Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay. Most of the year the island is pretty laid-back and the perfect destination to start exploring Lan Ha and Halong Bay. Although Lan Ha Bay is less famous, it is just as pretty and amazing as the much more touristy Halong Bay. The island also offers a lot of activities for climbers, kayakers and hikers. Most of the coastline are rocky cliffs, but there also are some sandy beaches for all the beach lovers out there.
How to get there?
From Hanoi several tour operators offer 3-4h trips to Cat Ba Island incl. two bus rides and a speedboat ferry. Prices vary from around 15 – 20 EUR one way. Ferries leave from Dinh Vu Port (Haiphong) and Bai Chay Harbor (Halong City).
Out of the many highlights we really enjoyed hiking up to Ngu Lam Peak in the Cat Ba Island National Park (entrance fee: a little less than 2 EUR). The way up is exhausting, especially at temperatures over 30 °C but the views are absolutely worth it. The national park is located in the center of the island and can be easily reached with a scooter. Scooters can be rented almost everywhere at around 4 EUR for the whole day.
How long to stay?
We recommend to stay on Cat Ba Island for at least 3 days to have enough time to rent a scooter and explore the island. But it certainly is no problem to spend some more days exploring whatever the island and the bay has to offer (beach lovers might want some more time to relax at one of the beaches). Almost every hotel offers a wide range of outdoor activities or tours, so you definitely will not get bored.
Where to stay?
There are several hotels located along the coastline. We recommend to stay somewhere in Cat Ba town, as the beaches are close and the choices for accommodation, restaurants and bars seem to be endless. We stayed at the Trang Anh Seaview Hotel for 4,50 EUR per night/double room. The staff is amazing, but if you need more than just basic accommodation you should definitely go for a more “expensive” option.
Want to explore Vietnams capital? Make sure to read our post about this wonderful and buzzing city.
Canon Fort The Canon Fort is located close to Cat Ba town. Besides getting the opportunity of visiting the old fort and get an insight into what happened up there during the war, you will also get the most amazing view over the town and the bay. It is the perfect place to have a nice sunset picnic. The way up is a bit steep but ok. You may ride your scooter all the way up. Entrance fee is a little less than 2 EUR per person. Lan Ha Bay Cruise Lan Ha Bay (less famous than Halong Bay, but right next to it and just as beautiful) can easily be visited from Cat Ba town. Most of the hotels offer the typical cruises around the bay, some of them also enter Halong Bay and include at least one night on a boat. We recommend to have a walk along the harbor and find a local to give you a private tour around the bay. It took us about 5 min to get in touch with a Vietnamese guy and book a 4 h tour around the bay at 20 EUR per person. It was amazing! In case your negotiation skills are awesome, you might also get it for around 15 EUR per person. Hospital Cave There are several caves located on the island. We decided to visit the so called Hospital Cave as it was used as a hospital during the war. Again the entrance fee is a little less than 2 EUR per person. Exploring the cave will give you a nice view at the entrance and a second one at the exit. In between there is not a lot to see or explore. It takes you about 10 min to go in there and out again. In general it is just an old empty bunker. So do not expect too much. Cat Co Beach 2 There are three beaches located close to Cat Ba town. Cat Co 1, 2 and 3. Unfortunately someone put a big holiday resort on each of the beaches which kind of ruins the scenery. Our favorite beach was number 2. It always was less crowded and it has a good beach bar plus beach volleyball or beach soccer. Floating restaurant There are several floating restaurants in the harbor of Cat Ba town. We ended up at the Trang Nhung restaurant by accident and it was absolutely amazing. There is a small boat leaving from the pier which will take you to the restaurant for free. Once you arrived you may choose your seafood directly out of the water. It will then be cooked, grilled or whatever you like. We had a blast, as we were the only tourists in the whole restaurant and the food was delicious. Dinner Whole Cat Ba town is full of restaurants. Some of them offering Vietnamese food, some of them offering pizza, pasta or other more “Western“ dishes. After being served the worst Pho EVER in one of the restaurants we highly recommend to either go to the Phuong Nhung restaurant at Mot Thang Tu street or walk all the way up to the village to eat at a small street food kitchen. Good Morning Cat Ba This is the company we chose for getting to Cat Ba Island and back to Hanoi. Booking was quite easy and can be made via email. We paid around 16 EUR per way/per person. Unfortunately they forgot to pick us up at the hotel on the way to Cat Ba, but we got a good discount and were put on a later bus operated by a different company. The bus was tiny, there were way too many people in it and everything seemed a bit unorganized. On the way back we enjoyed the “real“ transport by Good Morning Cat Ba which was nice, smooth and uncomplicated.