CAT BA ISLAND - Around the Island

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Cat Ba MountainsCat Ba island is solid mountains, with a couple roads that make for a fun couple hours of driving about on MOTORBIKE. The main road north of the island goes 16km to the national park, and another 14km to the north end of the lake at Gia Luan bay, where some ferries arrive. There’s another road looping west, shortly north of the national park. After several kilometers it forks – head left/south to go 18km back to Cat Ba town. The right fork leads 9km to Phu Long, where ferries leave from Cat Hai (for the bus/boat/bus trip to Hanoi, Haiphong or Ninh Binh).

You can rent a motorbike in Cat Ba town for US$5 or US$6 for the day.

Hospital Cave

Hospital CaveThere are a few cave pagodas around Cat Ba island, but the best cave is this Vietnam War site – the so-called ‘hospital cave’ (Quan Y Cave), where up to 150 patients were treated during the American War. It’s visited with a guide. Hopefully you’ll get Mr Vu, a sweet North Vietnam vet who once lived here and hands out his business card (‘distinguished war veteran’). Mr Vu waddles his way through some of the dark 17 rooms to point out where doctors and officers lived, and clicks his tongue to demonstrate the sounds made in another room ‘where we played ping pong.’ In a meeting room, Mr Vu – wearing green army fatigues – stops to sing a patriotic song ‘Ho Chi Minh,’ as was done during the war. The cave enters one side of the mountain and out the other. There’s a small blue-and-white sign pointing it out, about 8km north of Cat Ba town (on the national park road).
Admission US$3.10; hours are loose (open Friday to Sunday at least)

Cat Ba National Park

PeakAbout 8km past the Hospital Cave, you’ll reach the signed entrance to this mountainous 150-sq-km national park, which is part of some extended Halong Bay tours. In the past, there has been much wildlife here – including the endangered golden-headed langur (now numbering 60; this langur can be seen at the Endangered Primate Center near Ninh Binh) – but visitors are unlikely to see many of the 100 species of birds and mammals these days. But hiking’s good, and tough.

The short trek is a two-hour hike up NGU LAM PEAK and the scary watchtower visible from the park entrance. Once you pass several fruit orchards, the hike reaches the jungled mountain. Steps lead into the jungle. Soon after the path forks. The path to the right looks steeper at first, but is easier – with many steps to help over crevices; the left path gets trickier. (Both can be quite slippery after rains.) At the top, the watchtower is made of rusting metal with a seriously wide-open ladder and wide-open frame leading to the weathered wood floorboards up top. Views are lovely, but – I’ll say it – it’s a bit queasy getting up there.

The other main trek goes 18km to FROG LAKE (Ao Ech; after 6km) and down to VIET HAI VILLAGE (9km farther), a traditional village where you can get some food and arrange homestays. From Viet Hai, you can climb 268m Navy Peak for Halong Bay views; another path leads down to the bay jetty. It’s best to have a guide on this trek – and to arrange for a boat to meet you at the jetty to take you back to Cat Ba town.

Park guides to Viet Hai cost US$9.25 for the day. Entrance to the park depends where you go. Yen Ngua is about US$1, Viet Hai is US$2.25.