Kayaking Cat Ba Island – The Best of Northern Vietnam

by Mike Still
Kayaking Cat Ba Island – The Best of Northern Vietnam

We woke up at Cat Ba’s Monkey Island Resort in Lan Ha Bay with not nearly enough sleep.  Yesterday was exhausting and today, day 2 of filming Vietnam Discovery, promised to be just as jam-packed.  Right after breakfast, we jumped in a boat with the film crew and a few others headed for sea kayaking.  On the ride over two cameramen got into separate boats and circled around our ship.

The episode of Vietnam Discovery should be available online by early November.  Make sure you like my Facebook page to get a notification when I share that video.  Until then I hope you enjoy these photos and post about Kayaking near Cat Ba Island in Lan Ha Bay!

Waltzing around the sundeck Ronda and I basked in the blue skies while taking in the rolling islands in the distance.  We passed smaller islets entirely made of karst limestone with green jungle sprouted wherever it could break through the rock.  Our path took us in and out of coves and channels as fishermen worked tirelessly in the distance.  After an hour of cruising, we finally saw a floating house ahead.

A man lived alone on this floating shop at the crossroads of two lagoons.  With a restaurant and shop, this was the perfect meeting point for many kayaking tours.  But before went to the lagoon for kayaking he insisted on showing us his massive pet fish.  Beneath his floorboards, he has an enormous fish that he bought in Hong Kong much like we buy goldfish except that living in Lan Ha Bay let it grow to over 2 meters in length!

Traveling in Vietnam comes with its fair share of risks no matter what season you go in. I HIGHLY recommend getting travel insurance before coming to Cat Ba. Thankfully I didn’t need it while I was there but World Nomads gave me peace and mind in case anything did happen.


As cool as the fish was we were there to kayak so we piled back into a smaller boat and headed off to a new lagoon where you can occasionally spot the extremely rare Cat Ba Langur monkeys.  Our producer told us we were going to head into two caves, a light cave and dark cave.  Ronda was on GoPro duty but we’d have cameramen following us in other boats.

We went out three separate times in the kayak each with a different type of camera capturing our every move.  At first, a lady paddled a boat with her feet and one of the VTV crew hoisting a massive TV camera on his shoulder.  We kayaked through the lagoon but were already told by the ranger that there likely wouldn’t be any monkeys today.  He said they usually wait 3 days to come down to the water and he just saw them yesterday.  But we’d also seen monkeys yesterday so it was great just to enjoy the turquoise water and limestone pillars around us.  The lagoon was completely protected from outside waves and had beautiful blue-green water.

Phong Nha is my favorite place in all of Vietnam!
Hoi An is a MUST-SEE
destination in Vietnam.  Don’t miss it!

Are you in Northern Vietnam?  Don’t miss trekking in Sapa!
Love Waterfalls?  Then be sure to visit Dalat in the south and Ban Gioc Waterfall in the north!

Sadly we saw trash that locals say comes from the storms.  When you get stormy seas out here you can’t control what flies off of your floating house.  Then again steps could be taken to clean it up.  We collected a plastic bag full of rubbish and suggested that the lady who runs it offer a free beer to anyone who brings a bag like that back from their trip.

The good news was the landscape we were paddling through was simply majestic and there wasn’t as much trash as I saw in Ha Long Bay 3 years ago.  You could sit in awe for ages just staring up at the mountain tops.  I once heard that you can see a thousand shades of green in a single photo of a forest.  Well, these jungles easily had 10,000 shades of green and blue to captivate you.

Phong Nha has the same beautiful landscapes as Cat Ba and you’ll also find the world’s largest cave!
Do you love wildlife?  Then you should go on a Gibbon Trek in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park!

Our second kayak voyage took us into Dark Cave, an eerie yet stunning passageway underneath one of those mountains.  Dark Cave is only accessible during low tide and you are required to bring a park ranger with you.  Paddling through the cave was a spooky ride that reminded me of a haunted house.  Thankfully only a few bats jumped out as we passed through!

When we exited Dark Cave yet another beautiful lagoon appeared.  This one held all the perfections missing from the first one we collected garbage in.  Barely a sign of trash floated through here and birds soared above.  You can easily hear the bird calls and if you get lucky, one might dive for a fish in front of you!

