It’s not a place with lashings of luxury; don’t expect to find Molten Brown toiletries next to your shower or a uniformed legion of sycophants bending over backwards to accommodate every incongruous demand.
However, if you value friendly staff, personalised service and good food, against a picturesque backdrop of mountains and water, then Little Cat Ba will give you a collection of memories worth treasuring.
Boat, Bike and Two Smoking Buses
Getting to the resort requires one of the many tour companies connecting Hanoi and Cat Ba. I used Good Morning Cat Ba for this trip.
Their bus, which picks up from anywhere in the Old Quarter twice a day, takes the shiny new highway to Hai Phong. After the speedboat drops you on Cat Ba, a second bus will take you to any property of your choice.
Little Cat Ba is situated around 2km from Cat Ba Town, and thanks to free use of an automatic motorbike for every guest, getting around is easy.
“If we run out of motorbikes, we’ll call our friends or partners to bring more,” explains Mai Trang, one of the employees bearing a list of job titles.
The operation of Little Cat Ba is managed by a team of 10 people; they cover everything from ownership and management to housekeeping and cooking.
Peace and Quiet
The result is a family atmosphere into which every guest is absorbed as an honorary new member.
The resort is found at the end of a long path, allowing plenty of distance between the rooms and the main road. It sits adjacent to Hang Vem Lake, which lies at the foot of a small range of lush mountains.
Breakfast is included and served al fresco in the garden. The only sound disturbing the tranquil morning air comes from the pair of resident dogs, the self-proclaimed security guards.
As I enjoy my eggs and coffee, I overhear Trang giving her expert, yet blunt advice to some optimistic Hungarian tourists.
“Don’t go there, it sucks,” she says, dismissing their suggestion and pointing on the map. “Around here is much better, and the view from there at sunset is amazing.”
A Day on the Water
The staff at Little Cat Ba are enthusiastic and knowledgeable when it comes to guiding guests around the island.
Trang brought me to a private boat, driven by a partner from a floating village. The tour which followed was extraordinary.
We visited secluded beaches hidden away in the rocky maze of Halong Bay, went kayaking with no other boats in sight, watched the sunset from a peak on Monkey Island and enjoyed a home-cooked meal with a family living on the water.
Every day out is customised by the staff to meet the needs and taste of each guest; one of the many things which makes this resort feel so different.
Back at the resort for dinner, the menu is as simple as the rooms; fried noodles/rice or seafood hotpot for something a bit more special.
The small bar makes up for the lack of options by offering unbelievable value, and a bottle of red wine sends me to bed earlier than usual.
The rooms are basic, but spacious and clean; air conditioners and a few essentials come as standard, although the modern traveller might feel hindered by one issue.
“The WiFi is not superb,” admits manager, Pham Thang.
Little Cat Ba is located at 350 Ha Sen, Cat Ba, Hai Phong. For bookings and information, visit airbnb.com/rooms/9479371
Photos by Edward Dalton