Halong Bay, Vietnam is a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason. Picture a cluster of 3,000 limestone cliffs majestically jutting out of the Pacific Ocean - most covered in thick green forestation and some encased by ancient fishing villages. Then, multiply the magnificence factor by 100 and you’ll be close to envisioning the real thing.
Yet, I decided to pass on Halong Bay. Why, you may ask? Well, the word has been out on Halong Bay for quite some time – meaning that tourists are brought in by the boatloads. And, hordes of tourists just aren't my thing.
However, upon landing in Vietnam a fellow tourist filled me in on Cat Ba Island and the splendid Cat Ba Eco-Lodge. Located approximately twenty-five miles from Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island possesses the visual splendor of Halong Bay without any of the overcrowding drawbacks. Limestone cliffs, crystal clear water, thick green forests – check, check and check.
The Cat Ba Eco-Lodge is situated smack in the middle of the island with four large stilted cabins surrounded by colorful foliage and flooded rice paddies. The rooms are decorated simply with light wood paneling, white comfortable bedding and local art work adorning the walls. The central restaurant serves traditional, tasty dishes, and the bar functions as a quasi welcome center where the staff teaches local card games, cooking lessons and provides information on the myriad of island activities.