We lingered a while here but knew that there was something crazy planned for the afternoon and we were getting hungry for lunch.  Heading back through Dark Cave we thought it would be time to eat but they sent us out a 3rd time into the main lagoon. This time with a drone following us!  Luckily that only lasted about 15 minutes but when we came back they handed Ronda a GoPro and said go back out a 4th time!

The 4th trip only lasted 10 minutes and finally, it was lunchtime!   Freshly caught squid, fish, and other delicacies lined the table.  The kayak-renting locals and national park rangers joined us for a meal on yet another floating house.  I turned around to gaze at the scenery one more time and noticed a beautiful cat with two different colored eyes staring right at me!

Two dogs were wrestling on the dock right next to our picnic.  How these animals live in the floating house is beyond me but I diverted my attention to the delicious luncheon in front of us.  We had a huge spread with fresh grilled fish, squid and seafood soups.  There were even large swordfish steaks with pork belly seared on top!

After lunch, we jumped back into the bigger boat and took a long ride to the center of Cat Ba Island.  We disembarked from the boat and hopped on bicycles for a 5 km ride to the Viet Hai Village.  Now instead of gliding through this landscape on a kayak, we were zooming along on bikes!  We couldn’t go full speed though because they wanted to film it all so an electric golf cart led the way and one cameraman even jumped onto the back of our bikes for a bit!

The Viet Hai Village is the most remote village on Cat Ba Island and they are in the center of a national park!  Locals lived in clay houses until recently when a typhoon ravaged their land flooding the village and forcing the government to come in and build new houses.  Now everyone lives in modern houses now but still embrace their traditional ways of life.  The clay houses that remain are used for storage and other farming needs but are deemed unsafe to live in.

We stopped at one guest house and were invited to dip our feet in the river for a “massage.”  One local man feeds the fish white rice in the river and so fish always gather ready for a nibble.  If you dip your feet (or hands) in they’ll eat all the dead skin away!  It feels a bit strange and almost like being tickled but you get used to it and it supposedly leaves your feet nice and healthy!  I think my feet were too rough from backpacking these last few months and I needed to leave them in for a few hours to notice any change.

One Viet Hai woman showed us how she spreads rice out on the ground to dry before adding yeast and fermenting it into rice wine.  An elder told us the story of the great flood that engulfed his house and speaks high praise for the Vietnamese government for taking care of his people.

The sun started to hang lower in the sky warning of sunset and reminding our producer that we had a party waiting for us tonight at the Monkey Island Resort!  We jumped back on the electric golf cart and drove to the boat for a long ride back to the island.  Long enough for a nap!

Back at the island we found strangely parallel bamboo sticks and a firepit on the beach.  As soon as we all finished eating dinner the staff ushered everyone down to the beach and music started to play.  They lit a bonfire and sat down next to the sticks picking them up in rhythm.  “Dance,” our producer said, “It’s your job to get everyone to dance!”  Ronda and I looked at each other a bit puzzled.  How did they want us to dance?  Then one of the staff grabbed my hands and said: “like this!”

She jumped with both feet into the bamboo square.  In an instant, she had poles at her knees but then they dropped to the sand again.  Like something out of an Indiana Jones video game, you had to navigate this obstacle course to the island beat.  The bonfire burned bright and we followed her lead with other guests slowly joining in.  It felt like a dream dancing under the stars in this tropical paradise.  The dance could have lasted hours but tomorrow I was going “Deep Water Solo Diving” (and had no idea what it was) so we headed back to our bungalow to get some much-needed rest.

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More photos from this adventure and others can be found on the @LiveTravelTeach Instagram Account and don’t forget to follow www.LiveTravelTeach.com by adding your email at the top of this page to make sure you don’t miss any of these amazing adventures!

Disclaimer:  This is the internet and It is safe to assume that links and content contained on this webpage provide compensation to the website’s owner.  VTV4 paid for all activities and accommodations during this tour but the opinions are my own and the information here is accurate as of October 2017.  All photos in this post were taken as a collaboration between Mike Still and Ronda Christensen.

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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