Cat Ba island Travel Guide
Jungle-clad, craggy and rugged, Cat Ba Island is big and approx 350 sq km to make it the largest island in Halong Bay. In recent years, Cat Ba has witnessed a surge in tourism and appreciated for its laid-back pace of life and a great launching pad for leisure activities like kayaking, hiking and climbing.
The peak season for travelling to Cat Ba Town on the Vietnam tour packages is June to early August when this area starts to lift its energy and becomes a roaring resort with plenty of local and foreign travellers arriving. But, the cost of guesthouses and hotels do rocket in price throughout this period.
Nearly 50% of Cat Ba Island (or nearly 354 sq km) is reserved for the beautiful Cat Ba National Park, which was opened in 1986 to help preserve the local ecosystems. This protected area also includes 90 sq km of the local waters. The coastline in this region includes a variety of features, such as hidden away coves, tiny fishing villages, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs.
The island has a stunning landscape with spectacular limestone hills (rising to 331 m about sea level), grottoes, waterfalls and lakes (largest is Ech Lake at 3 hectares).
Why not read our Cat Ba travel guide to learn more about travelling this region of Vietnam.
The best time to visit Cat Ba Island is from the end of September to November which is when the sky is clear and the air temperature is mild. The weather for the duration of these months is very pleasant and great for absorbing the beauty of the island and walking on the beaches. On average, the temperature is approx 25° C to 28° C, but for December the temperature is quite cold, while March to April is quite wet and June to August gets the more intense heat with a high percentage of humidity.
How to get there
The majority of tourists visit this part of Vietnam on a Halong – Cat Ba tour; this is the most cost-effective and simple choice to reach the island and enjoy the activities.
But for the independent traveller, there are a few ways to reach Cat Ba. One of the common choices is to travel from Hanoi using a bus and boat service. Plus, there is the option to buy a combined bus-boat ticket for complete convenience – although this isn’t the most inexpensive travel method. Other options include travelling from Haiphong to Cat Ba town
The easy and fun way to get around on a Cat Ba tour is by motorbike which can cost in the region of $7 per day. Also, there are plenty of choices to hire a bicycle, but the island is quite hilly, so this mode of transport is best reserved for those travellers that are very fit.
Elsewhere, there are motorbike taxis (xe om) that make it possible to avoid the need to personally navigate around town, with most coming with great drivers that know the best destinations.
Where to stay
The guesthouses and hotels in Cat Ba aren’t the most inspiring, but still offer plenty of great options in the budget to high-end ranges. Plus, there is a lot of accommodation so there is rarely a problem in finding a suitable place to stay.
A visit to the harbourside strip is certain to be appreciated by those travellers in search of low-cost hotels. But the foot traffic starts to increase throughout the summer holidays (weekends in June-July), so organizing a place to stay early during this time is worthwhile.
A stay at the Cat Ba Dream Hotel gives a great view of the bay with rooms that are clean and comfortable. The cost per night is in the region of $15 (can double in the busy months). There are plenty of other hotels and guesthouses along the strip that provide a similar service.
Eat and drink
Most of the waterfront area is packed with eateries serving the local cuisine; although there is a few that serves the western dish. The seafood is a specialty and quite inexpensive, simple and tasty. Most of the restaurants serve simple quality food with no place particularly standing out.
The most popular place to go shopping on the Cat Ba tour is at the market, which is located at the northern end of Cat Ba Town's harbour. This market has plenty of fresh produce including fruit, jumbo shrimps and twitching crabs. The normal opening hours for the market are 7am to 7pm.
Things to see and do
Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay has nearly 300 limestone outcrops and karst islands that are situated east and south of Cat Ba Town. This region is just as striking as the landscape witnessed in Halong Bay – but this area has the added benefit of having several sandy white beaches.
The bay is quite a distance from Halong City which means the area stays isolated with not that many boats visiting this location. The best way to experience Lan Ha Bay is to organize a kayak or sailing trip in Cat Ba Town. The local waters are rich in soft and hard coral, 400 species of arthropod, 500 species of mollusc and nearly 200 species of fish.
The admission fee is in the region of $1.50 – but this is often incorporated into the tour cost.
Ho Chi Minh Monument
The Ho Chi Minh Monument is located at the top of the hill opposite the pier in Cat Ba Town on Mountain No 1.
Hospital Cave is located on the road that leads to Cat Ba National Park and is approx 10 km from town. This cave functioned as a safe house for VC leaders and a secret, bomb-proof hospital throughout the war. It was built in 1963 and continued to be used until 1975. The entrance fee is less than a dollar and a local guide will give a tour that includes the huge natural cavern (main use a cinema), the old operating theatre, and 17 other interesting rooms.
Cat Ba National Park
A stunning feature of the island is the Cat Ba National Park that is home to plenty of endangered primates, as well as 30+ types of mammal. This park is rich in trekking trails with a walk up to the mountain summit perfect for the fit travellers and extends for nearly 18 km. A local guide isn’t mandatory to tour the park, but can make it easier to explore the attractions in the local area. The admission fee into the park is approx $1.50.