The Bai Tho (Poem) Cruise to Cat Ba Island, which a group of reporters and I from HCMC and Hanoi were on as part of a ‘fam’ (familiarization) trip with Vietravel, departed from Bai Chay Tourist Wharf in Halong Bay and arrived in the island’s town at about 5 p.m.
When we arrived I was chilled with the cool weather of the autumn in the north, but I felt an instant love for the pure sea breeze and the quietness and peacefulness of the coastal town.
We stayed at the Holiday View Hotel, a 120 – room hotel on road 1/4 in Catba island, overlooking the Lan Ha Bay and just a five minutes walk to the three beaches on the island. We spent one night there, hoping that tomorrow would be a sunny day for a discovery tour to the bay. However, we had a bit of bad luck as it was raining heavily early the next morning due to a sudden tropical low pressure, but when it stopped we hurried down to the wharf for a cruise to Lan Ha Bay on the southeastern side of the island.
Lan Ha Bay covers an area of over 7,000 hectares, of which 5,400 hectares is under the management of Cat Ba National Park. While the cruise moved slowly through small islets and floating fishing villages, I found the landscape to be as magnificent as Halong Bay.
Though the journey is a bit rougher than cruising Halong there are over 100 small sandy beaches between the blocks of rocks on the islands, 30 of which are ideal for a swim or a picnic.
Other interesting activities in the bay are fishing, kayaking, and a visit to Monkey Island, home to over 5,000 monkeys, or a long hike in Cat Ba National Park. The trek is approximately 11 kilometers long through three mountains to Viet Hai, a small fishing village. On the way one can take a short rest at Frog Lake, a beautiful, tranquil lake in the middle of the forest.
Cat Ba National Park is a highly diverse biosphere and the endangered golden headed langur can be found here.
We were leaving for Haiphong in two hours and consequently did not have enough time for the trek, so we chose to return to town and went sightseeing at Cat Co beach. On our walk back to the hotel we saw many foreign tourists jogging in the beach and walking leisurely on the hilly streets of the town. Regretting that we were not staying longer, I gathered some brochures from the travel center at the hotel to learn about other destinations on the island, such as Quan Y cave, which served as a military hospital and shelter for locals in the war, Phu Long village and Thien Long, a primitive and beautiful stalactite, stalagmite cave.
Huynh Thu Dung, head of Vietravel’s press office, told me that this season is the best time of year for foreign tourists doing a tour of the north because the weather is so mild and beautiful and the sights are not as crowded since it is low tourist season in Vietnam. This also falls on the winter holiday period for most of the tourists from Western countries.
She said that Vietravel recently opened a new branch in Hai Phong City to serve as a bridge to link important destinations between Halong and Cat Ba, as well as the northeastern side of Lang Son and Cao Bang, and create new tours from Halong to Cat Ba and Ninh Binh.