Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cat Ba Island | Halong Bay

Boats in the harbour

View from our hotel

 Arriving in Cat Ba
 One of our last stops in Vietnam was Cat Ba Island, next to the famous world-wonder Halong Bay. The bay closest to Cat Ba Island is called Lan Ha Bay, lesser known, but equally as beautiful. The journey from Hanoi to Cat Ba island was very quick, due to the recently opened expressway that runs from the capital to Haiphong, the major port town. We decided to make Cat Ba our base for exploring the area for a few days, which ended up being a week due to all of us getting sick with cold! Add to that the fact that our first few days in Cat Ba were miserable weather wise as well, and we did not have a good start to the week. However, a few days in, the weather started to pick up, and we started to feel better, which meant that we could finally go out and explore the island.

A sunnier day!

Squid drying in the sun

At sunset one night

Exploring the beaches of Cat Ba Island

 Cat Ba Beaches
There are about three small beaches in Cat Ba that are easily accessible from the town. We walked up past the main road down to one of the resorts, and then found a walking trail that connected the first beach to the other two. It was a very pretty walk, despite the skies still being a bit cloudy, and our viewpoint offered some stunning vistas of the bay.

View from the Cannon Fort

Cannon Fort
Another tourist attraction in Cat Ba is the old Cannon Fort, up the top of a steep hill just past the main town, which offers an amazing panoramic view from the top. We hiked slowly up the hill, still recovering from our illnesses, and we were rewarded with the stunning scenery below. It was still cloudy and a bit grey, but still worth the walk. Apart from the stunning view, there were old cannons still in tact from the war, along with trenches and tunnels that you could walk through, and a small museum with some pictures and artefacts.

Deer at the National Park

On the walking trail inside the park

A tangle of trees, roots and rocks

The view from the lookout

Back on the walking path outside the park

Cat Ba National Park
 We hired a driver to take us out to the National Park in Cat Ba, which is named a World Heritage Site, and covers a good portion of the island. We paid a small amount for the entrance fee, and after passing through a horrific display of taxidermy animals and "preserved" animals (don't ask), we headed up on to one of the main hiking trails. The path was pretty well defined, but very rocky, and we had to work our way through tangled vines and wandering tree roots. It wasn't a super hot day thankfully, and the hike seemed to go by quickly and before we knew it we had reached the lookout over the lush green jungle. Pictures cannot do the views justice. The mountains that surrounded us, covered in dense green trees seemed to stretch on for kilometers. It was like one of those once in a lifetime views that you want to imprint into your mind so that you will not forget just how breathtaking mother nature can be.

The beginning of our boat tour

Our little world traveler

Floating villages

Close up of the limestone rocks

A solitary figure

Nathan kayaking in the bay

Monkey Island

Our monkey asleep in her daddy's arms

A monkey with his stolen water bottle- he made holes in the bottom to drink out of it

A rogue monkey climbing onto the decking

At the end of our tour

Lan Ha Bay Boat Tour
When we stayed in Hanoi, we saw many travel agencies offering tours of Halong Bay, trips including one or two night stays. We knew we didn't want to do an overnight trip- sleeping on a boat with a baby on board (pun intended) did not sound very fun. So for us, staying in Cat Ba Island and doing a day trip to Lan Ha Bay, adjacent to Halong Bay, was the perfect solution. The owner of our hotel organized for us to join a tour one day, starting early morning and coming back in the late afternoon.
We began our tour from the boat docks and drove past the local floating villages, little houses floating in the bay, where fishermen and their families live. Lan Ha Bay consists of about 300 limestone karst rocks sticking out in the turquoise and jade ocean. Some of the karst islands have little beaches, and some of them have formed caves and gaps between them which make them popular to kayak through. Each rock formation is covered in mossy coloured green shrubs.
 Floating through this peaceful scenery could be very relaxing- if not for wrangling a 75cm tall octopus child, who wants to grab everything within reach, and jump off the boat into the ocean 😆 I'm joking... slightly. Anyway, all jokes aside, we loved our boat trip, and we were so glad we waited to do it until the weather was a little better. Nathan got to go kayaking in a one man kayak, while Charlotte and I were entertained by some local kids in a floating village. Then we ate lunch on the boat, which was a family style meal eaten all together, consisting of rice, cooked cabbage, chicken, fish, and spring rolls.
Our tour also included a stop off at Monkey Island, named so because of the monkeys that live on the island, and apparently wreak havoc on tourists by stealing their food and water bottles. We witnessed two water bottles being stolen, along with a banana, and a coconut half.
We were happy that we chose to do a tour of Lan Ha Bay, as we have heard from other travelers that Halong Bay is very crowded and too touristy, while we found Lan Ha Bay not to be too crowded at all.

That concludes our visit to Cat Ba island. I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip there!

Thanks for reading,
Hannah xx

P.S This was the view from our hotel room in Cat Ba. Nothing fancy- I think we paid $15 a night. Worth it for views like this! Haha! We stayed on the 7th floor.

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