Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Beautiful Trekking Cat Ba National Park With Incredible Things

By Dbandhertravelbug
When our boat arrived at Cat Hai, Hai Phong City (a district that includes Cat Ba) our group (about 18 of us) was then transported by van to the Cat Ba National Park.

Once there we were given the option of going on a hike, renting a bike, or exploring a nearby cave. While it was an incredibly hot day already, given it was only mid morning, people really weren’t certain as to what to do. A flashback to the tour of the caves the day before made me immediately decide that I was going on the trekking Cat Ba national park, regardless of the heat and humidity. My newly minted friends, the Australian Triumvirate, weren’t up for the trek but I decided to go anyway. And it was a great decision.

trekking Cat Ba national park 1

We trekked with a large group of people – not even sure how these many new faces joined in – and while it was a bit annoying in the beginning, as time went on, we seemed to spread out more and more. We were never introduced to any formal guides but one man was clearly just that. Perhaps he was leading a group of people that we ended up with – or not? – and it still remains a mystery. For the remainder of this post we will call him the monkey (you’ll see why in a minute).

Cat Ba National Park is apparently known for several dozens type of animals – wild boar, deer, langurs, hedgehogs, just to name a few – and many different species of birds. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of these forms of wildlife except for the LARGEST spider I have ever seen in my entire life (see photo). After doing some research, it appears that when you book a trekking tour (and a much longer and arduous one) with the park rangers, you have a much better chance of seeing these animals as they know where to take you.

trekking Cat Ba national park 2

trekking Cat Ba national park 3

While no wildlife was seen by me (or anyone else, I think), it was still a beautiful hike with many trees, hundreds of types of plants (and some with humongous leaves!) and many that are used for medicinal purposes. We weaved through canopies of trees, rocky paths, and up steep inclines, several times having to use ones hands to pull yourself up the rocks. How some people were only wearing flip flops I will never understand!

This was obviously a piece of cake for the monkey and to watch him scamper up the trails and dart around the many bikers was a sight to be seen. It was hot, really hot, and the monkey knew it. He would run back and forth from different groups of people and fan them with his traditional bamboo, handheld fan. While it doesn’t seem like this could truly make a difference, it did and was hysterical as well. He also took to hanging from the trees and often requested that we take photos of him. Clearly, a man, er monkey, who enjoyed what he did for a living.
 trekking Cat Ba national park 4

Once we reached the top of the mountain a couple of hours later, we faced a massive metal structure in front of us. We already had a magnificent 360 degree view of the mountains but climbing higher would obviously be even better. While some opted not to go further, I began the ascent on the metal stairs that wrapped around until you hit the tippy top. I still don’t know what this structure is or what if any significance it holds, but it’s a great viewing tower for those brave enough to go up. I must admit while the many stairs going up seemed sturdy enough, the platform and rails at the top were…let’s just say, rusting terribly and by no means up to any kind of code. But it did afford an incredible vista!
 trekking Cat Ba national park 5

I got to know a few people while on the hike and it turned out to be a really pleasant morning. When we all reconvened, I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit envious of the Australian Triumvirate. They had ended up going to one of the caves – the Hospital Cave – which was a secret, bomb-proof hospital during The Vietnam War. It was a perfect trip for them being nurses and seemed fascinating from how they described it. One traveler’s post that I just found online describes it as follows:

“My personal opinion is that the Hospital Cave in Cat Ba Island is one of the most fascinating sights (and lesser known) of the Vietnam war era– hospital was constructed initially by the Chinese. Access to the hospital is not through some road that ambulances or cars could use, but through a mountain donkey path surrounded by thick vegetation, which I would imagine would be quite a task for two soldiers carrying a stretcher to walk on. Injured North Vietnamese officers would be arriving by boat via Halong Bay and eventually carried in the “hospital”. The hospital “entrance,” barely visible even today, is less than 5 feet high (1.52m) and about 4 feet wide (1.21m). On the left, immediately after entering, was the x-ray department, to x-ray the incoming casualties. The operating theatres, recovery rooms, and other spaces were primitive by today’s standards, but the sheer size of the place–where and how it was actually constructed–is incredible and made the place secure and impenetrable by enemy fire.”

trekking Cat Ba national park 6

Had I not been with a group, there’s no question that I would have visited it after hiking through the National Park. However, one more reason to return to travel Northern Vietnam!

trekking Cat Ba national park 7


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