With illnesses in the family this week, we have been laying low in Cat Ba Town not wanting to do too much in terms of activity. But we have still managed to fit in some interesting sites of historical significance.
Yesterday, we visited the Hospital Caves. Built by Northern Vietnamese in the early 1960s with help from the Chinese, this secret hospital for high end military officials was never discovered by enemies during the Vietnam-American War. Located deep in mountainside caves, this bomb-proof hospital housed a couple hundred patients and was in constant use until 1975.
We walked along a small forest path and climbed up a wooden ladder up into the cave. The guide explained that the ladder was made from wood because if they suspect enemies approaching, it was easy to pull up, leaving almost no sign of life. From this cavern, we entered through a small concrete door to the first floor. The door opened up into long concrete hallways with more than 15 doors off them. A guide explained the rooms: reception, pharmacy, operating room, dining room, meeting room,… it went on and on. From here, we climbed up some step into a large cavernous room where they actually projected movies onto the walls for the officials’ entertainment. There was a swimming pool off to one side to use for exercise, and another area with low cave entrances that was used for military training. It was fascinating to imagine living here.
We then proceeded to the 3rd floor. From the 3rd floor, there are two exits. One is a secret door out of the back and up into the mountains. Another is by jumping off the 3rd floor into a 1st floor water tank to slip back out the front if needed.
The guide was very informative. Exploring the caves cost us about $2 total to get in and another $1.50 for the guide. Hiring the guide which was well worth it as otherwise, it would have just felt like a lot of concrete rooms. An interesting piece of history for all of us and a fun place to explore!
Then, today, we went up to Cannon Fort. Built in 1942, Cannon Fort is an old fort and lookout high up about Cat Ba Town. The underground tunnels complete with bunkers and secret corners were built by the Japanese in World War 2 but were also used by the Northern Vietnamese during the America-Vietnam war. The walk around the complex takes you through lush hillsides and into old bunkers and past ammunition chambers. These bunkers even had life size mannequins watching over them and a few were holding guns. (Lorenzo reminded us of a Dr. Who episode when the mannequins came to life, and we all joked about how surprised the Northern Vietnamese mannequin holding a weapon would be to awaken with four Americans staring at him.) Further along, there were even gun emplacements complete with life size mannequins staged and ready to fire huge French cannons which could shoot up to 40 kilometers!
In addition to the historical significance, at 177meter above the ocean, Fort Cannon affords one of the most scenic views in Halong Bay. Looking out over Lan Ha Bay, Halong Bay, local fishing villages and the beautiful ocean, the view is spectacular. It just makes me even more excited for our boat adventure out into the bay tomorrow! Fingers crossed, we will finally be embarking on a full day boat and kayaking adventure throughout the southern end of Halong Bay.