Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cat Ba, Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, 170 km from Hanoi, blends earth, sea and sky into one of the world’s most iconic beauty spots. Cat Ba, the biggest of a mini archipelago of 366 islands, typifies the breathtaking rock relief and bizarre rock formations of the Ha Long World National Heritage Reserve: 2,000 large and small islands with cliffs towering a sheer 50-100 m from the shallow sea.

Cat Ba’s mountains interior is covered by tropical moist limestone forest, but its spectacular scenery also features coral terraces, sandy beaches, freshwater wetlands, tidal flats, mangrove forests and willow swamp. Archelogical evidence shows farmers and fishermen have lived here for 6, 000 years. Cat Ba’s 1986 designation as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve – the first in Vietnam to include both terrestrial and marine ecosystems – as well as many rare speciesof plant, mammal and bird.

Cat Ba is a widely popular destination for short holidays, but most visitors remain near the hotels ad bars lining Cat Ba town’s waterfront strip, the lively beaches of Cat Co and Cat Dua. Besides the golden – headedor Cat Ba langur, for which the island is the last sanctuary on earth, you might see the rhesus macacque, the southern serow, leopard cat, oriental giant squirrel, sea-eagle and massed formations of butterflies.

When to go: Year-round. Population: 13,500. How to get there: By bus/car from Hanoi or Haiphong to Ha Long City, then by water-tazi or tour boat to Cat Ba town.

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