Many travelers overlook Cat Ba Island during their visit to Vietnam, but we highly recommend to include this hidden gem in Halong Bay on the itinerary. Continue reading to discover what to do, where to go, and how to get around in Cat Ba Island.
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 is. The central hub of Cat Ba Town is now full of 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.
With an area of over 350 square kilometers, half of the island was declared a national park in 1986 to protect the country’s diverse ecosystems. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs, sandy beaches and charming fishing villages spread around the island.
Lakes, waterfalls, and caves dot the spectacular limestone hills, the highest rising more than 300m above sea level. The island’s largest body of water is the 3-hectare Frog Lake.
Cat Ba Town
Cat Ba town is where most travelers stay while visiting the island as it is the most developed part of Cat Ba. But don’t expect to spend much time in the town itself for other than sleeping and eating. There is a good selection of hotels, hostels, and homestays in Cat Ba Town.
You will find plenty of excellent restaurants in town where you’ll get freshly caught seafood from the area.
Cat Ba Town is not only the commercial and tourism hub of Cat Ba, but it is developing into the tourist hub of Halong Bay. Entering Cat Ba Town, it’s easy to get the feeling that the area is overdeveloped, but once you get out of town, you’ll see the untouched beauty of Cat Ba.
Cat Ba National Park
The first thing most people do in Cat Ba is to make their way to the magnificent Cat Ba National Park. For nature lovers, this is one of the places in Vietnam you cannot miss. There are several terrific hiking trails for you to explore.
Cat Ba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the diverse ecosystem is home to several species of mammals and birds. Most notably, it is home to about 65 of the world’s last remaining white-headed langur, one of the most endangered primates in the world.
The national park is excellent for hiking, with the most popular hiking trail being the 18km trek up to a mountain summit. Most visitors to Cat Ba National Park choose to go on a guided tour to get the most out of the experience. Those that visit the park on their own can hire a guide on-site, although it’s not mandatory.
Lan Ha Bay
Just off the coast of Cat Ba Island, you will find the beautiful gulf-shaped Lan Ha Bay. The bay offers the same striking limestone karst island scenery as Halong Bay without the massive crowds of boats and people.
Lan Ha Bay has long been a hidden gem of Northern Vietnam, but its popularity has surged in recent years as travelers flock to the bay to discover its beauty. If you visit Lan Ha Bay, make sure to go kayaking amongst its 400 limestone islets.
Cat Ba Hospital Cave
The Hospital Cave, as the name suggests, was a hospital inside a partly natural cave. The cave was reconstructed into a three-story hospital with 17 rooms, theater, and even a small pool. Although the cave is dark and depressive, it’s an extraordinary architectural feat that is well worth visiting.
The Hospital Cave was used by the Vietnamese to treat the wounded during the American Vietnam War. But it was also used as bomb-proof heaven for high-level Viet Cong officials.
- See also: Vinh and Nghe An | Ultimate Highlights
The cave is 10 km north of Cat Ba Town, and travelers will pass it on their way from Cat Ba Town to the entrance to the National Park.
Cat Ba Beach
There are three beaches in Cat Ba Island, and oddly they are called Cat Ba Beach 1, 2, and 3. Travelers have to pay a small fee to enter beaches as all of them belong to hotels, and sunbeds and umbrellas are available for rent.
- See also: Must Visit Beaches in Vietnam
The beaches are beautiful with white sand, emerald green sea, surrounded by green jungle-covered limestone mountains. Apart from kayaking, there are limited watersports available, but the beaches are ideal for relaxing and sunbathing.
Cat Ba Rock Climbing
Cat Ba is one of the best places in Vietnam for rock climbing with 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 buy a permit, rent some gear, and off you go.
- See also: Top 10 Things to Do in Da Nang
Permits are very affordable at only VND 60,000, and you can get the permits in Cat Ba Town before heading to Butterfly Valley. If you don’t have much rock climbing experience, you can book a guide to take you to the cliffs and show you how to get started.
Another favorite thing to do in Cat Ba Island is taking a side trip to Monkey Island. 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 trip itinerary.
As the name of the island suggests, the main attraction on the island is the monkeys. But spotting the monkeys isn’t all there is to Cat Dua Island. The star of the show is the short hike that takes you to the peak of the island, where there’s a fantastic panoramic view over Lan Ha Bay.
- See also: Cu Chi Tunnels – Complete Travel Guide
You should not feed the monkeys on the island and watch your belongings when near them as they may try to snatch them.
How to Get Around Cat Ba
There are several places in Cat Ba Town, where you can rent motorbikes very reasonable price. You can rent an automatic bike in Cat Ba for roughly VND 100,000 per day.
Some of the roads in Cat Ba can be quite steep, so make sure you rent a bike with a decent engine that will be able to take you up those hills.