. With no grid system to speak of, we weaved our way through diagonal streets, triangular blocks, five-way intersections, alleyway shortcuts, and classic Southeast Asia motorbike traffic. Walking Hanoi is so fun because each block sells one type of ‘thing’. Need toys? All the toy shops are on one block. Brass bedframes? Another block. Aquarium supplies? One stop shop. Anything you could possibly imagine being made out of styrofoam? Just head to the snow-white styrofoam block. Snail soup? Head down the soup alley. It’s so cool. It also seems hard to have a business where all your competition are literally your neighbors, but, hey, it seems to work!

This was from the puppy block. I was in heaven!

Just kidding. Puppy street isn’t a thing. Well, maybe it is, but we didn’t actually find it.

Zoey and I were in Hanoi for one day, but we arrived suuuuper tired after an early flight.

The alarm I set to catch our Bangkok-Hanoi flight was disappointing at best.

After finding our hostel and taking a much needed morning nap, we roused ourselves for lunch.

After being in Thailand, we had gotten used to easy-to-find, delicious, and relatively straightforward street food.

Hanoi rocked our world a little bit. Sticking to the theme of themes, it appears most restaurants we’ve encountered in Vietnam make one or two dishes, and that’s it. Menus are not always a thing, English menus are even less of a thing. Not knowing all this yet, we boldly set out into the city. In our tired, hungry state we plopped ourselves down in a soup themed alley and gestured to the super nice old woman surrounded by metal bowls for one each.

One of what, you may ask? We had no idea.

Turned out to be a delicious soup! It also turned out that one of the ingredients she had added from one of the bowls was snails. Unrefrigerated snails, or for a more classy name, ambient snails.

At this point, there was nothing to do about it but shrug and eat our soup. I ate a fair amount of snails, Zoey tasted one. It was quite yummy.

For the rest of the day, we wandered Hanoi in a tired daze. Getting used to a new country on a very small amount of sleep was harder than we anticipated. It was also very hot, but we managed to see some sights.

We tried to walk into this building because the doors were wide open. A man wouldn’t let us in, but did insist on taking our picture.

Vietnamese coffee helped us get through.

The Ho Chi Minh museum was a welcome respite with both air conditioning and learning.

Later that day, we continued our array of poor food choices and accidentally ended up with beef spring rolls with fresh lettuce (you’re not supposed to eat leafy greens). Ordering sans menu or Vietnamese vocabulary was hard.

To top off our day, we picked up a white meat (chicken? pork?) street ‘taco’ (obviously the meat was ambient).

It was delicious.

And thus: in one short afternoon, two vegans ended up consuming three very ill-advised meat meals.

We kept joking we were going to get sick.

Which was super funny…. until I found myself retching on the street the next night.

Catba Island

After our day in Hanoi, we woke up early for a bus to Catba Island, the largest island in the iconic Ha Long Bay area.

I planned to blog on the journey and obviously fell asleep for the entire thing. Four hours, two busses, and one ferry later we got dropped off in Catba Town and the driver took off without ever asking us to pay. Unsure how that happened, but getting to Catba for free was fine by us.

We looked at a bunch of hostel reviews the night before and found very limited options so we didn’t book anything and arrived to Catba without a reservation. We weren’t super inclined to book a room with reviews starting with “seriously don’t” and “after seven months of traveling, this was the worst by far”.

We walked up the main drag and asked every single hotel if they had a room for the night.





Not kidding after a dozen rejections we started getting desperate and finally one hotel said they might have a room. The man led me back into the hotel and opened the door to a storage room that happened to have a bed in it.


Ouch. At $20 USD, that was 4x more than we ended up spending any other night. We needed a room so we took it. It came with free half-empty water bottles, a squished, bloody mosquito on the wall and exclusive access to the scary crawl space behind our room.

I was starting to feel really tired and accidentally fell asleep for two hours.

Zoey woke me up, but I was exhausted so she ventured out and I slept some more.

Around dinner, she managed to get me vertical and we ventured into town.

It was chaos. Unbenounced to us (we thought we were there for low season), the Vietnamese summer holiday started two weeks ago, and flocks of people had descended upon the island.

Zoey got photos of the beach scene…. not exactly the peaceful oasis Catba can be in actually lower seasons.

After a while it started pouring rain. Buckets. Sheets. Whatever qualifier you need, just imagine the most amount of liquid coming out of the sky unrelentingly.

We hunkered under an umbrella with a bunch of Vietnamese folks.

After awhile, the streets started flooding and my stomach was betraying me so we ventured home.

You can see the street flood here:

I had to stop a few times on the insanely hectic journey back to the hotel to dry heave. It was not pretty – I was so sick and so wet. We arrived at the hotel and had to wring out our clothes before going inside.

I spent the night sleeping and vomiting. It was sad – I slept the whole next day.

We had to switch accommodations in the middle of the day – we switched to a hostel which was far cheaper. I managed to eat some French fries and drank some coconut water which was the first “meal” I’d had in over 24 hours.

That outing to get lunch put me on the couch until the evening, but things were starting to look up after feeling like I was about to die for two days.

The next day I woke up starving, but healthy!

Zoey and our friend, Naomi, and I went climbing in Hidden Valley – a jungley, limestone crag.

It was awesome climbing! Zoey led everything because I was super tired. She crushed it and Naomi and I happily toproped. We honestly did more chatting than climbing which was lovely.

On our way there, we encountered a woman who owns a bakery way outside town, deep in the neighborhood that we walked through to find the climbing spot. Through broken English and lots of gesturing she told us she’d bake us three banana cakes and to come get them when we were done, and if she wasn’t there just leave 20,000 dong (less than $1) and take the cakes.

When we finished, lo and behold we had cakes freshly baked just for us!


For the rest of our time on Catba, Zoey and I tried our best to escape the crowds and madness of town.

We rented a bike, and hightailed it to the other side of the island.

It’s important to note the shirts in the above picture.

We noticed a distinct Vietnamese style of wearing head to toe matching fruit outfits.

Obviously, Zoey and I wanted to blend with the locals, so we picked ourselves up a set of fruit suits.

Here’s Zoey modeling her suit while filling up our tank. Yes – the ‘gas station’ was a woman selling 1.5 liter disposable water bottles full of petrol.

Turns out, Catba is beautiful when not vomiting or sharing the views with 5,000 of your closest friends.

Cue lots of pretty pictures and that ends our stay in Catba. We left a day early to check out northern Vietnam.

From here, we took a sleeper bus to the city of Ha Giang, where we began a 4 day motorbike tour. Sorry Mom.

One thought on “Catba Bites Back; or, Catba – Not The Cat’s Meow; or, An Impuurrrrfect Stay in Catba; or, Catba’s No Catnap; or, Catscratch Fever in Catba

  1. Thanks for the postcard ! It arrived in Park City last weekend while we were up at Christmas Meadows (the Wyoming side of the Unitas ) … 😎

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