About the island:
Cat Ba is the largest island in Ha Long Bay, situated in the northern part of Vietnam and easy to get to from Hanoi. The large majority of the population is living in Cat Ba town which is the commercial centre of the island and the main hub for tourism. Approximately half of the island is covered in lush green forests and limestone cliffs.
Getting to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi:
To get there, you can either buy a bus-boat-bus ticket from Hoàng Long head office or you can ask your hotel to buy one for you so you save time. One way ticket from our hotel was $9 per person but we ended up buying a tour to Lan Ha Bay which included the pick up and drop off to Hanoi and they agreed to take us to Cat Ba town and pick us in two days. Most people are taking a tour to Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay without considering to visit Cat Ba, however we would recommend to spare one or two days to discover the island as well as there are plenty of things to keep you busy.
Things to do in Cat Ba island:
Cat Ba Town
We decided to stay two days on the island before spending the Christmas night on a boat in Lan Ha Bay. Our accommodation was in Cat Ba town, close to the main road where the majority of the restaurants and shops are located. There isn’t much to see in the town but we loved strolling around the harbour early in the morning while watching the fishermen bringing fresh fish to the shore where the women were waiting to descale it before selling it. Some of the people are living on their boats while others are using theirs just for tourism purposes.
Wandering around the streets, we discovered a food market where people were selling fish, meat, vegetables and fruits but also spices, noodles and rice. The market is mainly for locals but curious tourists (us included) were wandering around, taking pictures. If you are looking for cooked food, this market doesn’t have many options to chose from.
If you are looking for a beach, you should know there is one only 5 minutes walk from the harbour. The beach is located between two cliffs and the gold sand is perfect for relaxing or taking a nap under the umbrellas. Although we didn’t enter the water, it was nice to walk on the beach while enjoying the sun, especially after coming from a rainy London.
A massage is always a good idea, especially after spending hours sitting in a bus on your way to the island. There are plenty of massage places on the Main Street, chose one and relax one hour. For only 100K VND (£3) you can get a one hour back and shoulder massage or a foot massage.
Rent a motorbike and discover the rest of the island
One of the best ways to discover the island is by renting a motorbike and explore independently as there are not so many roads to get lost on, plus there is barely any traffic. Don’t forget to check the breaks before renting one and also ask for helmets, after all safety should come first. You can rent a motorbike from several places in Cat Ba town, in fact people will ask you on the street if you want one for a few bucks. We rented ours for 100K VND from our hotel and we filled the tank with 60K VND.
Cannon Fort was built in 1942 and it was first used during the World War II by the Japanese and later on during the Vietnam War by the Vietnamese. The entrance to the fort is 40K VND per person and the hike is pretty easy. We came here twice, once by foot from Cat Ba town and second time by scooter to watch the sunset which never happened because it was really foggy at the time. Don’t miss the High Point which is situated 177 meters above the sea level and offers scenic views of Cat Ba island and its surroundings.
Cat Ba National park
The entrance to the national park is 40K VND per person and the parking for one motorbike is 5K VND. Make sure you keep the parking ticket as you will need to show it upon your return.
The lush green park covers almost half of the island and is home to many birds and mammals, including the small Cat Ba Langur monkey which is one of the most endangered primate, around 60 of them remaining today. The hike is around one hour one way and the path is mostly formed from rock steps with a few steep areas, especially closely to the viewpoints. Make sure to bring some water with you and a snack to eat at the top while admiring the view. We noticed the second viewpoint not far away while we were taking pictures and we decided to go there as well. The place is not big, only a few people can go at the same time but the views were again worth it.
North of the island
We got here by mistake by turning right at one point but the drive was lovely and the landscapes were breath taking on both sides of the road. Although we forgot to charge our GoPro before leaving the room, I managed to take some videos and picture along the way. Almost at the end of the road we found a hidden beach with access to a tiny temple accessible by a wooden path above the water.
Coastal path towards the port
We also went towards the port because we spotted some amazing landscapes when we came with the bus. There were plenty of rice fields, secluded beaches and jungly surroundings on the way. Also a lot of excavating works were taking place along the way which means the island is changing quite fast, becoming more and more touristic, loosing its rugged aspect. On our way back we stopped to admire the sunset near the water and we had the entire place for ourselves.
Cat Ba Accommodation
There are plenty of hotels on the island to chose from but bare in mind that most of them have basic facilities and if you want something more luxurious you can check out the resorts near the beach. It can get quite cold in the rooms so bring some warm clothes with you. We picked Cat Ba Central 2 based on the good rating on booking but we were disappointed from the moment we walked into the room and felt a strong mouldy smell but they agreed to change our room at no extra cost.
Where to eat and drink in Cat Ba town
Again, there are plenty of options in Cat Ba town, however our favourites were Phuong Nhung and Mona Homestay. At Phuong Nhung you can have a noodle soup (chicken or beef) for 30K VND, grilled shrimps with garlic which I totally recommend trying for 100K VND, pancakes for 50K VND and drinks for less than 50K VND.
Mona Homestay is a bit pricier but we recommend having breakfast on the rooftop while watching the boats in the harbour. If you go here, don’t miss the coconut and blueberry shake witch was my favourite drink and banana or mango pancakes which are delicious.
Tips for visiting Cat Ba in December:
- Bring some warm clothes as it tends to be colder during the night.
- Have breakfast with a view at Mona Rooftop.
- Rent a scooter and discover the rest of the island.
- Bring water, mosquito repellant and sun block with you to the National Park.
- Check the weather before venturing to the island.
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