Climbing and kayaking in Cát Bà, Vietnam, the rugged different to Ha Lengthy Bay

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In the north of the country, Cát Bà emerges like a lost world from the jade waters of Lan Ha Bay. But this is a vibrant, functioning island where fishermen ply the waters and travelers come in search of adventurous pursuits.

Through Scott Salt

photographs of Scott Salt

Released 29 Mar 2022, 15:00 BST

Cát Bà Island, with its floating seafood restaurants, is often a stopover for travelers exploring the famous nearby Halong Bay, and while the island is developing a tourism scene of its own, fishing remains an important local industry.

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The majority of local fishermen do not live directly on Cát Bà, but rather on Cai Beo, a purpose-built floating village of around 300 houses.

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Almost all residents depend on the sea for their livelihood, be it fishing or servicing larger boats that operate in the surrounding waters.

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A number of companies offer boat trips around the limestone islands surrounding Cát Bà, offering an inspiring way to discover this ancient landscape, shaped over millions of years by the region’s tropical climate.

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As passengers weave their way between the islands on boat tours, they pass tiny fishing villages and secluded coves hidden between towering limestone cliffs that plunge into the sea. In the floating village of Cia Beo, a fisherman takes a lunch break; Here workers, their families and their pets live on the bay so they can tend to their aquaculture.

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Exploring the island beneath the waves is a must: the crystal clear waters are home to a colorful array of marine life, including iridescent coral.

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During a hike in Cat Ba National Park, a traveler named Diamond pauses on his Nirvana “Something in the Way” ukulele.

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Paradisiacal beaches aside, Cát Bà is anything but a sleepy seaside idyll. The island is a veritable adventure playground where travelers can indulge in land- and water-based activities, from rock climbing and hiking in the national park to kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Here, kayakers explore a hidden cove on a tour organized by Langur Adventures.

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A climber chalks before joining a deep water solo route. These climbs are only accessible by small boat and the climber does not use ropes; if they fall, they do so into the water
under. Not for the faint of heart, this type of rock climbing is an exhilarating experience that many travelers visit the island specifically for.

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Veteran rock climber Ben Wilman scales a barefoot rock face off the coast of Cat Ba.

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Chú Biên captains a boat that takes climbers through the iconic topography of Cát Bà Island on deep-water solo climbing routes. Chú drops travelers on their chosen climb, then hangs back to either complete the route and jump off the top of the cliff into the sea, or lose their footing and fall into the water below.

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A rock climber on a remote beach completes a route up one of the hundreds of rock towers that surround Cát Bà. This and many similar routes are only accessible by boat, making the experience truly unique and intimate.

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Climbing gear hangs from a tree on a remote beach.

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Accessible only by boat, Castaway Island Resort offers groups a variety of activities including paddle boarding, kayaking and rock climbing, as well as luxury dining and accommodations.

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Cát Bà is home to the endangered golden-headed langur, also known as the Cát Bà langur. This is one of the rarest primates in the world, with fewer than 70 individuals confined to a rocky range of less than eight square miles. Years of hunting have reduced their numbers, but conservation efforts and increased protection of Cát Bà National Park have been important steps in ensuring the monkeys’ survival.

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