Cat Ba is the largest of the 366 islands spanning 260km2 that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam. Cat Ba island has a surface area of 285 km2 and maintains the dramatic and rugged features of Ha Long Bay. It is commonly used as an overnight hotel stop on tours to Ha Long Bay run by travel agents from Hanoi.
Over view of Cat Ba island:
Cat Ba is the largest island in the Bay and approximately half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur. The island has a wide variety of natural ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial, leading to incredibly high rates of biodiversity. Types of natural habitats found on Cat Ba Archipelago include limestone karsts, tropical limestone forests, coral reefs, mangrove and sea grass beds, lagoons, beaches, caves, and willow swamp forests.
Cat Ba Island is one of the only populated islands in Ha Long Bay, with roughly 13,000 inhabitants living in six different communes, and 4,000 more inhabitants living on floating fishing villages off the coast. The large majority of the population can be found in Cat Ba Town which is located at the southern tip of the Island (15 km south of the national park) and is the commercial center on the Island. Since 1997, Cat Ba Town has grown rapidly and has become a tourist hub for both the Island and greater Ha Long Bay.
History of Cat Ba Island:
Archeological evidence suggests that people have lived on Cat Ba Island for almost 6,000 years, with the earliest settlements being found on the southeastern tip of the Island close to the area where Ban Beo harbor sits today. In 1938, a group of French archeologists discovered human remains belonging "to the Cai Beo people of the Ha Long culture, which lived between 4,000 and 6,500 years ago… considered to be perhaps the first population group occupying the North-Eastern territorial waters of Vietnam… the Cai Beo people may be an intermediary link between the population strata at the end of the Neolithic Age, some 4,000 years ago".
In more recent history, Cat Ba Island was inhabited mostly by Viet-Chinese fisherman and was largely influenced by both the French and American wars. The Island was a strategic look-out point and bombing during the wars often forced local residents to hide among the Island's many caves. Today, the best reminders of the two wars have been turned into tourist attractions.
Hospital Cave, which was a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the American War and as a safe house for VC leaders. This three-story feat of engineering was in use until 1975 is only 10 km north of Cat Ba Town. The second attraction, the newly built Cannon Fort, sits on a peak 177 meters high, offering visitors a chance to see old bunkers and helicopter landing stations as well stunning views Cat Ba Island, its coast, and the limestone karsts in Lan Ha Bay offshore.
Cat Ba national park:
At the heart of Cat Ba Island lies a visually stunning and ecologically diverse national park. In 1986, 9,800 [98 km²] hectares (approximately one third of the Island's total land mass) was annexed as Cat Ba National Park, the first decreed protected area in Vietnam to include a marine component (Dawkins 14). It had previously been the site of a timber company.
In 2006, the boundaries of the national park were redefined, so the park contained 109 km² of land area and an additional 52 km² of inshore waters and mangrove covered tidal zones (langur website). The park is staffed by 92 people, including over 60 park rangers. In 2004, Cat Ba Archipelago was declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve Area in order to protect the multiple terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as well the diverse plant and animal life that is found on the Island. The UNESCO designation divides the archipelago into three distinct areas, each with certain functions and restrictions that regulates development and conservation measures on the Island.
Cat Ba national park
The white-sand Cat Co beaches (simply called Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2) make a great place to lounge around for the day. They are about 1 km southeast from Cat Ba town over a steep headland; and can be reached on foot or by motorbike or taxi. The two beaches are separated by a small hillock that can be climbed over in about 20 minutes. Most; however; take the easier route along a new; 700m; wooden seaside walkway around the mountain. Cat Co 2 is the less busy and more attractive of the two; and also offers simple accommodation and camping. On weekends the beaches fill up with Vietnamese tourists. The main beaches; apart from those at Cat Ba town itself; are Cai Vieng; Hong Xoai Be and Hong Xoai Lon.
Monkey Island ( Cat Dua island)
Monkey Island beach
Monkey Island stay in the area of Nam Cat, Lan Ha bay. There are 5 sandy beach here and Monkey Island beach is the most beautiful and the biggest one. From Cat Ba town, you have to take a taxi or motobike to Beo harbour where you go by boat to Monkey Island. It takes you about 15 minutes, throught the floating village and many beautiful islets with sea birds flying in group up and down.
In the past, this island was called Cat Dua island ( Pine Apple Sand Beach island) because there is a lot of pine apple trees on the sandy beach. In recent years, there are many tourists come and they found many monkeys on the island then this is called Monkey Island beside the name Cat Dua.
Monkey island is about 5 km round with the front side are 2 sandy beaches and the back side is like rocky mountain. The beaches here are very beautiful with pine apple trees on the beach and many kind of green trees on the mountain.
There are about 20 monkeys on the island. They live on the mountain, in the garden and some time go to the beach for foods given by the tourist. Coming here, you also can enjoy the song of the birds in the garden or see many fishes swimming in the clean water.
Monkey Island is an ideal place for tourist holiday with many activities like play football, volley ball on beach, swimming, snockeling or go fishing. Especially, you can do kayaking around as the water here is calm like in a lake with hundreds of islets around.
Cat Ba tourism:
Cat Ba Island has become the adventure-tourism capital of Vietnam, and many of the activities advertised are nature-based. Visitors can kayak and take boat cruises through Ha Long Bay and the Cat Ba Archipelago, hike through the national park, mountain bike around the Island, spend time on Monkey Island just offshore, explore the Island's many caves, swim on Cat Co 1, 2, or 3 (three sandy beaches a short walk from Cat Ba Town), or even rock climb on the limestone karsts.
With its stunning scenery, its association with Ha Long Bay, its proximity to highly populous cities like Haiphong (50 km) and Hanoi (150 km), and even China (many regional visitors come to the Island in the summer, the busy season, to avoid the heat and pollution in the cities), and plenty to do, Cat Ba Island has become a major travel destination for foreign and Vietnamese visitors alike.
Cat Co beach in Cat Ba island in summer
Cat Ba Island is currently inhabited by almost 12000 people, living in 6 communes - of which Cat Ba Town with 7820 people is the largest.
The area has two ethnic groups, namely the Kinh and the Chinese-born Vietnamese that are intermingled and not separated into different areas or communities. Based on archaeological remains, it seems that people have inhabited the Cat Ba area for at least 6000 years.
Local livelihoods in the villages are built on subsistence agriculture and fishing. Comparatively new sources of employment and income at the local level are shrimp and fish-farming, and tourism.