Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay and the only one with a reasonable city. The spectacular Cat Ba National Park and its unique access to Halong Bay make it one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. But it still sees few tourists compared to Halong Bay.
What to do and see on Cat Ba Island
Beaches on Cat Ba
Not only around Lan Ha Bay, but also on the island there are surprisingly many quiet and hidden beaches, such as Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, Cat Co 3, Cat Ong, Cat Trai Gai and Duong Danh. Come here to relax outside the high season to avoid the crowds and enjoy the beach all to yourself.
Trekking through Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park has 282 animal species, 741 species of trees and plants, along with many hills, ponds and rain forests spread over a total area of more than 16,000 hectares. Trekking through the park takes between 2 and 3 hours. It is not necessary to go with a guide through the park, but for safety reasons you should not go alone. Wear your most comfortable shoes and clothing for climbing. Take enough water and as little luggage as possible and be prepared for a long walk.
Looking for a great panoramic photo of the Halong Bay? You do not have to spend hours climbing the mountains of the national park, but a few minutes’ drive from the city center to the Cannon Fort of the island. There is also a cafe where you can sit and enjoy and wait for a majestic sunset.
The Cannon Fort was built as a naval defense fort in 1942 and you can still see a number of old bunkers and helicopter landing sites.
There are many impressive caves on the island of Cat Ba, but the most interesting is the underground, bomb-free hospital and the shelter that was used by leaders of the Viet Cong during the American war. Built in 1963, the cave was used as a hospital until 1975.
You can hire a guide to see the 7 rooms, including an operating room and a natural cave that was used as a cinema and even had a swimming pool. The cave is approximately 10 km from Cat Ba city and a guide costs around 15000 VND.
Viet Hai village
Walk through Cat Ba National Park to Viet Hai Village. Enjoy the beautiful and peaceful village by bike or on foot. There is a small path of 5 kilometers to the harbor, surrounded by mountain cliffs and a clear river below. From here you can take a boat past a floating village back to Ben Beo harbor in Cat Ba town. Renting a small boat that takes you back to Ben Beo costs around 100,000 VND (5 USD).
Cat Ba viewpoint
Cannon Fort is the most famous vantage point of the island, but all the way to the north of Cat Ba you will find a second vantage point. Follow the main road that crosses through Cat Ba to Gia Luan Pier for the ferry to Tuan Chau Island and Ha Long. Here you will find an old tower that now serves as an unofficial viewpoint. There is a steep green ladder against a rock wall; not recommended if you are afraid of heights.
Outdoor sport activities
Bay kayaking: Paddling through the bay in a kayak is the best way to see from different angles of the bay. Renting a kayak only costs around 100,000 VND (5USD) per kayak for 2 people.
Rock climbing: there are two important areas in Cat Ba for rock climbing. Go with a professional guide before you go on an adventure above the limestone karsts.
Snorkeling to see coral reef: The ideal time for snorkeling and seeing the vibrant coral reef that surrounds the island in Cat Ba is between May and September.
Lan Ha Bay
Cat Ba belongs to Lan Ha Bay and although most tourists only stop in Lan Ha Bay for one night as part of a Ha Long Bay cruise, this 7000-hectare area is certainly one of the greenest and most unique bays in Vietnam. The large, different limestone islands covered by rainforests around the bay are very similar to Ha Long, but the water is calmer, cleaner and greener because fewer boats come with tourists here.
How do you reach Lan Ha Bay?
In the port of Cat Ba (Ben Beo) you buy an entrance ticket for the bay and you rent your own boat or share a boat with other tourists to see the bay. You pass beautiful floating villages and many islands. A visit to the bay can take up to 3 hours, 5 hours or even the whole day.
How much does it cost for Lan Ha Bay?
Most tours through Lan Ha Bay cost between 15 USD and 20 USD. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a bit. Sailing around the bay on a local boat costs around 200,000 VND per person, including a ticket for the bay. Kayaking is 100,000 VND (5 USD) per person.
Highlights of Lan Ha Bay
Cat Ba’s Monkey Island is only a ten minute ferry ride from Ben Beo Port. About 20 monkeys live on this island. Many visitors came to feed them and play with them. The monkeys here are funny and friendly, but beware, because they can steal your food without you noticing.
Nam Cat Island
Nam Cat Island is approximately 15 minutes by boat from Ben Beo. The island is known for the stilt houses.
Van Boi Beach
Kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing on Van Boi’s beach is usually included in every Cat Ba day tour route.
Accommodation on Cat Ba
In the harbor town on Cat Ba it is full of cheap hotels, hometays, small hostels and guesthouses that offer good value for money most of the year. Beware though, Cat Ba is busier during Vietnamese summer vacations, especially on weekends in June and July. Availability can be tight and prices can fluctuate enormously. There are also a number of resorts.
For a luxurious trip Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is the best choice, some other hotels of good quality are, Cat Ba island Resort & Spa, Monkey Island Resort and Cat Ba Palace Hotel.
How to get there
From Hanoi to Cat Ba
- Direct bus: There are buses that take you directly from the old center in Hanoi to Cat Ba. This includes pick up at your accommodation in the center of Hanoi and boat transfer from Hai Phong to Cat Ba. Price between 7 – 15 euros. You can find more about these buses in from Hanoi to Cat Ba. (Recommended option)
- Train + speedboat: Take the train from Hanoi to Hai Phong (2.5 hours). From Hai Phong train station you go to the port where you have a speedboat to Cat Ba.
From Ha Long to Cat Ba
- Boat: On Tuan Chau Island, 10 km from Ha Long, boats depart daily from Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal to Cat Ba (Gia Luan Pier).
From Ninh Binh to Cat Ba
- Direct bus: Good Morning Cat Ba and the Cat Ba Express both have bus connections between Ninh Binh and Cat Ba. This includes the bus from Ninh Binh to the port of Hai Phong and a boat transfer from Hai Phong to Cat Ba.
How to get arround
Cycling: Renting a bike in Cat Ba is very cheap and easy (costs around 2 dollars a day). Check the bicycle well before you rent it, as they are sometimes not in good condition. Also bring more water and food, because some roads in Cat Ba are very steep and cost a lot of energy.
Scooter: Another option for longer expeditions around Cat Ba is to rent a scooter. Automatic scooters are easier to use, but if you want to explore the mountain pass and the coastal road, it’s better to choose semi-automatically. You can often rent scooters through hotels and costs around $ 5 a day.
Motor taxi (Xe Om): If you prefer not to drive yourself, you can rent a motor taxi that you can drive around the island.
Boat: The island of Cat Ba is part of Lan Ha Bay and is surrounded by a few small islands. To reach that, you need a boat. You can rent a private boat or join a group tour.
Best travel time for Cat Ba Island
From December to February: It is cold with 10-15 degrees. It is out of season with cloudy skies and cold water. Because the sea is fairly calm, it is a good time for kayaking, but not for swimming.
From February to April: It is quite warm with little rain. March to April is the best time to visit Cat Ba. It is getting sunny and the sea water is warm enough for swimming.
From May to August: It is the peak time of domestic holidays so it is busier and accommodations can be more expensive. Good time for activities at sea such as kayaking and swimming.
From September to November: It’s the rainy season so there are regular tropical storms. It is not recommended to visit Cat Ba during these months.
- ATMs are scarce, but in the city you will find one in a kiosk at the entrance of the pier and another at the entrance of the Holiday View Hotel.
- Restaurants: To choose a good restaurant in Cat Ba, note the number of local guests at this restaurant. The best will attract the most local people instead of tourists.