When you look at caves and mountains, you think of bears and probably other wild animals that live in the forest. On Cat ba island in Halong bay (Vietnam) the first thing that sprouts to mind is a hospital. Strange as it may seem the hospital is actually built in one of the large limestone caves that the Cat Ba island houses. This is where the cave gets the popular tourist name Hospital cave.
WAR CAN CHANGE SO MUCH
The story behind hospital cave goes back to a couple of decades ago. With the ever increasing bombings in the American war, the Vietnamese people required a place that was safe to heal their wounded. What is safer than an enormous limestone cave that has been reinforced by thick concrete walls? In addition to being virtually indestructible, this cave was impossible to spot from the air or so I believe.
I do have to admit that the hospital cave was over priced at 40,000 VND per person. Rather expensive for a trip that takes you a little over 10 minutes. There isn’t much to see or read either. We had been forewarned by a fellow resident at ‘Little Cat ba home stay’ but since we had time we decided why not.
GETTING THERE REQUIRES A BIT OF OBSERVATION
It is quite easy to pass by the hospital cave without knowing that it exists. This is because there is just a small path that leads to the entrance. The parking lot on the opposite side of the road is more visible though. A lady sitting by a table in the parking lot will furnish you with the tickets and a man at the top will collect them. The man will then proceed to ask you whether you want a guide or not. Since we had been forewarned we chose to go alone.
The wax guard at the entrance.
The first two rooms are probably the only two rooms that have been reconstructed in the sense that they had a wax mannequin sitting as a guard and a cupboard that resembled an armory. The remaining rooms were bare. I think that they may have plans of furnishing the other rooms because quite a number of wax mannequins were in plastic bags near the entrance.
One particularly large room echoed every time we said something and I thought that it was equally cool and creepy. There is one room that seems to house the water they needed in a large tank but with the lack of literature around us it was very hard to tell.
Shenanigans with a lightbulb
The hospital cave is a three story structure. The base contains the numerous rooms that housed the patients and the medical staff. The second story houses the cinema. At the moment it is just a flat concrete slab. There was however a tiny cave that we crawled in on our hands and knees. With the lack of anything better to do there, we posed with a light bulb. If you pay attention to the wiring of the cave you will notice that it still houses the old copper wires that were used to provide electricity decades ago.
I have no idea what the next floor holds because it has been closed off. The route up has been marked slippery and dangerous. From the little that we could understand we learned that it was closed for renovations.
An important point to note is that while the first floor has ceilings that are made of concrete, the upper two floors do not. The cave arches majestically above which is pretty awe inspiring on its own.
The exit is different from the entrance. Take a look at the reinforced doors as you make your way out. I found them pretty intimidating. It reminded me of the bank vaults that you see. Deliberately closing one on yourself is something that I just can’t imagine. Then again when the choice is a bomb or a hard place you would probably choose the hard place.
BUTTERFLIES WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM
Stroll along slowly enough and you will see a myriad of butterflies on the trail back. Blue, yellow, black, multicolored… They all hide in plain sight. In fact there were more butterflies on the trail than there were in Butterfly valley. We assumed that it was probably because the area is famous for its bee farms. Where there are bees there is nectar and butterflies enjoy nectar as much as bees do!