Explore Cannon Fort in Cat Ba Island
Jutting 177m above the small town, the Japanese built this hilltop command post during WWII. Its spot as a strategic look out point meant it was important during three wars. The Japanese used it during WWII, the French during the Indochina War, and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
As soon as the rain changed from buckets to a drizzle, we were off on a hike.
We set out seeking views of the island and some exercise. What we got, on top of the views and exercise, was an exciting adventure and a major history lesson.
If you look at reviews on Trip Advisor, the overwhelming consensus is that you should take a scooter or car to get up to Cannon Fort. But I think you should hike it! If you can walk, and are okay pushing up some steep hills for a little while, you can do it!
A Hike Well Worth It
The hike starts at the back of the town. One road leads to the top, and the signs for ‘Cannon Fort’ are unmissable. The narrow mountain road takes no time building up to the ascent. Right from the start we were trekking up a steep slope. For 15 minutes we hiked, looking past the overgrown roadside greenery as Cat Ba Town grew smaller in the distance.
At the first bend in the road we came to the entrance gate of Cannon Fort.
My first thought was, “That’s it, 15 minutes of hiking?!”
We parted with the 80,000dong ($4–I know a real hefty price, ey), and continued on to the top.
Turns out the entrance gate is only the halfway point.
The road flattens out a bit and opens up to beautiful views of the bay. Occasionally, we needed to step aside to make room for a passing van. Other than our footsteps, and the grunts of a few goats, the road was quiet.
At the top, a huge map of Cannon Fort welcomed us, letting us know we arrived. We were unsure whether to continue up the road to the right, or follow the creepy jungle path to the left. We chose the jungle path. *It doesn’t matter which way you go they both loop around to hit all the sights.
Since rain had been falling non stop for the past few days, the jungle path was wet and muddy. The dark skies plus the wet trail added to the spooky feeling of the fort.
The Cannon Fort Maze
What I thought was going to be a hike to a vista point turned out to be so much more. Cannon Fort is a whole maze of caves and paths and narrow passageways. The hike to the top takes 30 minutes, but the majority of the time was making our way through the historical garrison.
We headed down the well marked path through the trees. We explored the caves of the Anti Aircraft Artillery. We squeezed down the narrow passageways.
And we felt small next to the restored cannons that could (at one point) fire cannons a distance of 40 kilometers. Walking down the passageways and into the hidden rooms was a hair raising experience. They were cold and wet and I just kept picturing someone (or something) jumping out at me!
A small museum of artifacts leads to a set of stairs. We headed down these stairs (carefully!) and into the U Tunnel. This U Tunnel does a big U (unique name, huh?) around the fort and was where the sleeping quarters were.
Our Lonely Planet Guidebook promised us one of the best views in Vietnam from Cannon Fort. Lonely Planet has steered me wrong in a few instances, so I was hesitant to believe them. However, this time they struck the nail right on the head. Two viewpoints, one of the north and west, and another of the east and south were two incredible vistas.
Even in the yucky weather, the gorgeous karsts of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay dotted the horizon. The green islands blended together resembling a lush mountain range. Fishing boats rocked in the waves down below, and the town of Cat Ba was tiny and bright amidst the green islands.
The rain began to pick up as we stood gazing at the bay. Signaling it was time to head back down. Even though it wasn’t a picture perfect day, we sure were thankful to experience this magnificent view of Cat Ba Island.
Starting from the center of Cat Ba Town, head away from the water. After about 5 minutes of walking, the road will bend and there will be a turn off for Cannon Fort road. A big sign will let you know you are going the right way.
Once you turn on this road, turn right and start heading up!
From the main road of Cat Ba Town, plan about 30 minutes to get to the start of the fort, another 20 minutes for walking around, and 20 minutes to get down. Of course, plan for longer if you want to hang out and watch the sunset!
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