When it comes to swimming in Cat Ba, the largest island in Halong Bay, Vietnam, tourists usually converge on the beaches of Cat Co Cove on the southeastern tip of the island. These beaches, simply named Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3, are a short electric buggy ride away from the town.
We stayed in Cat Ba for three nights during our three-week trip to Vietnam last month. On our second day, we swung by the three Cat Co beaches for a look-see, only to find them all crowded. We went on a weekday; imagine how packed they would be on a weekend. Also, dotted among the throng of beachgoers were a couple of female tourist photographers who would follow them around, to the water even, and take pictures for a fee. While these enterprising cameramen are a common sight in other attractions (Rizal Park, anyone?), it was my first time to see them on a beach. (An aside: I do wonder if this is still a viable trade, with everyone and their mother armed with camera phones these days).
Luckily, our guide during our island motorbike tour earlier showed us the way to another beach just west of town. This beach is called Tung Thu Beach, also known as Cat Co 4 among the locals.
Once upon a time, Tung Thu Beach was bustling like the Cat Co beaches, with a restaurant, cabanas, and the whole shebang on the shore, but for some reason all of these now lie abandoned. Tung Thu Beach is part of an ambitious real estate development project called Cat Ba Amatina. When we passed by its grounds on the way to the beach, though, there didn’t seem to be any work going on. Our guide earlier said that nobody was interested in buying the villas they planned to build (I guess they didn’t do a feasibility study…). There’s also a danger of falling rocks on one edge of the beach because of cliff erosion, but it’s safe as long as one avoids that area.
With the amenities looking downtrodden, obviously Tung Thu Beach isn’t on any of the tourist maps. There were only a few locals when we went there. No motorbike parking fees, no touts, no crowds.
The downside to being an abandoned beach is that no one picks up the trash. There were a few here and there, but not enough to mar the experience. It’s still a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of town.
How to get there
The best way to get to Tung Thu Beach is by motorbike, as the electric buggies don’t venture out there. One can easily rent a motorbike anywhere for a few bucks a day. I can’t remember the exact way we got there, only that we headed west from town, entered the seemingly abandoned Cat Ba Amatina area, and rode toward the shore until we saw the welcome arch below: