Many legends and mythologies surround the island’s name
From my vintage postcards of French Indochina, I treasure a rich collection about local life, people, landscape, townscapes and villages in the early 1930s, as well as some of the many legends and myths which have been handed down the generations.
The first is the legend of the name ‘Cac-Ba’, which means Island of women in Vietnamese, where, once upon a time the island used to be the realm of women who grew vegetables and supplied food to the men so that they could have the strength to fight off invaders.
Cat Ba island is also characterized by the Kim Giao tree (scientific name Nageia-fleury) whose origin is linked with an ancient legend. These species grow in Cat Ba National Park and the most notable characteristic of these species is that the wood changes color when it comes into contact with any toxic substance. Therefore, in the past, this kind of wood was often used to make chopstick for the king.
The legend surrounds a romantic love story between a talented man, Kim Ngan, and a beautiful princess, Giao Thuy. The man was poisoned by envious and sycophantic courtiers and died. The princess cried so much for her lover that she lay down by his tomb and died with grief. Afterwards, two trees grew from the tomb and local people named the species Kim Giao in their honor.
Cat Ba is the largest of the 366 islands, spanning over 260 km2, that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes up the southeastern edge of Halong Bay, and is a new hotspot for cruises, cultural activities, heritage travelers, and holidaymakers.
Located in Northern Vietnam, Cat Ba Island is the largest island of Halong Bay with an area of 285 km2. The charm of Cat Ba not only lies in the splendid islets of towering limestone in Lan Ha Bay but also in the serenity of a-lot-less-touristy destination.
Cat Ba Island belongs to Cat Hai District, Hai Phong City. Geographically, this island is 30 km away from Hai Phong City and 25 km from Ha Long City. It is adjacent to the Halong Bay World Heritage site. In 2004, UNESCO recognized Cat Ba Archipelago as a World Biosphere Reserve as this island is the best example of a fengcong and fenglin karst landscape invaded by the sea.
Only 2 hours from Hanoi, Cat Ba Island has unique experiences for travelers to truly immerse in the culture of Vietnam.
1. Spend a night on the sea in Lan Ha Bay
Belonging to the east of Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay lies right next to Halong Bay. This undisturbed bay has nearly 400 limestone islets covered with trees, creating impressive and unique natural scenery. And there is no better way to explore these impressive outcroppings than traveling on a Lan Ha Bay cruise.
Although this is a popular tour in Halong Bay, cruises from Cat Ba are still quite new. Make the best out of your experience by adding cultural and historical value to your voyage. Currently, Heritage Cruise is one of the best Lan Ha Bay cruises operating this activity. Inspired by a highly intelligent Vietnamese entrepreneur in the 20th century called Bach Thai Buoi, Heritage Cruise is the first boutique cruise in Vietnam. The cruise ensures to bring relaxation along with culture and history in a sense of luxury.
2. See the monkeys on Monkey Island
Monkey Island is 1 km from Cat Ba, but the only route to this island is via Cai Beo floating village on a boat from Beo wharf. Monkey Island can be named as the rising star of Cat Ba Island and Hai Phong City since it attracts many curious travelers who love… monkeys.
The official name of this island is Cat Dua, but both locals and tourists renamed it since there are too many monkeys living on this island of the 3-kilometer parameter. These monkeys are familiar to humans due to daily interaction. They are now known for their hospitality. However, sometimes they can be too friendly and start robbing food from tourists.
Monkey Island is famous for its unspoiled beauty of green mountains and white sandy beaches. You can stay at resorts on Monkey Island to fully enjoy nature. This island is also a popular stop for most cruises from Cat Ba Island.
3. Experience local culture at Viet Hai Village
Located in Cat Ba National Park, Viet Hai is a small fishing village of 141 ha and 70 households living. In comparison with other villages in Cat Ba, Viet Hai Village retains its pristine and untouched landscape. Surrounded by dense forests and limestone mountains, this small village is completely separated from the outside world.
The villagers and their ancestors have been living here for centuries – fishing, farming, and breeding. They create a unique and strong community where people are always there for each other. They are the most friendly and sincere locals ever. Pay Viet Hai Village a visit, enjoy this one of a kind experience with the locals and learn the key to live in harmony with nature from them.
4. Kayak in Cat Ba Island
If you want to truly immerse in nature and experience the scale of those towering limestone islets, kayaking promises to bring you an unforgettable memory. There are many destinations such as Lan Ha Bay, Dark & Light Cave, Three Peaches Beach, and Vem Cave to explore by kayak. Imagine sailing your own boat and feeling the majestic natural world around you. It is absolutely an inspiring activity.
Hiring a kayak is not too hard in Cat Ba. If you have an adventurous lifestyle, you can rent one on your own and follow the map of Cat Ba. But this is only recommended to experienced kayakers as you might crash into the limestone reefs or get lost on an isolated island. Waves can sometimes be unexpectedly strong at someplace in the Gulf of Tonkin. Kayak tours in Cat Ba Island are also popular. For most travelers, they often enjoy kayaking while boarding a cruise in Lan Ha Bay. This ensures the safety of tourists yet the excitement of kayaking remains.
5. Go swimming in Cat Ba Island beaches
A few hundred meters away from the center of Cat Ba town, there are three beaches all named Cat Co. None of them are too massive, but the water is clear and not too cold. There is a long wooden bridge along the curvy mountainside of Lan Ha Bay, connecting the three beaches.
Cat Co 1 Beach is the largest out of the three. Surrounded by rocky mountains, Cat Co 1 is also the most popular beach thanks to its beauty. If you wish for a more tranquil place to sunbathe, Cat Co 2 is an ideal option with soft white sand. In case you are a good swimmer, you can go swimming in Cat Co 3 where the water is deep and the waves are strong.