Cat Ba Island, Vietnam it’s a place off the beaten path and a great alternative to the famous Ha Long Bay. It’s less crowded, cheaper and offers if not the same, even better scenery.
Cat Ba Island is the largest island of the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes the Lan Ha Bay in Northern Vietnam.
Vietnam was my last stop on my first trip to SE Asia. I wasn’t planning to go there at first, but when I decided to extend my stay in this part of the world, I knew that I would go to Vietnam. It’s one of the cheapest countries to visit in Asia, so as a budget traveler, I couldn’t afford to miss it. I didn’t have any plan of what to do in Vietnam or where to go. Of course, I knew about the existence of Ha Long Bay and I was probably going to get there and see the most famous place in all of Vietnam.
Luckily, on my two weeks trip in Malaysia, I meet few people that have been to Vietnam just before that. A few of them told me about Cat Ba Island and recommended me to go there. They all said that is less crowded than Ha Long Bay, cheaper, and compare to Ha Long Bay way better. After that, I already knew that I would skip Ha Long Bay and go to Cat Ba Island instead.
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam is an amazing place where to spend a few days on your Vietnamese trip. There are many things to do in Cat Ba Island and it well worth the visit.
If you follow me on Instagram, or you read the blog, you might know that the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop that I did in the Ha Giang Province in the North of Vietnam was the highlight of my trip to the country. Both Ha Giang and Cat Ba are off the main tourist trail and I am very happy that I decided to skip the usual backpacker’s route, so I can go to these places.
Cat Ba Island is a great place to go to and unlike its famous twin, Ha Long Bay it’s a place where you can find relaxation. If you got tired of partying around Vietnam, Cat Ba Island is the place where you can go to enjoy the calmness and the beauty of nature.
The large majority of the population on Cat Ba Island can be found in Cat Ba Town, which is the commercial center of the island. In recent years, Cat Ba experiences a tourism surge, and its central hub Cat Ba Town is now framed with hotels along the bay, but the rest of the island remains untouched.
When you’re choosing which places to visit in Vietnam, don’t miss spending a few days on Cat Ba Island. Here are the best things to do in Cat Ba Island and some general travel tips:
Things to do in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Visit Cat Ba National Park
The Cat Ba National Park is a place not to be missed in Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba National Park is a World Heritage Site designated as a biosphere reserve and its home to 32 types of mammal. The National Park attracts its visitors with its natural beauty and good hiking trails. There are many interesting trees too. Exploring the country’s nature is easily one of the best things to do in Vietnam.
I spent a few hours in the Cat Ba National Park hiking around its wonders and staying up at some of its highest points to enjoy the wonderful views. Hiking in the Cat Ba National Park is generally easy. There are a few places where the rocks are sharper and where for some people it would be more difficult to get through.
The entrance fee to the Cat Ba National Park is 40 000 VND.
There is paid parking in front of the entrance of the National Park. However, you can leave your motorbike a little bit aside for free.
Explore the Island on a motorbike
The best way to explore Cat Ba Island is on a motorbike. You can easily drive through the whole island in just a few days. And there are many remote spots that worth to be explored.
As you’ll be based in Cat Ba town, once you go out of your hotel, everything is accessible on foot – the harbor, some of its beaches, restaurants, etc. Some of the nicest places in Cat Ba, however, are further away from the town, such as the Cat Ba National Park. Renting a motorbike is the best things to do in Cat Ba Island (as well as one of the adventurous things to do in Vietnam), so you can explore the island independently.
How much does it cost to rent a motorbike in Cat Ba?
There are numerous places in Cat Ba from where you can rent a motorbike. The renting price will vary, but expect to pay between 70 000 VND to 100 000 VND.
I rent my motorbike from a place that was just down the street from where I was staying. It was just a few meters away from Yummy restaurant (check the where to eat in Cat Ba section below).
I paid 70 000 VND for the motorbike and it was mine for 24 hours. This is $3 or less than 3 EUR!
I paid 40 000 VND for the gas.
Go on an island-hopping tour
The island tour in Cat Ba was great! I signed for a 1-day tour including kayaking through some water caves, swimming, and snorkeling, visit the floating village and Monkey Island, and lunch.
