Cát Bà National Park takes up a great big portion of Cát Bà Island, so how could I not pay it a visit when I was passing through?
The island itself is essentially a giant sized version of one of those limestone karsts that can be viewed from nearby Halong Bay. As a result of this, the islands topography is pretty insane, and the view from the top (the reason why you need to go to the National Park) is pretty spectacular.
Getting to the entrance of the park is a small challenge, but I found the best option was to just hire myself a motorbike and ride out (sorry mum!). It’s about a 20-30 minute ride from Cát Bà Town (dependent on your speed – as a newbie to riding, I’m pretty slow) and only costs 80,000 VND for the full day. Other options would be the tourist bus or a motorbike taxi.
Once you’re there, you’ll have to fork over the 40,000 VND entrance fee (and possibly the 5 – 10,000 VND motorbike parking fee), then you’ll be set to get your sweat on… I mean your hike…
I stuck to the peak walk given I didn’t want to venture too far into the park solo in the crazy heat of the day. I tracked the whole route, so here’s a little info on what to expect:
Walking Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Lowest Elevation: 30m
Highest Elevation: 296m (but see comment below)
Total ascent / descent: 563m (but see comment below)
Now, if you’re freaking out about that first climb, never fear! I’m pretty sure something crazy happened with the GPS and that didn’t actually happen. Given a track closure, I essentially went up one way and back down the same track. The only difference came just prior to the final climb where I’d taken the less steep incline to get up, but came down along the other path. So, assume that the initial kilometre should be similar to the last kilometre!
Saying that, this isn’t the easiest little climb I’ve done.
I realise we’re not talking about a long hike, or even a high altitude, but the HUMIDITY! Well, if you could see me when I reached the peak… Lets just say my T-shirt has never been so wet when it wasn’t getting washed… You’ll definitely need to remember plenty of water for this one!
Those views you get at the top make it all worthwhile though. And another tip – don’t be an idiot and forget a memory card for your camera! Sadly, I’ve only got a few phone snaps to share with you now, but they do alright (especially since I refused offers to get in front of the camera – it would not have been pretty).
Cat Ba National Park: A Day of Jungle Exploring
Surrounded by dense jungle, we climbed up the roughly carved stone steps in Cat Ba National Park, Vietnam. When we paused to catch our breaths, we could hear bpth familiar and not so familiar sounds of nature around us. Chirping birds, purring insects, and the rustle of leaves under squirrels feet only made us feel more at home. And we knew the view waiting for us would be worth it.
Part of the reason we wanted to stay on Cat Ba Island rather than Halong Bay city (besides being on a budget, of course) was the Cat Ba National Park. Most people only experience the landscape of the area by doing a Halong Bay cruise, but Cat Ba National Park is another great way to see the landscape the region is famous for!
What we’ve discovered while traveling is that the term “hike” gets thrown around loosely. So far in Vietnam (and elsewhere) the hikes have been watered down versions of what we know and recognize as a hike. There are usually paved steps, wide walkways, and the “hike” itself lasts about 1/2 a mile tops. But Cat Ba National Park was exactly what we were hoping for in the ways of hiking…finally!
The jungle of Cat Ba National Park itself was dense and eerily beautiful in the way jungles often are. The sun barely was able to make its way through the leaves, which created a nice shaded oasis. That was fine with us, as we were working up a sweat just fine without the heat of the sun’s rays.
As animal lovers, we were hoping to spot the endangered golden langur that the park is famous for. Out of the 65 total remaining golden langurs that exist in the world, Cat Ba National Park is home to a majority. While we didn’t spot one, we did spot lizards, many different kinds of birds, deer, and a couple giant black squirrels.
To get to Cat Ba National Park, we hired a scooter. The roads on Cat Ba Island are very calm, and should’t be too difficult to ride a motorbike on even with minimal experience. But if scootering still freaks you out, there is a public shuttle bus that runs to the park or you can hire a taxi.
Park entrance is 80,000 dong a person ($4USD) and is well worth the admission fee. When you enter the park, there will be a few stands selling water and small food items. If you didn’t bring a water, get one now! The hike is strenuous and you’ll definitely want something to quench your thirst.
After walking on some pavement for a while, you will pass a restaurant and then it is only up from there. The hike starts with a climb and doesn’t really even out until you reach the peak view, so prepare for a good workout. While there are roughly cut stone steps, the hike still retains it’s wild like feel. Soon, even the stone steps will stop and you will be climbing up limestone shards.
As you climb higher, the steps disappear and you’ll be hiking on a normal trail until you reach the first viewpoint. There is a small two story shaded structure at the top of the peak. We almost stopped here, but there’s so much more to see if you go just a little further.
Following the path, it will lead you down and then back up again. This was probably the most challenging part of the hike, but it is also a relatively short distance. When you reach the very tip top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the island. It’s a more jungle-y version of Ninh Binh, which was my favorite place in Vietnam. It is by far one of my favorite mental snapshots of our trip.