I suspect that when I think back on Vietnam, I will dream of this: limestone crags rising out of the water, wind tugging at my hair, and the trill of climbing and kayaking surrounded by pristine nature. Cat Ba was irrefutably my favourite place on our visit to Vietnam. The island is actually geographically is part of the Halong Bay Karst system, making it a stunningly beautiful location. But it isn’t just the beauty of the area that means I have fehrnweh (‘far-sickness’) for this small area. It was the fun we had.
The island itself is easily explored by renting a scooter and heading down the various different roads, stopping off to take pictures of views of the bays and beaches and walking in the hills of the National Park. We also took a guided tour of hospital cave, which was very worth it because the young man not only made us laugh, but gave us some context for what the many different rooms were used for and by whom. There is no cost for this guiding, only a voluntary donation at the end, so if you are in the area, do let him show you what he has to offer.
Cat Ba is also the home of Asia Outdoors, one of the leading outdoor recreation centres in Vietnam and to some awesome guides, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. They use the island in all its jungle-y, craggy, watery glory as a playground for trekking, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, and climbing. We took the chance to join them for one and a half days, spending one day paddling our double kayak on the calm and half a day deep water soloing (basically climbing above the water and jumping or falling off when we’d had enough). Each activity was broken up with swimming in cool lagoons, staring up at the foliage creeping up the rock face and out of cracks and pockets. Both days were great, the first hot and sunny and very tiring, the second cool, grey and exhilarating.
I particularly enjoyed the climbing, as it had been so long since I had given myself a vertical challenge. The routes were diverse and allowed us to slowly regain some of our muscle memory. They also allowed us to get high; much higher faster than I realised. While I found the climbing exciting and rewarding, you only have two options for coming back down: climbing or jumping. Convincing yourself to jump into the water below is not always easy, especially when you reach a nice ‘tea and cake’ ledge as we used to call them when ‘trad’ leading in the UK. You get so comfortable on your small platform, feel so safe, that it is hard to convince yourself to take the leap. After a few climbs it became easier; not only because of the practice, but because of the knowledge that the water below was warm and welcoming (assuming you hit it correctly).
There are also a few running routes available, lots of places to swim and relax, and some pretty decent food, too! Maybe I’ll be back one day…