Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island beach from above

We arrived on Cat Ba Island after a 9 hour overnight bus trip from Sapa. With no charging ports on board the bus, I only had about 15% battery on my phone, so I kept it off for most of the day, and had to source my pictures from other people.

The bus dropped us in front of a cafe restaurant, so the three of us (Ellie, Becca, and I) decided to grab some breakfast there. Who knows how much money they make off that every day! I had decided to check into a different hostel than the one that the other two were staying at, Luna’s House. It was a little more central to the town, and it was also where Guy and Sophie were staying. They had mentioned a boat tour called Captain Jack’s that they were thinking of taking to us over Instagram, so I left breakfast a little earlier than the other two, who opted to go back to their hostel and rest for a while.

I managed to check into the hostel about 10 minutes before the 8:30am tour departure time, and managed to snag a spot on the tour. I met Sophie and Guy in the lobby, and we took off to the docks.

The boat tour was led by an awesome guy from the Netherlands named Thomas, and began by taking us way out from the town and between many miniature islands jutting out from the water. The first stop on the tour involved swimming - of course, in my haste to get checked into the hostel and get booked into the tour, I had completely neglected to bring a bathing suit and sunscreen! Thankfully Thomas had a spare in his bag, and they provided towels for everyone, so I didn’t have to miss out on any of the fun.

We swam to a nearby beach, and then our tour guide had us squeeze through some incredibly small holes and tunnels in the rocks to find a secret sanctuary where they had been stacking various stones, smoothed out by the nearby ocean. It was very peaceful!

Gazing out over the water

Gazing out over the water from our boat after our swim

After the swim, we hopped a short distance to another set of miniature islands and coves for some kayaking. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures (see above), but we kayaked first about an hour. They took us beneath some rock overpasses that were filled with bats and into a hidden cove. It had high walls covered in vines and other greenery, and birds singing everywhere, just like you’d see in a movie.

After a quick lunch provided by the crew members on board the boat, we set off through some fishing villages to Monkey Island (shown in the first picture of this post). We were told that there would be a relatively challenging hike that would give us a wonderful 360° view of the surrounding islands. That hike was definitely more than “relatively challenging”.

Crossing a tree branch on Monkey Island

Crossing a tree branch on the Monkey Island hike

The rocks were jagged and the slope was incredibly steep. It also didn’t help that it started raining partway through! But, through perseverance and a little bit of plain old recklessness, we managed to get to the top. Not a bad view at all.

Top of Monkey Island

The top of Monkey Island provided a fantastic view of the surrounding area

The climb down proved to be much more difficult, as there were lots of other people trying to get up at the same time and the rocks were very wet. We finally made it back down after about 30-45 minutes (my watch battery was long dead for that day). Of course, the segment about Monkey Island wouldn’t be complete without a picture of a monkey!

Monkey on the beach

A monkey on the beach at Monkey Island

Upon returning to Cat Ba Island, the three of us (Guy, Sophie, and I) met up with Becca and Ellie to grab some food. We chose to check out a floating restaurant, where the whole establishment floats on a dock and the fish are picked right out of the ocean. Yes, I broke my vegetarianism for a night. It was fun to do once, but cracking the shrimp creeped me out, and chances are I won’t be doing it again!

Picking out fish

Picking out the fish that we’d be eating for dinner that night!

The next day, Guy and Sophie went onwards to Ninh Binh, and Becca and Ellie needed to go deal with their visas back in Hanoi, so I had the day to myself. I rented a scooter and sped through the mountains to Cat Ba National Park. The roads were nearly deserted, the day was sunny, and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.

Riding along the road

Riding along the road to Cat Ba National Park

I did make a quick stop at the Hospital Cave, a hidden cave that was used during the American/Vietnamese war to treat injured soldiers. It was very wet and dark - not the most sanitary place for a hospital! They had placed a bunch of mannequins in the various rooms to give visitors an idea of what it may have been like to live in that environment. There was communist propaganda in various places along the walls, for example bragging about shooting down 1500 American planes.

Hospital Cave hallway

The hallways in the Hospital Cave were covered in a thin layer of water, dripping from the ceilings

After my brief detour, I arrived at Cat Ba National Park. The hike up the mountain through the lush green forest was very peaceful. After about 45 very hot and sweaty minutes of hiking, I got above the tree line and the view was revealed to me. Trees and mountains stretched for kilometres in all directions. Totally worth the hike.

View from Cat Ba National Park

The gorgeous mountain view from Cat Ba National Park

And that more or less concluded my time on Cat Ba Island! I took a bus back to Hanoi the next morning in order to catch a flight down to Da Nang.

Hanoi (again)

I did want to mention my brief few hours in Hanoi for the second time (you can read about the first time here. I had the opportunity to visit the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the Hanoi Hilton. It was used to imprison political prisoners by the French when Vietnam was still one of their colonies, and the used again by the Vietnamese to imprison American pilots that had been shot down. It was very sobering to wander what was left of this fascinating and awful piece of Vietnamese history, accompanied by an audio guide.

Mannequins in Hoa Lo Prison

Mannequins showing what it was like to be chained up at the Hanoi Hilton

Following that brief interlude at the prison, I hopped over to the Hanoi airport to catch my flight to Da Nang!

Want more? Check out an overview of my Vietnam trip here!

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