Yep, you read that right. There is a 30-36km hiking trail in Cat Ba and of course, we decided to hike it! I say 30-36km trail as previous to the hike, we read online that it was supposed to be a 36km trail, 18km each way across Cat Ba National Park. However, after completing the hike, our tracking app logged our step activity as 30km overall. Soooo, we're not sure if the app is wrong due to not tracking elevation properly or whether the previous blog posts were wrong and it's not really 36km. Either way, we'll settle for somewhere in between.
The hike goes all the way through Cat Ba national park... And back. There is a shorter option to this trail which is to hike 18km to a boat port at the end. Where you can pay to ride the boat and be dropped back to the peer in town. However, Jac and I wanted to do the whole 36km, as no challenge is too big in our eyes!
Prior to the hike, there are a few things we had to think about/prepare. The first was how we were going to get there. We chose to go by motorbike as we needed to be at Cat Ba National Park for 8am in the morning. We popped down to the main road at around 7:30am and rented a scooter from one of the many hostels that supply them, it cost around for $5 per/day. The next thing we needed to things about was food and water. Given that it was going to be an all day trek through the jungle, we knew we would have to stock up beforehand. To keep it cheap, we went to the minimart the night before and brought 2 packs of chicken noodles (10,000VND) and 2 tins of luncheon pork (32,000VND) meat. We had some zip-lock bags already, so prior to leaving in the morning, we put both packs of noodles into a bag, poured some boiling water over them and let them absorb the liquid for around an hour. We drained out the excess water afterwards and added in 2 tins of the pork meat. We had a free breakfast from our hostel, which consisted of 2 eggs and a baguette, so this served as a great energy source for the morning until lunch. For some snacks along the way, we brought 2 humongous pears (30,000VND) from the lady on our street selling fruit. Therefore, our food for the whole day (until we got home and splashed out on a well deserved dinner and desert) cost us 72,000VND, which converts to (drum-roll please).... £2.35p! We carried 5.5 litres of water with us on the day, which cost around 19,000VND (62p). I think it's fair to say we were pretty savvy with our spending on this day!
We arrived at the entrance to the national park at around 8am and paid a lovely chap 5,000VND to keep our motorbike safe for the day. Of course, we had to pay for out tickets into the National Park, which prices vary in accordance to the trail you are following. Our trail was the longest, therefore it was also the most expensive at 80,000VND (£2.62 - I still love how we consider things as expensive at the time of doing them, then we laugh when we see just how cheap it actually was when writing the blog about it!)
The trail starts to the left of the park entrance. You begin on a steep path up to the beginning of a beautifully flat forest trail, covered by a canopy of trees and flowers.
The path goes past the Educational Trail section of the walk, which is basically a loop in the forest which takes you past numerous different types of trees and plants, which have been labelled for educational purposes. It added another 600m to our trail, but was a really cool loop as it takes you deep into the overgrowth in the forest and you'll also hear the most surreal and unbelievably loud bugs!
After the educational trail, there is a long set of stairs up to the base of the first mountain. On the way up, we came across a huge tree that had fallen down in the middle of the jungle, forming a sort-of bridge...so of course we had to scramble over it and grab some cool pictures!
The next part of the trail consisted of an ascent and decent... Onto another ascent and decent.... And then finally, one last ascent and decent. We climbed 6 small mountain peaks during the trail, all of which were pretty spectacular. The sounds in the jungle were among the best, most strangest sounds we'd ever heard. Even more impressive than the sounds were the size of the plants and leaves that surrounded us, some of the leaves were literally bigger than me! I hid behind one at one stage and Jac genuinely couldn't see me through the trees! There was supposed to be a frog pond half way through the trail. However, as it was dry season, the frog pond turned out to just be big field of dirt haha! One thing I do have to say about this hike is make sure to wear some decent hiking boots. There's quite a lot of sharp rocks to scramble up and over, Jac wore his trainers and said he could feel every bit of the rock at the bottom of his feet.
Occasionally, it's easy to veer off track on the trail as some of the pathways are overgrown with jungle. To avoid this, we used Maps.me, which showed us we were going in the right general direction to get to the next part of the trail. We actually followed a couple of off piece routes that were marked on Maps.me as 'Cave' (located just before the Viet Hai Village) and found some incredible caves you could explore! One of the them you can go straight through to other side which is amazing! We fortunately had a head torch, but phones torches are more then enough!
The next part of the hike was through Viet Hai Village, which would lead us all the way down to the peer. We emerged from the jungle onto a leafy path and bumped into a group of hikers led by a guide, they looked as though they were just about to start their hike. We were laughing as we didn't think any of them would believe us if we told them we were going to be heading back that way soon too!
The walk through the village is really nice. We saw so many locals cooking outside their homes or working in the fields opposite. The walk through the village took about 1 hour, eventually we passed through the Viet Hai Homestay area where the group we had previously seen had been staying. We took the road out of the village, following the road on maps.me until we reached the harbour.
I'm not joking when I say that the harbour at the end of this hike is one of the most beautiful sights we've ever seen. Seeing this harbour is partly the reason why we weren't too fussed about going to see Ha Long Bay a couple days later on our trip, we didn't think it could possibly be anymore beautiful than this. The path to the harbour takes you down one long winding road, set to the left hand side of huge towering islets dotted all over crystal clear blue waters. We stood and watched white eagles fly above us, occasionally swooping down to hunt their prey and busy fisherman sorting out their catch on little boats just off the shore. Jac absolutely pooped his little pants as one of the Eagles flew way too close to the drone when he was flying it, he soon landed it in fear of turning a protected bird of prey in to a smoothie (and more importantly, killing his baby, Mr. Mavic Pro) Before reaching the end of the that harbour, we hopped over the wall and ate our lunch on a stony patch of land, right next to the water. It was absolutely beautiful (I mean the location here, not the lunch... Not sure if anyone is ever allowed to call soggy chicken noodles and luncheon pork meat beautiful)
At the end of the peer, a lady from the port tried to call us over to get us to pay for a ticket for the boat, but we shook our heads and started walking back. The walk back was tough, but just as fun as the walk there. Plus, we had the bonus of ticking off things we had seen on the way there to let us know how close we were to getting back (always good for motivation! It always seems to go quicker that way) We went back through the town, up and over the three mountains and climbed our way through the trees again in the overgrown jungle. We arrived back at the park entrance at about 6pm, after 10 hefty hours of hiking! Our app tracked us as having hiked 28.6km, completing 41,000 steps. Although, as previously mentioned, it may actually be 36km according to the numerous blog posts online stating so.
On the subject of numbers - getting home that night, you can bet there were 5 biggggg blisters and two sweaty, red faces, four very achy legs and two completely exhausted bodies, but we were so, so happy to have done it! Any way that you choose to do this hike is fantastic, however, for a total challenge and possibly one of the best days you'll have whilst travelling (it's definitely up there on our list), put this hike on your list!
Heres the link for all the walks/ treks available at Cat Ba National Park!