In a nutshell
It’s surprising to think that one of the largest islands in the bay is often overlooked by tourists however a popular destination for locals.
Why go to Cat Ba Island
Jungle-clad Cat Ba has experienced a surge in tourism in the last few years due to the majority of the island remaining untouched. Eager adventurers flock to the island in hopes of discovering rare wildlife like a real-life version of Pokémon go. One such animal is the golden-headed Langur, a highly endangered species. Less than 100 are thought to be in the wild and in 1986, two-thirds of the island became a national park to protect the islands indigenous wildlife and diverse ecosystem. Unlike Halong Bay, Cat Ba is less controlled and only a few Halong bay tours include a day trip to Cat Ba island.
There are 3 beaches at Cat Co Cove, the beaches are perfect for when you want to take a quick dip after exploring the national park. Cat Co Cove is only 15 minutes away from Cat Ba Town and there are street vendors handy nearby.
Kayaking and rock climbing are also a must when in Cat Ba. Head to Slo Pony which is on the 2nd floor of Noble house to enquiry about rock climbing, they offer programs from beginners to expert level. For Kayaking, go to Ben Beo Wharf. It’s only $12 per day and you can take a voyage to the floating village.
Ensure you don’t miss out on Hospital cave, a special underground hospital used during the war. Entry to this historic spot is only 15,000 VND.
When to go to Cat Ba Island
Spring (March, April) and fall (September, October) are the perfect times to visit when the temperature is cool and not scorching. Occasionally an unpredicted typhoon can hit near the end of the year but there will be warnings beforehand by tour operators.
Accommodation on Cat Ba Island
Always pay in VND not dollars, some of the hotels have been known to overcharge tourists on the island.
On arrival to Cat Ba Town (the main hub on the island), here are lots of options on the main street. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a few bargain prices such as Ali Babas Hostel for $6 a night or even cheaper, Cat Ba Hostel for $3 a night in a dorm.
Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is more expensive but the hotel does have an awesome pool. As the name suggests, Phuong Mai Family Hostel is run by a friendly Vietnamese family, this can add an extra layer of reassurance. Cat Ba Eco Lodge is $50 a night but it’s a stunning hideaway on the mysterious island.
Generally, most tourists spend on average one night on Cat Ba since there are only a handful of activities available.
Where and what to eat on Cat Ba Island
Quang Anh is a floating fish-farm AND a restaurant, you can choose what you want and watch as it gets mercilessly cooked for your pleasure. Quang Anh is located next to the beach and at 200,000 VND, you can eat as much as you want.
Mr Zoom restaurant provides an excellent assortment of seafood and vegetarian dishes, famous for its spring rolls. Prices can range from as little as $2.
If you a mix of western and Asian cusine, head to Phuong Phong Restaurant (near Nam Du’ong Hotel). The restaurant has a great view of the sea but due to its popularity, you might have to wait a while to get a seat.
At the end of the harbor is a huge market where you will find a ton of fruit as well as street food. Don’t hesitate to barter with the locals if you are price-conscious.
Buddha belly specializes in affordable vegetarian cuisine and is only a few minutes from Cat Ba town. A set menu is around 30,000 VND. This is really popular restaurant that many backpackers flock to when they arrive to Cat Ba town.
In the evening there are a few spots to have a drink, Noble House offers 2 for 1 cocktails but the Flightless Bird imports wine from different parts of the world. If you want to party for longer, Rose Bar is open until 3 am.
How to get around Cat Ba Island
Everything on the island is within close proximity so there is no need to get a taxi or bus. Tourists like to hire a motorbike or walk around. Bikes and motorbike rentals are available at most Cat Ba hotels for as little as $5 per day. Anywhere where you hire a bike can give you a photocopied map of the island to help you with planning your adventure.
If you are too afraid to hire a bike, just head on down to any corner street where there are motorbike taxis present, remember to haggle with them for a good deal or just use the grab bike app.
How to get to and from Cat Ba Island
Reaching Cat Ba involves changing modes of transport a few times which may seem like a nuisance but is surprisingly well organized.
Both Cat Ba Express and Hoang Long bring you to Hai Phong for $7-$15 in about 4 hours from where you should take a speedboat to Cat Ba.
In Haiphong, there is a really fun speedboat to Cat Ba from Pha Binh Harbor. The last one leaves at 16:00 and costs roughly 150,000 VND.
If you are travelling by motorbike, you can take a ferry to Cat Ba. You can depart from Halong and leave from Ben Pha Tuan Chau. Prices range from 70,000-90,000 VND. The duration is only an hour so take some snaps of the scenic view while you can.
Haiphong also has two ferries which are even shorter (25 and 45 mins). The ferries are from Pha Dinh Vu pier, the first ferry costs around 8,000 VND or 28,000 if you have a motorbike. The second is even cheaper at 6,000 VND and 26,000 VND for you and your bike. Both ferries operate hourly until 5pm and do not depart at night. You will arrive on the western harbor (Ben pha Got Pier) and will need to take a 7km drive to get to Cat Ba town.
Is Cat Ba a safe place to visit?
Cat Ba is a safe island, the only dangers are in regards to rock climbing but there are professionals who will attend the activities to ensure nothing goes wrong. Cat Ba’s medical facilities are very basic, the nearest hospital is in Haiphong.