Our chosen base for our Halong Bay visit was Cat Ba Island. Although this turned out to be somewhat of a Blackpool of Vietnam, and a major holiday destination for Vietnamese families, we were assured that this was actually the quieter spot than the alternative option, Halong City.
The journey from Hanoi was fairly straightforward with a direct bus – boat – bus through Huang long. Although the journey certainly lacked any picturesque scenery, this does change as soon as you arrive onto the island, which is predominantly national park, and it is quite a surprise to reach a town full of bright lights and traffic a short drive away.
Accommodation wise, our first night was not arranged by myself, and was at Cat Ba Hostel. Although the staff were pleasant, the room was small, had questionable air conditioning, only one electrical socket, and was quite an uphill walk from the main town. More concerning was the number of ants – most certainly not appealing. A twin room did only cost $15 – but as we have had much better rooms for less money, this was arguably the worst value hostel encountered so far.
Keen to avoid another night dodging ants, we set upon finding a new location, to discover very limited options – as Cat Ba is also a popular destination for Vietnamese travellers, it would have been much better to have booked this destination in advance. Fortunately, Green Cat Ba had a room with two double beds at a brand new hotel located just behind their original hostel building. The beds may have been rock solid, but the room was extremely clean, and a much welcomed improvement from the previous night.
Our dining experiences were unfortunately nothing notable, however with so many restaurants selling fresh catches from the day right outside, this is definitely a destination for seafood lovers! As a bit of a party town, there are of course happy hours everywhere you look, so much easier to find a nice drink than a nice meal.
So you may be wondering, aside from tripping off to Halong bay, did Cat Ba have anything special? YES! After a great day with Cat Ba Ventures, we decided to embark on a half day hike at 8am on our final day before departing for Dong Hoi.
We were driven firstly up to Hospital Cave – a huge cave on hidden the mountainside which was converted during the war to be used as a hospital, and house Vietnamese soldiers from time to time. A fascinating place to visit, and our guide shared numerous interesting facts with us as we toured the cave.
From here, we set off again to begin our hike in Cat Ba National Park. As our guide pointed to the peak we were about to climb, there was definitely a little worry of what we had let ourselves in for in the heat, but there was no turning back!
The first portion of the hike was extremely busy with Vietnamese tourists, so our guide took a few little detours to avoid the crowds as much as possible. He did also advise us that they generally don’t like walking far, and we did quickly see the crowds become more and more sparse.
The hike itself took around an hour, with several much needed water breaks. Fortunately the path did stay in the shade (or the heat really would have been too much to cope with!), and only towards the end became more difficult to navigate (particularly for those of us who were not blessed with very long legs!).
But then all of a sudden, the trees opened up and we climbed the final stage – the viewing platform. And what a view! After a short collapse on the ground to recover, we took some time to take in the amazing national park surrounding us as far as we could see. Simply breathtaking (quite literally after the climb).
The trip back down was much quicker, and despite keeping my eyes peeled for one of the extremely rare langur monkeys (only 65 remain in the wild, and only on Cat Ba Island itself), we weren’t lucky enough to encounter one. Our guide informed us he had never seen any in the area due to the number of people around the hiking trails – but that snakes and spiders were much more common. He did then point out the largest spider I have ever seen,which he assured couldn’t kill me (!), and I handled this like a jungle pro (nothing phases me now hector!).
Top tips for hiking in the heat? Sensible footwear is a must (the Vietnamese lady in high heels must have been REALLY struggling!), plenty of water, a small snack for the top to regain your strength, and a little money to purchase an ice cold drink to cool down at the end of the hike!!
All in all, a wonderful morning, and delightful to see some of the real Cat Ba, away from the garish tourist traps.
With kindest regards,