Halong Bay’s Cat Ba: a jewel in Vietnam’s island crown

Street1I spend the journey from the Chinese border lying on a bed, softly rocking with the motion of the overnight train. The air conditioning hisses overhead and the carriage smells of the wood that bedecks the interior. Outside, bats are navigating the purple sky as the world slowly turns invisible.

A fellow traveller is snoring gently as I dip into my guidebook and the prospect of Hanoi, enticed by the urban delights – the cool boutiques; Dong Xuan Market, where, apparently, everything that breathes (or once breathed) is on sale; and Hoan Kiem Lake, overlooked by the moss-manicured Turtle Tower.

The Vietnamese capital proves faithful to its contrarian promise – a fiery, contempor­ary city still awash in history. There’s enough great food to clog the most efficient of metabolisms yet the galleries, from hipster haunt Manzi to the prestigious Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, are widely distributed, providing worthy partitions to those belly bulging banquets.

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