LAN HA BAY
Lan Ha Bay covers more than 7,000 ha, in which around 5,000 ha is part of Cat Ba National Park. This is known to be a less visited destination due to its distances from Halong City. The area also includes about 400 islands and a lot of beautiful beaches. Unlike its more popular neighbors, Lan Ha Bay receives fewer visitors annually. But it is also due to this fact that Lan Ha Bay is a perfect location for exploring and camping activities. Most of the natural environment here is very clean and unaffected by humans leaving it a potential destination that could attract more visitors in the future.
DARK AND BRIGHT CAVE AND LAGOON
Known as one of the best destinations where you can acquire a relax kayaking experiences, Dark and Bright Cave is located in Cat Ba National Park. Through the cave entrance, you will reach a round lake surrounded by trees and other lush plants or vegetation’s making it a spectacular sight. As you travel further into the cave, you can feel the shadows becoming more vivid as the light behind you begin to slowly fade away giving you a feeling of complete emergence. A flashlight is recommended if you want to explore the interior details of the Dark Cave. The Bright Cave is shorter and you can see lights from the other side.
TRUNG TRANG CAVE
Nested in Trung Trang Valley about 15 km northwest of Cat Ba Town, Trung Trang Cave runs 300 meters through the mountains, surrounded by rich and varied vegetation which bring fresh air and peaceful atmosphere to the whole attraction. This is the largest cave that represents more than 150 grottoes of various sizes in Cat Ba Island. In the past, this place was called “bat cave or the cave of bats”. In the period from 1964 to 1968, it was made a refuge and named as “Hai Quan” or “Navy”.
Trung Trang Cave has gone through millions of years of geological formations, which result in the age-old stalagmites and stalactites of the interesting shapes which boost people’s imagination. There also found the fossils and stone tools of the former Vietnamese who lived here about 6000 years ago, making Trung Trang Cave valuable not only for research on geology and biology but also history.
In addition to the beauty of natural stone stalactites, the cave has its own ecosystem in a mysterious darkness. It is home to many species of creatures such as reptiles, insects, birds and bats. The lighting system is very limited to preserve the characteristics of the ecological environment in the cave. However, the fuzzy virtual space might result in an enjoyable experience. After exploring the 300m-long cave, you will be in front of the magnificent entrance highlighted with the distinctive architectural artworks of nature, opening a wide view to the green space of the age-old trees and lianas.
QUAN Y CAVE
On the main road leading from Cat Ba Town to Cat Ba National Park lie the remnants of a secret military cave, which was built inside a mountain and served as a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the American War. Built from 1963 to 1965 and was constantly used until 1975, the hospital then was handed over to the tourism authorities and has become a historical monument which recalls the past when American bomber planes were pounding the region.
Overlooking the Trung Trang Valley from an altitude of 100 meters, Quan Y Cave is the perfect place to relax and rehabilitate. The hospital was constructed with the help of Chinese experts and capable of accommodating up to 100 patients. Through the ups and downs of history, Quan Y Cave structures are still intact. The construction works are self-contained with reinforced concrete, run 200 meters through 2 cave chambers and were designed to have the front door in the west and back door facing east.
The inside of the Quan Y Cave is an extraordinary structure of pathways and labyrinths leading straight into the mountain across 3 different floors with a total of 17 rooms. The first floor of the cave is the main area, with 14 functional rooms and a kitchen. To avoid being detected by the enemy, the chimney system is built deep underground. The second floor is dedicated to movie theatres and exercise rooms. The third floor includes the reception room, the guard room and the officers’ room. If the first floor is well constructed with concrete, iron and steel; the other two floors are empty spaces covered by natural rocks. The shelter was equipped with access to fresh water and ventilation shafts. The whole area is designed ingeniously with multiple exits used in case of blitz attacks, especially escape from the second floor to the third floor, leading to an outlet located at the back of the mountain.
Quan Y Cave was abandoned in 1975, but in recent years has become a popular attraction on Cat Ba, where English-speaking guides show visitors around. Although the rooms are now empty, it is possible to imagine how the Hospital was once set up with the detailed explanations.
Quan Y Cave is a popular stop off for day-trippers on Cat Ba Island. Unlike yesteryear when the whereabouts of this hospital remained a secret to anybody foreign, today after a 30-minute ride across the 13 kilometers from Cat Ba town, the cave is easily recognizable thanks to the signboard. The easiest way to get there is to rent a scooter from one of the many rental shops in Cat Ba Town (usually costing around VND 100,000 – 150,000) and then travel north until signs for the cave appear. It is recommended to hire an accompanying tour guide during the visit here to allow a deeper understanding about the history and intelligence of war time people than just a mere sightseeing session.
BA TRAI DAO BEACH
As its name suggests, Ba Trai Dao is a bow-shaped beach, stretching between three peach-like islets. Legend has it that a fairy and a fisherman fell in love. In order for their love to be eternal, the fairy stole 3 peaches from the heavens. As punishment for this act of defiance, God turned the peaches to stones.
