After being dumped by a night bus in Hanoi at 3:30am and catching a small amount of sleep on a hostel sofa, I caught a bus to Cat Ba island. And when I say bus I mean 2 buses, a boat and then another bus to reach Cat Ba town.
On the way I met Breanna and Sarah, from Canada, and the 3 of us went Rock Climbing the next day, which was my main activity in Cat Ba! Most people go on a Ha Long Bay cruise but I’d never been rock climbing before and it was fun to do something active.
We went with Asia Outdoors, which was great as the staff were awesome. There was a good group of people doing the climbing before including some other first timers which made it more fun, plus we had lunch together on a boat with a group doing Kayaking so it was nice and social.
The company took us to Moody Beach, it was really nice just to be out in Han La Bay away from civilization for half a day. I did ok for a first timer climbing, so I was happy.
Han La Bay is different from Ha Long Bay in that there are still thousands of people who live on the water.
Cat Ba town itself I didn’t think too much of, it reminded me of a European seaside resort, though it was nice enough and the restaurants were decent.
The girls hired bikes in the evening and I sat on the back of Sarah’s and we headed up to the Canon fort, which has a great view over the town and it’s bay.
The fort itself is kinda cool to look around, there’s old artillery positions, tunnels and so forth that were used by the Japanese, French and the Vietnamese from World War 2 onwards.
That evening we got quite drunk at Rose Bar, which seemed to have attracted the entire backpacker population from the town. You can pick the music using YouTube there, which made for some interesting mixes.
Last day there the 3 of us visited Cat Ba national park. We first went to the Hospital Cave, used by the Vietnamese in the American war. As the name suggests, it literally is a cave in which they built a hospital, as protection from American bombs. Quite impressed to see how they constructed the rooms inside the cave.
Then we walked up to a viewpoint with cool views over the park. It was quite misty which kind of added to the beauty in a way.
I decided to take a bus straight to Phong Nah. It took around 18 hours. Upon arriving at Easy Tiger hostel (which had been recommended by a friend – it’s a great hostel!) I bumped into Manj who i’d met in Sa Pa and immediately jumped on a tour with her, having just enough time to munch some breakfast.
Phong Nah has only recently become a tourist destination, the caves we were taken to have only been discovered properly and made available to tourism in the past few years. The largest (discovered) cave in the world is in the park, bus alas only a few hundred people are allowed to visit a year and it will set you back a few thousand dollars.
The tour was to the Paradise Cave and The Dark Cave in Phong Nah national park. The tour group we were with was awesome, a really great bunch of people, which made it all the more fun!
The Paradise Cave is a dry cave, it has many fascinating stalactites and stalagmites, very beautiful and sometimes most bizarre! Some of them reminded me of the Alien films.
Whereas Paradise Cave was about admiring the scenery, the Dark Cave was a much more active experience. To start off I did my first ever zipline to reach it, which just happens to be the largest zipline in Vietnam! Not a bad one to start with! You are then led into the cave, through a narrow mud filled tunnel to ….a mudbath. Suddenly the reason why we had to change into swimwear before the zipline became clear! Literally you could float in the mud, it was crazy.
In the evening many drinks were had at Easy Tiger, and I saw Breanne and Sarah again which was cool, and also a dude named Isacs who’d met in Laos and seen a few places there, so it was cool to catch up and see how he’s doing.
The next day a group of 19 of us went from the hostel (which does talks at 9am about the area) to visit Phong Nah cave and Tien Son Cave. Everyone in the group was great, which made the trip more fun.
We travelled by 2 boats down the river to reach the caves. Phong Nah cave the boat also took us into, which was fun.
After exploring the caves and taking the boat back, our group grabbed late lunch where I managed to get a Chay Pho (Vegetarian noodle soup) for 20,000 VND which is a bargain (less than a dollar!). After chilling out in the hostel a while a whole bunch of us then went for evening dinner which was nice.
I then had a 4:30am bus… a journey which then included a 5 hour stop in Hue and a huge lack of any organization! But made it too my next destination.
Phong Nah was definitely one of my highlights of Vietnam, and Easy Tiger hostel played a big part of that so grateful to them.