Cat Ba Island - Halong Bay

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Look at any itinerary for a visit to the north of Vietnam and it will almost certainly include a trip to the famed Halong Bay. Visiting in the winter months can see the beauty of the area shrouded in fog, and for backpackers who have invested money that is in short supply that is can be devastating. An alternative is a visit to Cat Ba Island, the largest of the 3,000 island that rise from Halong Bay.

We visited the area during the Vietnamese winter (between December and March) and had heard reports of travelers paying for an overnight boat-trip in the Bay only to see very little due to poor visibility and spend the evenings freezing cold. Not inspired by this, we instead opted to go straight to Cat Ba, which is often included on the second day of packages purchased in traveler cafes in Hanoi.

Getting to Cat Ba Island is quite easy on your own, no tours or guides are necessary.

From Hanoi, you need to make your way to Haiphong where the ferries leave for the island. We opted for an afternoon train ride from Hanoi, such that we arrived in Haiphong in the evening, stayed overnight to ensure we would be on the first ferry in the morning. Aside from the joys of negotiating a ferry ticket the journey was pain free.

We were greeted by a number or representatives from the guesthouses opposite the ferry dock. As it was the low season we were able to negotiate a large room with water views for under $10 US a night.

The advantage of being on the island and having water views was that we were able to avoid the cold and rain, and watch the fog lift and then descend again from the comfort of our room, which was truly beautiful. The limestone casts which the area is famous for are amazing and worthy of their UNESCO World Heritage listing.

While on Cat Ba, hire a moto driver and head out to Cat Ba National Park. There’s plenty of wildlife to spot and some great walks. Be careful if visiting after rain, as there is a steep climb and the track can get quite muddy. I managed to fall on the flat part of track after climbing back down much to the amusement of my partner and the moto driver watching on!

While in the park, Hospital Cave is a must.

Hospital Cave (as the name suggests) is a Cave that was used by the Viet Cong as a hospital during the Vietnam War. Visitors are guided through the Cave by a former soldier who served here. He has limited English, but that only adds to the experience.

The island is also home to beautiful beaches, Cat Ba Co 1, 2 and 3. We were fortunate enough to see sunny skies on our last day and headed down to the beach. They were the nicest we saw in Vietnam (and we did check out a number of spots including the tourist hot-spot Nha Trang) and because of the season we had the beaches to ourselves.

A great way to end out two month journey through Vietnam.

Cat Ba Sunset from our hotel window


Wanderus said...

Thanks for visiting! Your sunset pictures from the hotel are AMAZING. I'm sure that it was even more gorgeous in person!