The island used to be a strategic look-out point during the war and the locals would use the island’s many caves to hide and take cover during the bombings. Nowadays, tourists can easily cover the island by motorbike which can be rented for around $5 for the day.
Cat Ba Island
Getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island is super convenient. We were able to catch a train from Long Bien station and rode about 2.5 hours into Haiphong City. We spent the night in the city and caught the ferry from the pier the next morning. The ferry was about $8 and took us around 45 minutes to get to the island.
Hiking up to catch the sunset over Lan Ha Bay from the top of Canon Fort Hill was well worth it! We got off the main road and took the loop around the edge of the hill. We came across these replica soldiers and an artillery cannon strategically pointed at the bay, where in the past they would have fired at incoming ships.
As we made our way along the trails, stored in the walls were old boxed artillery shells and bullets.
We played a game, don’t touch the lava. There were stepping stones along the way as well as a labyrinth of intertwining snake-like vines from trees that were asking to get tripped over.
The next day we rode the motorbike up towards the center of the island and to where Cat Ba National Park was. We had first heard about the island when we took a cruise out to Halong Bay the month before and our tour guide had mentioned that the island was inhabited by a rare and endangered species of monkey called the white-haired Langur. Supposedly there are only 60 of them left on the island and if spotted, the Vietnamese government is willing to pay people for photos of the rare monkey.
The hike was all uphill, but not too bad. Trees ate the rocks and twisted every which way. I attempted to call out the monkeys by playing sounds from YouTube clips, but with no luck. After about an hour of zig-zag-hiking, we finally made it to the peak.
The view was totally Jurassic Park-esque, out of breath and feeling the breeze from the covered lookout, it felt great to just sit and take it all in. All in all, Cat Ba Island can be totally covered in a couple of days (if you’re in a rush). The next morning we were able to catch a bus to the ferry and then take another bus which was waiting for us in Haiphong back to Hanoi (~3.5 hours) for around $7 total.