Archeological evidence shows that humans inhabited Cat Ba’s many limestone caves at least six thousand years ago. Centuries later these same caves provided the perfect wartime hideaway – the military presence on Cat Ba has always been strong, for obvious strategic reasons. When trouble with China flared up in 1979, hundreds of ethnic Chinese islanders felt compelled to flee and the exodus continued into the next decade as “boat people” sailed off in search of a better life, depleting the island’s population to fewer than fifteen thousand.
Cat Ba ” Historical name called Cac Ba ” Island means “Women’s Island” (Cac meaning all and Ba meaning women). Legend has it that many centuries ago, three women of the Tran Dynasty were killed and their bodies floated all the way to Cat Ba Island. Each body washed up on a different beach and all three were found by local fishermen. The residents of Cat Ba built a temple for each woman, and the Island soon became known as Cat Ba.
In more recent history, Cat Ba Island was inhabited mostly by Viet-Chinese fisherman and was largely influenced by both the French and American wars. The island was a strategic look-out point and bombing during the wars often forced local residents to hide among the Island’s many caves. Today, the best reminders of the two wars have been turned into tourist attractions. Hospital Cave, which was a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the American War and as a safe house for VC leaders. This three-storey feat of engineering was in use until 1975 is only 10 km north of Cat Ba town. The second attraction, the newly built Cannon Fort, sits on a peak 177 meters high, offering visitors a chance to see old bunkers and helicopter landing stations as well as stunning views of Cat Ba Island, its coast, and the limestone karsts in Lan Ha Bay offshore.
In 1979, the third Indo-China War broke out between China and Vietnam in response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia that ended the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Relations between China and Vietnam collapsed, leading to the Vietnamese government evicting around 30,000 … of the fishermen, and most of the rest of the Chinese community from the greater Ha Long area.