Welcome to Cat Ba! Put your journey in context with a visit to Cannon Fort (also known as 177 High Point), one of the highest vantages in Cat Ba Town and the best place to admire the beauty of the surrounding coves and hillsides. At 177 meters above water, Cannon Fort offers sweeping, breathtaking views of Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay, so be sure to pack your camera.
The underground tunnels and trenches were first installed in Cannon Fort by the Japanese, who invaded Cat Ba to use as a military outpost during WWII. Since then the Fort has also been used as a defense post by the Vietnamese during the French and American wars (1954-1975), allowing military troops excellent vantage points to look out for marine and air attacks. Propaganda posters in one of the old bunkers proclaim the success of Vietnamese soldiers at bringing down foreign aircraft with weapons fired from Cannon Fort.
Begin your walk at the helicopter landing pad (now used as a motorbike parking lot). As you head into the fort, you’ll see old missiles and weapons casings repurposed into sculpture; no longer needed in war, they have become emblems of change and hope for continuing peace. Follow the path past Cannon No. 2 and through the bunker out to the East Observatory. The cannons you see at the Fort were made in France and hauled up to Cannon Fort by the French when they briefly overtook Cat Ba during the French war. When Cat Ba was reclaimed by Vietnamese troops, the Vietnamese continued to use the French cannons against the French themselves!
From the East Observatory, you can glimpse fishing villages, limestone karsts, and the environment that made up the home of the ancient Cai Beo people (it’s worth the VND to use the binoculars!). The Cai Beo people of the Ha Long culture first inhabited the Cat Ba Archipelago almost 7,000 years ago, living primarily in fishing communities centered around the modern harbor of Ben Beo. In 1938 a team of French archaeologists first discovered both human and material remains from this civilization, which included pestles, tables, ceramic wares, and fishing tools. Subsequent excavations have continued to turn up thousands of artifacts from the times of the Cai Beo.
After drinking in your fill of bay views from the East Observatory, head down the steps on the right for inland views of the rolling hills of Cat Ba. Then follow the narrow, stone-walled corridors and shaded, tree-lined paths to the Historical Objects Showroom. Set in old bunkers, you will get a feel for the way soldiers lived at Cannon Fort and learn about wartime history through art, propaganda posters, photographs, and artifacts. Brush up on your dendrology by taking note of the variety of trees found on Cannon Fort hill, helpfully labeled with genus and species.
Continue to the North Observatory and Cannon No. 1 for a fresh panorama of the bay and Voi Phue Mountain. As you navigate among the trenches, you will notice cleverly designed drainage and water storage systems, and you should also see several examples of petards, small bombs made from wooden boxes filled with gunpowder. Stay on the path towards the West Observatory, which offers the best views of Cat Ba town from above. After relaxing and taking in the spectacular vista, take the path on the left. On the way back, don’t miss the Tunnel Case! Take the steps on the left side of the path down to the U-shaped tunnel. Built to hold up to 500 people in times of emergencies, the tunnel was used by troops for stockpiling armaments, holding meetings, preparing and eating meals, and more. Notice the hooks on the walls in the last room in the tunnel, where soldiers strung up hammocks to rest in the safety of the underground bunker. The wounded were also cared for here during battle time.
Conclude your exploration of Cannon Fort with a drink from the café. Enjoy cool sea breezes, relish the quiet and the sound of crickets and bird calls, and savor the views for just a few minutes longer before heading back to the hustle and bustle of busy Cat Ba Town!
Welcome to Cat Ba Island! Believed to be a mispronunciation of the Vietnamese for "Women's Island" (cac ba), Cat Ba has been inhabited for nearly 6,000 years by fishing communities originally from the Ha Long culture. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, three women from the noble family of the Tran Dynasty were killed and their bodies floated all the way to Cat Ba, washing up on three different beaches. The fishermen who discovered each body built shrines to honor the women, and soon the island began to be known as Cac Ba, which eventually morphed into Cat Ba.
The largest of the nearly 400 islands that make up the Cat Ba Archipelago in Lan Ha and Ha Long Bays, Cat Ba's 285 square kilometres encompass an amazing array of natural ecosystems packed with biodiversity. Limestone karsts, tropical forests, coral reefs, mangroves, lagoons, beaches, willow swamp forests, and more can all be discovered amongst the rolling hills of Cat Ba Island. One of Cat Ba's most unique features is a host of limestone caves hidden all over the island in the thick forest foliage.
Hospital Cave, or Hang Quan Y, is one of Cat Ba's most popular caves, and it is certainly the cave with the most interesting story behind it. During the French and American wars in the second half of the twentieth century, Cat Ba was a strategic look out point and important military outpost, and thus often targeted by enemy aircraft for bombing attacks. Locals often took refuge in Cat Ba's many deep caves during these air raids. As the name suggests, Hospital Cave was a secret bunker-style hospital used during the American war to provide a safe place for wounded soldiers and also a secure point of convalescence for Viet Cong leaders to gather and strategize. The underground complex even included a theatre and swimming pool for soldiers' recreation! This three-story feat of engineering was built between 1960 and 1965 and in use until 1975, and is today visited every year by hundreds of tourists looking to explore this amazing point of intersection between Cat Ba's geology and history.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT HOSPITAL CAVE
Everett Alvarez, the first American pilot shot down during combat operations in the American-Vietnam War, was originally held in Hospital Cave in August of 1964.
For many years Cat Ba local Mr. Khoi took it upon himself to be the steward of the cave. An artilleryman for the Viet Cong, Mr. Khoi travelled all over Vietnam fighting for the country's independence during the war before finally returning to Cat Ba and devoting himself to the protection of Hospital Cave and the education of its visitors.
The cave was built with the help of technical experts from China, who designed it to accommodate 100 patients in 17 rooms on three floors.
Prior to the American war, Hospital Cave was named Hung Son for a general in the Tran regime.