My 5: Sweet Potato Homestay – Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.

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1. Sweet Potato Homestay, April 2018. If I could only give one piece of advice to someone planning a trip to Cat Ba Island, it would be a categorical “Don’t stay in Cat Ba Town!!!” Check out My 5 on Cat Ba Town for more info. Instead, base yourself at one of the many charming guesthouses out on the island’s deep country lanes. You’ll be closer to The National Park and the Hospital Cave, while your nighttime meal comes with the gentle backdrop of buzzing grasshoppers. My Cat Ba base was the excellent Sweet Potato Homestay, a family-owned hostel famed for its laid-back vive and friendly service.

2. Sweet Potato Homestay, April 2018. Sweet Potato’s dorms are basic, but clean and functional. Each bed comes with a fan, multiple plug sockets, a reading light and a sizeable locker for your backpack. I was overjoyed to have this dorm all to myself that first night, while for days two and three the arrival of a Canadian guy meant there were two of us in the eight-man dorm. What an inconvenience 😉 

3. Sweet Potato Homestay, April 2018. Sweet Potato’s ground floor bar/café is always a peaceful place to grab breakfast or dinner and your morning meal is usually included in the nightly rate. The wifi was reliable, never letting me down during my daily sessions of photo uploading and editing.

4. Sweet Potato Homestay, April 2018. The hostel is owned and managed by a Vietnamese husband and wife, Dai and Trang. And I think it’s these guys that make Sweet Potato as special as it is. They really are as friendly and helpful as all those TripAdvisor reviews suggest. In fact, Dai was essential in getting me around the island to see the sights. I wasn’t keen on driving a scooter, so he conscientiously took me over to The Hospital Cave and later picked me up from the national park to take me back to Sweet Potato. His charges for these journeys were very reasonable, cheaper than a moto taxi and saved me the hassle of haggling.

5. Sweet Potato Homestay, April 2018. Sweet Potato’s resident pooch is pretty friendly too. Each night, as I did my photo work, he’d jump up on my lap and watch me type before falling asleep. Plus he also had great selfie game! When the time came for me to bid Cat Ba Island farewell, my final bill came in at 1.4 million VND (£46/€53/$61). The itemized breakdown? 3 nights board with breakfast, a pizza, a coke, a passion fruit juice, an egg fried rice, a bag of laundry, two motorbike taxis and a full day’s boat cruise around Lan Ha and Halong Bays through Green Travel tours. 

Like this? Then take a look at my other articles from Cat Ba Island.

And I’ve written many more 5s from all over Vietnam.

My 5: Cat Ba National Park – Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.

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1. Cat Ba National Park, April 2018. Having walked the town harbour, hung out on pretty Cat Co Cove 3 Beach, taken in the awesome views from The Cannon Fort and explored the eerie corridors of The Hospital Cave, it was time for me to tackle Cat Ba Island’s island’s main draw, the gorgeous World Heritage-stamped mountain trails of Cat Ba National Park.

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My 5: The Hospital Cave – Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.

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1. The Hospital Cave, April 2018. Whether you’re staying on Cat Ba Island or just nipping in and out on a whistle stop boat tour, do try and make time for this curious Vietnam War site, set deep in the countryside about three kilometers from the entrance gates to Cat Ba National Park.

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My 5: Cat Ba Cannon Fort – Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.

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1. Cat Ba Cannon Fort, April 2018. Feeling a bit disillusioned with the grubby main drag of Cat Ba Town? Fear not, there are several spots of real beauty within walking distance. The pick of the bunch is the island’s historical cannon fort. Follow the signs from the town and work your way up a hill to the fort’s ticketed entrance.

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My 5: Hanoi Railway Station, Vietnam.

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1. Hanoi Railway Station, April 2018. After six days in Hanoi and three nights on Halong Bay’s gorgeous Cat Ba Island, it was finally time for my first cross-country train trip. My destination was Dong Hoi; a small city perched on a pretty stretch of central Vietnam’s northern coastline. So off I went to Hanoi Railway Station’s Building A on Le Duan Street for my overnight journey.

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My 5: Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, Hanoi.

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1. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, April 2018. The ancient Vietnamese art of water puppetry stretches back over a thousand years to the days when Hanoi was known as Thang Long. Performances took place in rice paddies and were carried out by the same local craftsmen that created the wooden puppets. Today the treasured art form can be enjoyed in this theatre on the northeastern bank of Hoan Kiem Lake.

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My 5: Hanoi Train Street, Vietnam.

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1. Hanoi Train Street, April 2018. Hanoi’s bustling, fascinating old quarter holds many secrets for those willing to do their research and delve a little deeper. Its best cafes are typically hidden away on the top floor of a dilapidated old building that can only be accessed via a narrow winding staircase at the back of an antiques shop. Similarly, some of its most atmospheric, authentic restaurants are tucked away in labyrinthine side alleys. And then there’s arguably it’s most underrated street of all; this ramshackle community set either side of an operational train track where a high-speed service still passes through twice a day.

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