Exploring Cat Ba Island    

Mountains and rice paddies
The interior of Cat Ba Island has the same limestone karsts that make up the islands in the bay, only more tree covered-- bamboo, palms and many other. It really is a beautiful place and it is a shame how development is spoiling it. As we rode along the coast, we passed a huge beach with signs about a soon to be built resort complex.

Fortunately, the National Park protects a huge part of the island from bad taste. We parked the bike and took a trail leading through the Kim Giao forest-- a tree prized for chopsticks for kings because if the wood came in contact with poison they would bubble and turn red.

Chopstick trees
The path was easy to follow (even though various publications recommended a guide). It was a tree shaded jungle trail with vines and leafy branches. There were lots of limestone outcroppings. The rock was wrinkled like elephant skin. There were some steep areas including a small ladder but soon we reached a path which looked out over bamboo leaves, down into the mountains beyond.

At the top of the peak, perhaps the lowest we've climbed in a while, at around 225 meters, was a view tower. A group of tourists had just come back down. One girl was in light flats. The tower was fairly rickety with rusted steps and railings. I wanted to grip the railing tightly in case the steps gave out but at the same time I couldn't because it was so rusted I worried I'd cut my hand. The last step platform was mostly missing causing everyone to receive a dizzying glance at the ground far below as their first view from the top of the viewing platform. We looked at the mountains but it was too cloudy and misty to see as far as the bay.

View from the viewing tower

Rowshan, Tamia and mountains

Tree skeleton in forest
We went back down and then rode towards the Gia Luan port which is used by hydrofoils to Halong City. The road wound through the mountains then revealed a beautiful view of Halong Bay.

Halong Bay
There were small mangrove trees as well. We had expected to find a village but the port was just a dock. It looked like some construction was going on but it was probably just another resort. Cat Ba is lacking in nice modest get-away guesthouses outside of town. It seems if anything gets built it is just awful tourism complexes.

We drove around to one of the other parts of the island and found rice paddies and vegetable fields. I had thought all this would have to be shipped in from the mainland but I guess not. Fresh water comes from the limestone karsts which serve as a filtering system.

Cat Ba Island interior

Goats and goat herd

Working in the rice paddies

Beached boats
The island was in a cloud which filled the air with drizzle when we went to the Park for a longer hike. We had booked the day trip through our hotel. We could have gone ourselves but all my resources said it is a difficult trail and best to go with a guide. Our “English-speaking” guide's English was minimal. He could say some basic things: “The trail is 13 km”, “Be careful!”, “It's slippery”, “There are monkeys”. But to many of our questions, which he apparently didn't understand, he would just answer, “yes.” “What is the highest altitude?” “Yes.” Therefor, if we asked a Yes/No question and he answered, “yes” we couldn't tell if he really understood and the answer was really “yes” or he didn't understand and was just giving us his standard response.

Drizzle-filled spiderweb
The part of the trail to Frog Lake was very easy to follow. It was paved and well signed. I don't mind hiking in the rain in cloud forests. It cools the air and is refreshing. However, it did make the path a bit muddy and slippery.

Leaves that look like junk sails

Rainy hike
Frog Lake was a flat muddy area with trees growing out of it. There were neither frogs nor lake. Our guide said “no rain” as an explanation. It had been drizzling on and off for the past couple days. Little green plants were beginning to sprout from the mud. After Frog Lake, the path got more difficult. The pavement disappeared and soon we were following a trail marked by red painted arrows up rock outcroppings. The trail was very up and down, up rocky outcroppings and down slippery rocks and mud. Around 2 we reached the village of Viet Hai-- our lunch stop.

Frog Lake

Tree attempting to climb rock
On the trail we had seen a snake which was “very poisonous” and a red forest crab with 100s of babies underneath her belly. We saw some hornbills in the distance as well. Our guide, when I asked about leaches, found some on all of our shoes.

A poisonous snake

A red forest crab and family
Lunch was sweet and sour vegetables, salted peanuts, a meat and vegi dish, cabbage, and rice. I passed on the meat so Rowshan ate it all. A cat befriended Rowshan and refused to leave his lap. After lunch we continued through the village. Rowshan mentioned how many dogs there were.

Rowshan makes a friend
“Did you notice they were all puppies and few adults,” I pointed out. “They are raised for food.”
Rowshan looked incredulous until we reached a house where one guy was tying a dog upside down to a tree with its paws bound and another man was sharpening a knife.
“You don't think the meat we ate for lunch was...” Rowshan started.
“I didn't eat any,” I said.
“But I ate all of it,” he said.

We asked our guide if lunch had been dog. He laughed and said, “No No.” We were pretty sure the negative answer meant he understood our question. Later on the hotel manager assured us the restaurant would not have served us dog. “Dog meat is expensive!” he said, “And very tasty.” He also mentioned it was something people served at wedding feasts.

Man's best feast
The village was in a scenic spot with mountains rising from flat rice paddies. We soon came to some narrow inlets and the mountains gave way to islands. On the boat ride back, I think we went through the pearl culture area but our guide was asleep so I couldn't ask.

Rice paddies and mountains near Viet Hai

Mountains become islands

Our guide takes a nap

Paddle boat

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