Climbing Cat Ba - Vietnam
Cat Ba Island - King of Ha Long Bay! Jagged limestone peaks, beautiful bays, fishing ports and construction sites. If you don’t mind a day on the beach amidst a JCB and some building dust then you’ve come to the right place. However it doesn’t take long to escape the jack hammer madness. Grab yourself a moped, head north behind the towns high rise and you’ll quickly find yourself in a green paradise. The majority of the Island having been established a national park due to its wealth of natural diversity. You can see why developers are jumping at the the chance to pop up a resort on what little beach space exists.
It’s high time for the high rise on Cat Ba. The buildings soar up like a Mini Manhattan along the small water front. Packed with restaurants, cafes and bars. One after another and all seemingly the same. A 30 minute stroll around town from the ferry port over the bridge to the centre and you’ll have seen most of what it has to offer. Meander up the back streets and you’ll find a steep pair of stairs taking you right up to the towns central peak with an overhead view of the towns bay. A recommend climb if your passing by.
Cat Ba Co. Beach 1, 2 or 3?
A lot of debate exists around which of the few beaches tops the other. Most tend to go for Cat Co. 3 - as the names are listed on most maps. Either way you’ll find yourself among a sand pit bound by a construction site. Not that it discourages the locals or tourists. The water however, is a little brown and murky. No doubt due to the busy building sites along the coast. Just be sure not to swallow any water!
A relatively small island there really isn’t a whole lot to see. After you trawl the short coast line it’s best to head inland. The entire region established as a national park. Both tranquil and spectacular, I cruised through several times. You’ll get from one side to other within one hour at an average speed. The Central National Park was the highlight for me. Climb up though the jungle to find yourself at the summit overlooking and surrounded by the islands ubiquitous limestone peaks. Scattered tightly across the island from peak to peak like a land before time. King Kong himself, would feel right at home. Just be sure to fashion sensible shoes along with a good stock of water. Steep rocky inclines and unforgiving terrain - the jungle shows no mercy. If you fancy yourself a dare devil go a little further to the northern tip, easily accessed by road. Just next to the ferry port you’ll find the Green Ladder. A vertical incline to a peak equipped with a radio tower and a fantasist viewpoint of the bay stretching out into the ocean.
To take a tour or not to take a tour?
Arriving in Hanoi and surrounding areas you’ll notice, particularly in the hostel areas, a never ending supply of tour agencies. Most nearby destinations including Sa Pa, with it’s spectacular rice fields along with the famous Ha Long Bay area. Are a little difficult to access and negotiate. Plus you tend to only need a day or two to see each site, so the tour agencies are booming with their complete packages from door to door and back again. I myself, am not inclined to partake in the whole tour phenomena. If your on a tight schedule, look no further. As a long term traveller I’d much rather invest in a rental vehicle, for example. Booking my travel and accommodation separately. Not only does it work out a lot cheaper but it grants you much more freedom to explore and get lost, off the beaten track. Along with the time required to setup your tripods for your photo and video escapades.
Did I just arrive at a Party Hostel!
It will be the first and the last time I make that mistake. Most Island and costal resort areas I have experienced so far have had what I would describe as an overall chilled atmosphere. That said, I took a chance on the booking app without much pre-investigation. Unfortunately it was a pay up front deal so I was stuck for two nights in what I would describe as a school canteen come factory. Stocked with 20 year olds just off the plane. They were a nice bunch no doubt, but sleep was not on their priority list. Making my escape as soon as was possible, I arrived at a seemingly perfect hostel with a chilled atmosphere and a view over the bay. Only 5-10 minutes walk from the town centre and the nearest beach. However on my first night I was suddenly awoken by a giant cockroach on my face and several more beneath the bed. The situation only worsening the night after. That said, I arrived back in Hanoi five days later, straight to bed, with what little energy I had left. A back log of editing to catch up on and a flight to Bangkok only days away. I think I'll just stay put for the remainder.