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Cannon Fort

Cat Ba Island means "Women’sIsland" (Cat meaning sandy 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 theIslandsoon became known as Cat Ba. Archeological evidence suggests that people have lived on Cat Ba Island for almost 6,000 years, with the earliest settlements being found on the southeastern tip of theIslandclose to the area where Ban Beo harbor sits today. In 1938, a group of French archeologists discovered human remains belonging "to the Cai Beo people of the Ha Long culture, which lived between 4,000 and 6,500 years ago… considered to be perhaps the first population group occupying the North-Eastern territorial waters ofVietnam… [and] the Cai Beo people may be an intermediary link between the population strata at the end of the Neolithic Age, some 4,000 years ago".

Canon Fort Stunning overlooks, powerful images, humbling history 


 

Put your journey in context with a visit to Cannon Fort (also known as 177 High Point), one of the highest vantages in Cat Ba Town and the best place to admire the beauty of the surrounding coves and hillsides. At 177 meters above water, Cannon Fort offers sweeping, breathtaking views of Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay, so be sure to pack your camera.

 



The underground tunnels and trenches were first installed in Cannon Fort by the Japanese, who invaded Cat Ba to use as a military outpost during WWII. Since then the Fort has also been used as a defense post by the Vietnamese during the French and American wars (1954-1975), allowing military troops excellent vantage points to look out for marine and air attacks. Propaganda posters in one of the old bunkers proclaim the success of Vietnamese soldiers at bringing down foreign aircraft with weapons fired from Cannon Fort.

Begin your walk at the helicopter landing pad (now used as a motorbike parking lot). As you head into the fort, you’ll see old missiles and weapons casings repurposed into sculpture; no longer needed in war, they have become emblems of change and hope for continuing peace. Follow the path past Cannon No. 2 and through the bunker out to the East Observatory. The cannons you see at the Fort were made in France and hauled up to Cannon Fort by the French when they briefly overtook Cat Ba during the French war. When Cat Ba was reclaimed by Vietnamese troops, the Vietnamese continued to use the French cannons against the French themselves!

 


From the East Observatory, you can glimpse fishing villages, limestone karsts, and the environment that made up the home of the ancient Cai Beo people (it’s worth the VND to use the binoculars!). The Cai Beo people of the Ha Long culture first inhabited the Cat Ba Archipelago almost 7,000 years ago, living primarily in fishing communities centered around the modern harbor of Ben Beo. In 1938 a team of French archaeologists first discovered both human and material remains from this civilization, which included pestles, tables, ceramic wares, and fishing tools. Subsequent excavations have continued to turn up thousands of artifacts from the times of the Cai Beo.

After drinking in your fill of bay views from the East Observatory, head down the steps on the right for inland views of the rolling hills of Cat Ba. Then follow the narrow, stone-walled corridors and shaded, tree-lined paths to the Historical Objects Showroom. Set in old bunkers, you will get a feel for the way soldiers lived at Cannon Fort and learn about wartime history through art, propaganda posters, photographs, and artifacts. Brush up on your dendrology by taking note of the variety of trees found on Cannon Fort hill, helpfully labeled with genus and species.

Continue to the North Observatory and Cannon No. 1 for a fresh panorama of the bay and Voi Phue Mountain. As you navigate among the trenches, you will notice cleverly designed drainage and water storage systems, and you should also see several examples of petards, small bombs made from wooden boxes filled with gunpowder. Stay on the path towards the West Observatory, which offers the best views of Cat Ba town from above. After relaxing and taking in the spectacular vista, take the path on the left. On the way back, don’t miss the Tunnel Case! Take the steps on the left side of the path down to the U-shaped tunnel. Built to hold up to 500 people in times of emergencies, the tunnel was used by troops for stockpiling armaments, holding meetings, preparing and eating meals, and more. Notice the hooks on the walls in the last room in the tunnel, where soldiers strung up hammocks to rest in the safety of the underground bunker. The wounded were also cared for here during battle time.

Conclude your exploration of Cannon Fort with a drink from the café. Enjoy cool sea breezes, relish the quiet and the sound of crickets and bird calls, and savor the views for just a few minutes longer before heading back to the hustle and bustle of busy Cat Ba Town!

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