Hai Le Cao

Explore the wild heart of Cat Ba in the autumn

My photographic career, particularly my nature photography, has taken me to many places and allowed me to experience many pristine and unique wilderness destinations. Nonetheless, each year I find myself returning to Cat Ba National Park, which never ceases to amaze me.

The wild beauty of Cat Ba National Park

Returning to Cat Ba in late fall – early winter to venture into the National Park’s core, I was lucky to be accompanied by locals and rangers who were knowledgeable about the area’s geology and complex ecology.

An early morning rain shower left the tropical rainforest humid and cool. The rainy season is the ideal time for amphibian reproduction and diverse floral growth. A trekking tour usually takes two to four hours to reach the park’s core zone and passes through different terrains such as swampy dirt trails, rugged streams, and steep cliffs. The journey becomes more dangerous and challenging at the end of the route as the landscape shifts to jagged ridges. It was harder for our group since we were carrying a lot of photographic equipment. We had to stop often to clean our equipment due to the high humidity, and to take photos and videos. Nevertheless, we were handsomely rewarded, finding ourselves in a pristine world full of lively activities beneath the forest’s dense foliage. Many frog species were in the midst of their breeding season, laying frogspawn of all sizes on high trees and cliffs. Iguanas seized the opportunity to bask in the sun after the rain. Giant stick insects about 30cm long lay carefully camouflaged under the foliage, only visible to eagle eyes.

Cat Ba National Park boasts hundreds of limestone islands

After crossing through the core zone of Cat Ba National Park, we rested in ancient Viet Hai Village and traveled by motorboat to our next destination: Luon Cave. This cave resembles a flooded tunnel that connects the sea to a small in-land lake. Enclosing the lake are high, rocky mountains arranged in a circle. To access the lake, tourists must travel by boat or kayak. They are forced to crouch low in their boats when the tide is high.

Trekking through the dense jungle

It was on one of the surrounding rocky mountains that I was lucky to spot a Cat Ba langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus), also known as a golden-headed langur. This species is one of the world’s rarest primates and can only be found on Cat Ba Island. The golden-headed langur is listed in Vietnam’s Red Data Book and on the IUCN’s Red List. Newborn langurs have gorgeous orange fur, making them stand out in an environment of mostly gray stones and green forests. As they grow up, their fur gradually turns black, except for their ivory cheeks and neck, and a golden patch on their heads. It was serendipitous to observe this rare species living freely in its natural habitat, so I made sure to capture every moment of this special encounter.

Frogs are easier to spot during the fall breeding season

The last stop on our return journey to Cat Ba was Thien Long Cave. Located in Phu Long commune, Cat Hai district, Thien Long Cave is home to fairytale scenes and relics of ancient people associated with mysterious folk tales. We rowed through a mangrove inlet on a local boat and trekked for ten minutes on a trail flanked by towering limestone mountains to reach the cave’s entrance. The cave’s mouth is quite small, with boulders and stones everywhere. Once inside the cave, I was stunned by the stalactites and rocky columns that formed millions of years ago, creating magnificent and magical scenery inside Thien Long Cave.

Frogs are easier to spot during the fall breeding season

While this was a short two-day excursion, I was able to witness the diversity of Cat Ba National Park’s terrain, from its tropical forest in the core zone to its untouched caves set amidst rocky mountains and the vast sea. Cat Ba is my favorite destination because it is not solely a summer attraction. Along with azure waters, this island invites visitors to discover its diverse nature during the fall and winter, when the scorching heat has eased.