The rugged, jungle filled and mysterious island of Cat Ba, is the largest island in Halong Bay. The island has seen a surge in tourism in recent years due to the natural splendor that this island has to offer. The central hub of Cat Ba Town is now filled with hotels and restaurants catering to the new arrivals. Outside of the town the island remains largely untouched and as wild as it has been in the past. Lan Ha Bay, the “other Halong Bay” lies just offshore and is becoming increasingly popular.
- Also read Lan Ha Bay: The Best Alternative to Halong Bay
- Book Halong Bay Cruise
- Book Hanoi Airport Transfer
With an area of 354 square kilometers half of the island was declared a national park in 1986 to protect the country’s diverse eco systems. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs along with sandy beaches and small fishing villages scattered around the island.
Lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot the spectacular limestone hills, the highest rising 331m above sea level. The island’s largest body of water is Ech Lake (3 hectares).
Cat Ba Town
The only part of the island with any significant development, Cat Ba Town is where you will stay if you are coming here to spend a few days. The only purpose the town has really is to host the tourist that are coming here, so do not plan on spending much time here besides sleeping and eating. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants here offering fresh caught seafood from the area that are worth visiting.
Cat Ba National Park
The first thing to do when in Cat Ba is to make your way to the stunning Cat Ba National Park. For nature lovers this is one of the cant miss spots in Vietnam. There are a number of terrific hiking trails for you to explore.
Cat Ba’s park is home to 32 types of mammal, most notably it is home to 65 of the worlds remaining golden-headed langur, the world’s most endangered primate. The most popular hiking trail here is a 18km route up to a mountain summit.
Most people opt to visit the national park on a guided tour to get the most out of their experience. Cat Ba Venture’s runs critically acclaimed day tours of the region and is highly recommended to book.
Lan Ha Bay
Just off the coast of Cat Ba Island you will find Lan Ha Bay or as it is sometimes referred to “The other Halong Bay”. Lan Ha Bay offers basically the exact same striking limestone karst island scenery without the massive crowds of boats and pollution that is becoming an increasingly growing problem in Halong Bay. There are several cruises that have begun operating here recently and expect more to begin sailing here in the near future so make sure to visit Lan Ha Bay as soon as possible. Trips to Lan Ha Bay will include a stop at one of the beaches on the limestone islands and option to go kayaking in this spectacular area of the world.
Cat Ba Hospital Cave
For the history buff’s a visit to the Cat Ba Hospital Cave will definitely be worth while. The Hospital Cave was used by Vietnamese to treat the wounded during the American-Vietnam War during the entire conflict or for over 10 years.
Inside the cave a three story hospital has been constructed, it is dark, bleak and depressing but quite an impressive architectural feat. There is even a swimming pool that has been added.
Cat Ba Beach
There are three beaches in Cat Ba and for some reason they are just called Cat Ba Beach 1, 2 and 3. All of them are connected to hotels so there is a small entrance fee you must pay to access the beach (only 9,000 VND). The good thing about this is your never far away from amenities such as a cocktail to enhance your experience at the beach. Out of the three beaches Cat Ba Beach 2 is the least crowded and best one to go to for an afternoon nap.
Cat Ba Rock Climbing
Cat Ba is one of the best places in Vietnam to go rock climbing. Having an abundance of overhung and steep limestone rocks, Butterfly valley is the place to go in Cat Ba for the adventure seekers. A true rock climbers paradise, you can simply buy a permit, rent some gear and off you go. Permits are very cheap, only 60,000 VND and can be bought in Cat Ba Town. If you are more of a novice you can book a guide to take you to the cliffs and show you how to get started.
Another favourite thing to do in Cat Ba Island is take a side trip to Monkey Island or Cat Dua Island to give it it’s official name. And if you are doing one of the multi day Lan Ha Bay cruises, a stop off at Monkey Island will no doubt already be on your Cat Ba Island itinerary.
To be honest it’s quite sad to see the monkeys have clearly been encouraged to scavenge for human food. Under no circumstances should you feed them or let your guard down with snacks around. Watch out for them too as they can be aggressive.
But spotting the monkeys isn’t all there is to Cat Dua Island. In fact the star of the show is the short hike that takes you to the peak of the island. The views over Lan Ha bay are insane. Make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear i.e. not flip flops.
How to Get Around Cat Ba
There are several places in Cat Ba Town which are renting motorbikes to foreigners for a very reasonable daily rate. This is definitely the best way to commute around the island with the roads being very well kept and relatively new. You can rent an automatic motorbike in Cat Ba for roughly 100,00 VND per day which translates to roughly 4,50 USD. Some of the roads in Cat Ba can be quite steep so make sure you rent a bike with a good engine (145 cc will do) that will for sure be able to take you up.