Two Years Celebration Cycling in Hanoi and Catba Island


I’m hoping that Rein will write his perspectives of our time together soon but for now I will briefly sum it up.

Rein arrived in Hanoi a day after me and a day before my birthday. It was amazing to see him after two years and in such a foreign atmosphere. Hanoi is a bit of a chaotic and dirty city with motorbikes whipping through the streets at every possible angle. I can’t imagine how it felt to land there coming from the cleanliness and order in Toronto. We were stoked to see each other. Maybe a bit too stoked!


My birthday (and two year anniversary since I started the journey) celebration went all night and into the early morning. We spent the next couple of days searching out a bicycle and other touring gear for Rein so we could ride together around North Vietnam.

Then I started to feel an intense pain in my stomach area. It felt like one of my organs was failing. I wasn’t having digestion issues but I had a fever and cold sweats for a couple of nights. It became so painful that I could not sit up out of bed without intense 9/10 pain. At that point I decided to go to a doctor. It was an uncomfortable bike ride but I made it to a well respected (and I would soon find out super expensive) clinic. I wasn’t impressed by the doctor and their vagueness in diagnosing my issue. Eventually it was decided that I had bacterial dysentery and should get I/V antibiotics to deal with it. It worked and I was feeling much better the next day. I was not, however, in good condition to bicycle.

Rein was patient enough but seemed keen to get moving and exploring. He went on some day trips through the city and the surrounding areas. Hanoi is an interesting place to explore but it’s also very polluted. We were both eager to get out of the city.

After another few days I was feeling good enough to get moving so we made a push out of Hanoi. It was far from pleasant cycling along busy, noisy, 35+ degree C, and black smoke highways. There were a few small breaks from the traffic during our two day 200+km ride to Ha Long Bay.


Our destination was an island and I had yet to figure out how I was going to get there. There was a new bridge being built and we had hoped to ride it to a small island close to Catba. I was then prepared to swim a couple of km over to Catba Island while Rein took our bikes on the ferry. The bridge was up and had a couple vehicles driving on it but it was clearly still closed to the public. We chatted with a guard who let us through the first gate but he didn’t seem confident that we would be able to make it out of the other end. He was right. About half way across the long stretch of bridge an SUV stopped us and out popped what seemed to be the Japanese engineers in charge of building the bridge. They informed us we would have to return where we came from. Plan A was shot down.


Plan B involved another 60 km or so of cycling on the melting pavement to where the main ferry left to Catba. We hoped to find a small boat that I could rent and paddle over to the island. No luck. At this point Rein was getting bothered by my no motor thing and I was quite surprised, if not offended, when he suggested I just take the ferry over!

In the end we decided that Rein would take the ferry over to Catba, bicycle into town, rent a kayak and then paddle it back to me. Sounds easy right. Except that the only kayak he could find was a ridiculously sluggish fibreglass tandem kayak and the paddle was over 30km. Rein did it in the middle of the day in 35 degrees celsius humid weather and didn’t bring enough food or water.

He looked ready for hospital when he arrived at the dock but I didn’t stay long to nurse him. I needed to hop back in the kayak for the return trip while he got on the ferry to the island with my bike. It was late afternoon at this point and I wasn’t looking forward to paddling in unknown waters in the dark. Lucky for me the hottest part of the day that Rein had suffered through was over.

The paddle took me through the stunning limestone Islands that have made this area famous around the world. I wasn’t stopping to soak up the sights much but I did get to experience the natural environment more than many of the drunken tourists on the big party boats.


Then it got dark and the wind picked up. A head wind of course. I was able to find protection behind the islands for much of the paddle but at one particular spot I was fully exposed to the wind and the short period one meter chop that it had created. I was at the end of a funnel where all the wind and waves were colliding. The back wash of the cliff faces was threatening to flip me. I quickly got as far way as I could from them.

The tandem kayak was long and heavy and I became very nervous of it rolling or getting swamped as it smacked down over every wave. There were some lights of boats not too far away but I was not very confident in them seeing me if anything happened. Many thoughts were rushing through my head as I struggled into the weather in search of more protection behind the islands.

I eventually made it to safety as I passed by a large community of fisherman living on floating homes. As I rounded the final corner and paddled by several moored junky looking boats I heard Rein’s voice greeting me in the dark. What a relief.

We slept well that night and spent the next day recovering from each of our epic paddles. We did manage to go a for a little hike to a viewpoint overlooking the town below.


The following day we got on our bikes and went exploring in some caves. We discovered some bizarre creatures!


We hiked up through some jungle in a park to a lovely viewpoint. Breathing in the fresh air I felt better than I had in a long time. Hong Kong, Southern China, and Hanoi all have some serious air quality issues. I think it was taking its toll on my delicate Canadian lungs.


This area is know for it’s climbing and I have always wanted to do some deep water soloing (where you climb over water without ropes or gear). Rein and I rented another tandem kayak and went out in search of some walls to climb and beaches to enjoy. We didn’t find much but Rein did make friends with a jelly fish.


The return trip from Catba was made drastically more easy as Rein took a smaller kayak and his bike on a boat to the other side of the island. I rode my bike across the island to meet him and hop in the kayak for a much shorter 7km paddle. There was a bit of miscommunication with one of the boatmen who attempted to get me to ride in the boat with them. He got angry due to some misunderstanding. It was unfortunate to see and hear as I paddled quickly away from him. We had a clear deal and understanding with a guide who we had paid a small fortune to make this happen.


All it served to do was make me nervous that he would call the coast guard on me or something. I paddled my ass off and made it to the other side in almost the same time it took the passenger ferry to cross.


Rein and I then returned to the hot highways to make our way back to Hanoi. Unfortunately for Rein he got to experience some of the most unpleasant cycling of my entire journey. I was a bit bummed we didn’t get to explore some more remote areas of Vietnam together but considering my illness and Rein’s limited time we made the most of it!

Back in Hanoi Rein was able to resell his bike to the guy he had bought it from. I think it cost him a little over $100 to “rent” the bike for three weeks. We had a few days to decompress after the adventure and then it was time to say goodbye. I look forward to the next time Rein can join me and I will do my best not to get bacterial dysentry.