This secluded beach got its fame for alluring water, fine white sand and serene landscapes. Compared to many other beaches in Lan Ha Bay, Ba Trai Dao Beach has a shallower but crystal-clear water. On sunny days, the seafloor is clearly visible, making activities such as swimming or kayaking even more enjoyable. However, the tides are so frequent in this area of Lan Ha Bay that the beach is only available for use for two or three hours a day. Aside from kayaking and swimming, Ba Trai Dao is also ideal for those daring minds who want to challenge themselves with a less common but no less appealing activity, rock climbing.
AO ECH (FROG POND) AREA
An off the beaten track hike from the center of Cat Ba National Park to Viet Hai village takes you to Frog Pond, nesting deeply in the middle of the park. Thanks to its isolated location, the rugged leading trail and the increasing awareness of the people, Frog Pond retains an inherent wild beauty. A wonderful gift of nature combining the scenery and the sound will be rewarded to those strong and determined enough to set foot in this trekking trip.
Frog Pond is the only flooded forest highland in northern Vietnam, located halfway up the mountain at an altitude of 80 meters above sea level. The pond is 3.2 hectares and changes with the seasons. In the dry season, the pond bed shrinks but never runs out of water. In the rainy season, the water from the rocks flows down to make the pond wider, reflecting the vast sky and green forest. The water in the pond is so clear that you can see to the bottom! And as its name suggests, you can also hear the buzzing sound of frogs, the most populous inhabitants of the pond, beside birds, squirrels, fish, and crabs.
TRA BAU AREA
Not only serving as the anchoring spot for overnight cruises on the bay, Tra Bau area is what well represents the tranquil and pristine beauty of Lan Ha Bay. Greens sprout across the fertile cliffs, lending Tra Bau another lush color to accompany its beautiful deep blue sea. Human life on water is the last element to complete the rustic but lively picture.
Communities of fisherman established floating villages in the area, which later declined to the point where just a few families remain. Still, it is not difficult to catch a sight of simple floating houses, or the daily life of the residents of the bay. Half a day spent in Tra Bau area, visitors can consume their energy with varied activities, from swimming to kayaking, or simply have a small talk about the daily waterway life over a cup of green tea.
Tra Bau and its surrounding areas come alive in the spring and autumn, which are considered as the best time to visit, where the subtle sunlight beams from the height, helping the emerald water to reflect the luxuriant green trees. Mind temperatures and low rain level enhance the beauty of the bay and reduce the effort involved in swimming and kayaking.
CAT BA NATIONAL PARK
Recognized as part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve List since December 2004, the Cat Ba National Park is the traveler’s paradise in Northern Vietnam by the sea. Covering an area of 26,240 hectares, of which 17,040 hectares are island land and 9,200 hectares of the sea surface in the southwest corner in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Cat Ba National Park is located in Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the archipelago of Hai Phong and Quang Ninh Provinces.
The Cat Ba National Park, protected by both private and public entities for the conservation of wildlife and marine ecosystem in the archipelago, is one of Vietnam’s most treasured sites because of its rich history and abundant wildlife resources.
Though the main ecosystem in Cat Ba National Park is rainforest, due to topography, soil and water resource, the national park is also home to some types of secondary forests such as forest on limestone, inland flooded forest, coastal mangroves together with many particular forest ecology. In addition, the national park houses marine ecosystems with coral reefs close to shore. The cave system is diverse with its own typical appearance of the area. It is also home to the highly endangered Cat Ba langur with only 66 individuals remaining and more than 2,300 other fauna and flora species. Of the mammals present in the park, the more commonly seen include macaques, deer, civets and several species of squirrel, including the giant black squirrel. Seventy bird species have been spotted here, including hawks, hornbills and cuckoos.
Entire Cat Ba National Park is a rugged mountainous region with its elevations of under 500 meters, the majority of which is in the range of 50 - 200 meters. The jungle of Cat Ba National Park itself was dense and eerily beautiful in the way jungles often are. The sun barely was able to make its way through the leaves, which created a nice shaded oasis.
The favorite activity of visitors is to trek through the path and climb up to the top of Ngu Lam peak to catch an amazing panoramic view of the park and the bay afar. With an elevation of 1,000 meters high and a mere 30-minute hike to the top, Ngu Lam Peak is the perfect morning workout while on Cat Ba island. For a harder challenge, a 9-kilometer hike (takes around 6 hours) to reach the Viet Hai village at the other side of the island will surely give all trekkers the feeling of an adrenaline rush. It is recommended to hire a tour guide and well equipped before taking this hardcore journey. The park has a number of attractions other than the treks. A museum, a small zoo, a rehab center, etc. are all part of the Cat National Park world that await for visitors to explore.