Cat Ba Island

62-64 Núi Ngọc, đảo Cát Bà, Cát Hải, Hải Phòng, Vietnam

The largest island in Halong Bay, Cat Ba used to be a backpacker’s secret. Secret no more, the island is quickly being developed so the time to see it is now. Half the island is protected parkland and a trip to Cat Ba can be as adventurous as you want it to be: hiking in the UNESCO designated national park, caving or kayaking, or a cultural adventure in its restaurants, fishing areas and markets. One plus for travelers is the free Wi-Fi almost all over the island. Walk up to Cannon Fort, above Cat Ba town, for great views of the area.

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Scooter Cruising Cat Ba Island

Our classic junk motors past floating fishing villages. Woven bamboo basket boats slip past with their cargoes of soft drinks and shellfish. Tropical limestone forests reach skyward as the Cat Ba population clings to shore. First order of Cat Ba business: scooters. This place has engine-whining appeal. Half of Cat Ba Island is national park with great roads on the perimeter and lesser access points easier on two wheels. Our hotel staff are quick to deliver: ten bucks rents 135 raging horses. Two ill-fitting helmets later and we’re off. Just out of town shock and despair hit. The Cat Ba Amatina development is overwhelming. Billboards boast marinas, villas, casinos, golf courses, luxury hotels, all disproportionately dysfunctional in this environment. Cat Ba was an American war hideout. Vietnam now lures their aggressors back with blackjack and tee times. We motor past coastal devastation toward interior bounty. The scenery is all too familiar. We’d been bobbing around limestone karsts out on the bay and are now driving through them. The ride takes us past villages, farms, boat building shops and succulent scenery. We do our usual dirt track riding to break into the park. Ending up at our favorite destination, middle of nowhere, we wander the jungle searching for the elusive Cat Ba langur. The ride back takes us past the national park entrance requiring some slippery maneuvers around tour buses. The evening cool settles and we gas up the bikes to be ready for the next leg.

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