Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay is a beautiful bay located about three hours directly east of Hanoi, Vietnam. Known for it’s unique karst limestone islands, Lan Ha looks like it was created in Hollywood. The islands are towering rock formations that have been carved out by thousands of years of water flowing down the mountain sides. As the water eats away the limestone it creates channels through and around the rock. The result is an impressive archipelago of tall islands with a pronounced overhang at the bottom of each rock. Although the islands are all draped with beautiful green foliage they remain uninhabitable except for birds and a small family of the rare to see Cat Ba Langurs.
After arriving in Hanoi we wasted no time finding a bus and heading directly to Cat Ba Island. We used Good Morning Cat Ba for our transportation and they made it extremely easy to get all the way to the Island. On the bus we met a solo traveler named Justin from Wyoming. He is one of those people who you start talking to and feel like you have known all of your life. Guiding river rafting tours at home, bar tending on the side and rock climbing all over the world gave him some amazing stories! The bus ride went very quick as we chatted almost all of the way. Once we finished our two hour bus ride, they shuttled on to a boat for another 25 minutes, then onto a small bus until we reached our destination. We were excited to see the bay for ourselves the following morning.
Searching many reviews on what do on Cat Ba, we finally settled on an amazing company called Asia Outdoors that specializes in adventure activities. Rock climbing is a very new sport in Vietnam and it is still extremely difficult to get licensed. What’s even harder is to get licensed to do deep-water soloing, which is basically rock climbing on the limestone and jumping off into the bay. Asia Outdoors is the only company that has a deep-water soloing license.
Our first day was spent getting out onto their boat and having lunch (which was amazing). As soon as we finished eating, we jumped in the water to escape the humid air. Then we dried off, changed and jumped onto a small boat that whisked away to an island surrounded by three large limestone cliffs. From there our three guides, Arjon, Maria and Daniel started setting up the ropes for us to do some top rope climbing. It was a blast, after climbing up to a height of 60 feet we would stop and look around to enjoy the view before being lowered back down to safety. We shared the climbing with a couple from Germany (Nick and Sandra) and a family of four from Australia, whom all could climb really well. Climbing was a lot of fun and it reminded me just how long it had been since I had tried it. By the end of the three hour session I don’t think I could of pulled myself up a ladder! All three of us did really well and I was proud to see that Tash made it to the top of a 70 foot climb.
Back on the main boat we shuttled the people who weren’t staying the night back to Cat Ba. From there we drove back into the karst limestone islands as the sun set behind us. We docked to another boat for an hour so where we ate a dinner consisting of fried fish, prawns (with head) rice and cabbage slaw. After dinner the boat made it’s way to the center of the bay where we anchored for the night. As the sun fully hid behind the mountains and darkness set in the best part of the night was finally set. From the upper deck of the boat we started jumping into the dark water. Bio-luminescent plankton looked like thousands of tiny sparkles as the motion of our arms and legs stirred up the water. It was almost an hour later when we finally decided to leave the magical water and tuck into our beds on the top deck of the boat to sleep under the stars.
Deep Water Soloing
The following morning after breakfast Tash and Jolene went kayaking while I joined back up with Justin and a group to try the deep-water soloing. All I needed was some shorts to swim in and some climbing shoes. Following a brief introduction on safety our small boat with a platform in the front nudged its way up to the first limestone formation of the day. We each took turns climbing the wall while the rest of the crew watched and rooted us on from down below. The first was a fairly easy 25 foot climb to a small ledge where we then jumped into the salty water. Eventually we were able to climb three at a time on some more difficult routes. The water below can be reassuring while trying to test your limits, but it can be intimidating when looking down. It always feels like you are much higher than what it looks like from below.
We finished the late afternoon all together by kayaking around more of the cliffs. Paddling through a few tunnels and searching for the rare Cat Ba langurs was a great way to wrap up our adventures with Asia Outdoors.
The following day we made plans to meet up with Justin and rent scooters. He had already rented from a guy down the street from our hotel. It seems odd how easy some things are in Vietnam. We simply asked for four scooters, gave the owner some money ($4 each for the entire day) and we were off. Cat Ba national park was our first destination located about 20 minutes away from Lan Ha Bay. Choosing to hike through the humid air we sweat our way to a viewpoint about an hour hike one way. Seeing the park from above was spectacular.
On our drive back from the national park we decided to stop at Trung Trang Cave. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about the history of it because it had closed by the time we drove by it again. But I can tell you what the cave was like inside because we “accidentally” walked around the gate. Using the power of own headlamps instead of the electricity inside made it much more eerie. After walking through a large opening we turned left into a narrow passage way. As the light from our headlamps bounced around creating strange shadows, I thought I saw something flying overhead. We all stopped moving for a moment and saw that we were about to walk directly under dozens of bats hanging from the ceiling fifteen feet above our heads.
We continued slowly through the cave being careful not to disturb the resting bats. Reaching the other side we had the couple that followed us in take some photos for us. After making it back to the entrance we continued on in the other direction. This cave was much different, luckily with no bats. As we got farther the cave walls became more like a tube and we found ourselves walking lower and lower. A few times we would walk into a large open cavern only to find more tunnels. Eventually making it out, we found ourselves having to walk a half mile back to our starting point.
Volleyball and Scooters
The way back to Lan Ha Bay was interesting as we made a loop that took us through beautiful views of the bay and mountains. Spotting a volleyball net on a beach we decide to make a spontaneous pit stop. We ordered a few beers from a beach side bar and found a volleyball. Playing on the beach was a lot of fun, probably more fun for Justin and I as we beat the girls two sets to none. 😉 We stayed there until the sun almost set and finished off our long day by driving back the last half hour in the dark.
Our last day in Lan Ha Bay was spent not doing much. I worked on the blog almost all day, the girls got pampered and Jojo had some alone time on the beach. We met up with Justin for one last dinner and a couple drinks to say goodbye. We all said to each other that we were gonna miss hanging out with him. It’s rare to meet such a genuine, life-loving person. Hopefully we can meet again.