Cat Ba Island on the edge of Halong Bay is renowned not only for its beautiful beaches, but also for its historical significance.
Its rich history is noticeable throughout Cat Ba especially among the Islands inhabitants.
Recent archeological evidence suggests that people have lived on Cat Ba Island for almost 6000 years.
Cat Ba Island means ‘Women’s Island’ and legend has it that three women of the Tran Dynasty died, each of their bodies washing up on a different beach. The inhabitants built temples for each of the women and the island came to be known as Cat Ba.
Local businessman Hoang Tuan Dung’s heritage almost rivals the rich history of the island.
“He knows everyone … His family is equivalent to aristocracy in Cat Ba,” his colleague Jim Feeney says, with records of his family’s presence on the island going back 500 years.
Born in the farming and fishing village of Tran Chau, his family was one of many who moved to the main town of Cat Ba after the exodus of Chinese from the Island in 1979.
After the third Indo-China War broke out between China and Vietnam, the Vietnamese government evicted the majority of the Chinese community, around 30,000 residents, from the greater Halong region leaving their business and homes behind.
After attending school in Cat Ba he moved to Hanoi for high school and went to university in nearby Haiphong before becoming a reconnaissance commander in the Vietnamese army.
Cat Ba’s position at the head of Haiphong Harbour made it an important strategic location in the Vietnam War, known as the American War to the Vietnamese.
It was heavily bombed during this period and craters can still be seen in various places across the island.
Another significant remnant of the war is the Hospital Cave which served as a secret hospital, military base and safe house for Viet Cong leaders.
The Cannon Fort is also another war artefact that has become a popular tourist attraction. Sitting atop one of the Island’s high peaks it offers visitors the chance to see the remnants of old bunkers and helicopter landing pads as well as spectacular views of Cat Ba’s coastline and the surrounding Lan Ha Bay.
Three of Hoang Tuan Dung’s uncles and his cousin were killed in a bombing of Cat Ba during the war and like many others during this time, they were not able to be given a proper burial.
Further archeological digs have located bodies which they believe to be Hoang Tuan Dung’s family and he hopes to eventually give them a traditional burial to pay homage.
Hoang Tuan Dung now works as a designer running his own media company. He is also part owner of Le Pont bar on the Cat Ba waterfront.
He describes living in the area as peaceful and relaxing. Despite its popularity as a tourism destination he says, “Cat Ba Island is small and has a great sense of community.”
Hoang Tuan Dung loves living in Cat Ba and hopes to live there the rest of his life.
“It’s very beautiful, number one in Vietnam!”