Hello! Hello! Cat Ba!
January 17th I travelled with my friend Jenna by Bus, Bus, Ferry Bus to Cat Ba Island off the coast of northern Vietnam. January is the middle of their winter season so the weather was a little cold, requiring a sweater in the evening. We were fortunate to be visiting while it was sunny as the forecast was predicting rain all week.
Cat Ba island is a large island of which roughly half is a national park dedicated to the conservation of indigenous animals such as the highly endangered Langurs living on the limestone karsts jutting out of the ocean off the north coast.
Tourists can relax at a hostel or resort at the town located on the south east part of the island, from there many day trips and overnight cruises are available to trekk the national park, visit deep caves and sail through the magnificent limestone islands made famous by the larger La Hong Bay.
La Han Bay is basically La Hong Bay’s baby sister, the limestone rocks protruding towards the sky aren’t as tall nor as popular among tourists. This worked to our advantage as the deals were much better, the place we visited was much cleaner and the tours added in some fun activities suitable for all ages.
Cat Ba Town
This is the largest town on Cat Ba island. This town has seen consistent growth since 1997 due to investment targeted at tourism built up near some of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches: Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, Cat Co 3 and more! I stumbled upon a resort that had its own private beach too, although not a single guest could be seen, a ghost resort!
Looking out on to the harbour, you can see floating dock markets, restaurants, fish farms and sometimes even residences stretched across the water. Cat Ba has roughly 4,000 citizen living on floating docks in La Han Bay! They have stores with coca cola fridges, satellite TV, boats to travel and even pet dogs!
This town is definitely a perfect spot to dine on some freshly caught sea food. Tanks line the streets in front of restaurants displaying a variety of freshly netted fish, crab and other shell fish.
Sailing La Han Bay
What an amazing experience despite the unrefined details of our day tour, there was no other way to see the islands. As backpackers the first question we ask after ‘is breakfast included’ when we arrive at a new destination is ‘can we improvise this tour ourselves?’ the answer to La Han Bay is simple: ‘No, I can’t walk on water’. So we opened our phones and dug around for the best excursion deal. The end result; a one day boat tour of La Han Bay with kayaking, snorkelling, a visit to monkey island and a full course lunch for $15 USD.
It was a fine day for sailing the sea! On January 18, we boarded our boat and slowly made our way out to sea. The sky was a little misty, the air a little chilly, the wind blowing lightly and the tour guide a little strange but none of that mattered while peering out at the magnificent landscape sliding quietly by our starboard and port sides.
The karsts: Limestone pillars standing ruggedly on a sea of blue were bursting with life. Cat Ba island and the islands of La Han Bay are incredibly biologically diverse. That day was our lucky day, both due to our pleasant weather and our numerous sighting of the ‘nearly impossible to see’ Langurs who number around 70 in total, placing them among the top 25 most endangered species. We saw them climb their way to the top of a stone overlooking the busy floating fishing village.
Kayaking & swimming
One of the best things to do around Cat Ba is kayaking around and under some of the great limestone structures. The water, although it was winter, was a refreshing temperature. The kayaks glide smoothly through the water allowing us to get up close to some of the vegetation, geology and animals. Secret: Be either in front or behind the pack of other kayakers. Only when the waterways are quick do the local monkeys come out to play.
Beautiful scenery and fun to see some monkeys, the island had a clear sandy beach and a small mountain we could hike. To reach the top of the mountains was really dangerous with sharp razor like rocks sticking out.
but it didn’t take long to notice that the monkeys were accustomed to tourists; some of which were purposefully aggressing and taunting the monkeys. A monkey shouldn’t be stealing beer and getting drunk while tourists act like even wilder animals. This left a bad taste.
On a lighter note, I got to meet a lovely couple from France named Elie and Anne Claire. Salut, je vous souhaite une bonne vacance! Si vous avez La chance de visiter la grotte dans la park nationale de Phong Nha Ke Bang, vas a la grotte ‘Dark Cave’!
La Han Bay overall was a pleasant experience and a great way to see how locals live off the sea as well as some of nature’s most beautiful lanscapes. With luck, you’ll get a glimpse of one of the world’s most endangered species, the Cat Ba Island Langurs!