Kayaking through the caves was very cool and the scenery was stunning. It reminded me a bit of El Nido, Palawan, because of the giant rock formations. Plus, kayaking is a good exercise. In one of the caves, I even saw a small water snake.
The floating village was interesting to visit as well. They say that around 4 000 people are constantly living there.
I like the Monkey Island a lot. The beach looks good, the monkeys are cool and the cliff overlooking the shore of the island – the view from there is amazing! To get to that view, you need to climb that cliff. Be aware that climbing that cliff it’s not the easiest thing in the world. The rocks are very sharp and you need to be very careful.
I would also advise you, if you sign up for a tour that goes through the Monkey Island, to get sneakers in your backpack. Some people were climbing up the cliff in flip flops, while others were doing it drunk.
On the day that I did the tour, the weather was not so warm, so I didn’t swim at all and I didn’t do any snorkeling. The water is not clear anyway, so snorkeling around the bay won’t be anything special, if you even get to see anything at all.
There are numerous tour agencies around Cat Ba town and almost any hotel is offering tours as well. I signed up for the tour at my hostel and found the price to be maybe the best one.
For the Cat Ba Island tour, I paid 300 000 VND.
** There are also many other island hopping tours that start in Ha Long Bay and go through the whole bay. Some of them last for a few days and are a great way to explore this pretty part of Vietnam. To choose the best tour for you, you can check the recommendations in this guide.
Enjoy the bay views
The view of the Cat Ba Bay is very pretty. You can enjoy that view by walking down the main street or finding some nice spots around the island.
I was told by another traveler about one place that has a great view of the Bay. If you are not told about this place, you would never randomly find it. This spot is the Cat Ba Cemetery. The view from there to the Bay is really one of the best ones.
You can get to the cemetery on foot from the town. It will take you not more than 20-25 minutes, depending on where exactly are you coming from.
Relax at the Cat Ba beaches
Cat Ba main beaches are Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, Cat Co 3, and Tung Thu beach. Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 3 are the closest beaches to Cat Ba town.
I was in Cat Ba Island in March so it was not warm enough to hit the beach.
When you visit Cat Co 3, take the walkway surrounded by cliffs. It’s a scenic walk that goes from Cat Co 3 to Cat Co 1. Also, it turned out to be one of my favorite spots in Cat Ba Island.
The first time I was taken there by two guys that I meet in my hostel. We went there at night and it was so pretty and peaceful. I like it so much that I wanted to go back there the next day during the day. I returned to the same spot on the next day and literally spend hours there, killing my last hours on the island waiting for my night bus to Ha Giang.
Cannon Fort & Hospital Cave
I missed both the Cannon Fort & the Hospital Cave, which are two of the main tourist spots on the island. If you have time for them, I believe that they worth the visit.
The Cannon Fort is known for the beautiful panoramas of the Cat Ba Bay.
The Hospital Cave was abandoned in 1975 but nowadays is a popular tourist attraction. During the Vietnam War, Cat Ba was used as a safe place for the army. The secret bomb-proof hospital was built inside the cave to protect from the heavy American bombing. It has been built in a cave, so it can’t be seen from the ground or from the air.
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam Travel Tips
Getting to Cat Ba Island
If you have a motorbike that you’re traveling around Vietnam with, then you’re covered. If you don’t, then there is only one way to get to Cat Ba Island – by boat, and more specific by bus-boat-bus.
You can get to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi, Ha Giang, Sapa, Ninh Binh, and other cities. The most common way is coming from Hanoi.
From Hanoi, you need to take a bus to Haiphong city that usually takes about 2 to 3 hours. From there, you’re getting on a hydrofoil ride that takes about 20 minutes. When you get down from it, you’ll be already on Cat Ba Island, at the Phu Long Pier. From there, you need to get on another bus to take you to Cat Ba town that takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour.
I know it might sound like a real pain in the ass but is actually absolutely stress and pain-free. The best way to do it would be if you book your transfer from your hotel in Hanoi, a tour agency or etc. That way you’ll have all of these transfers included in the price and you won’t need to worry about anything. I also got a small bottle of water and a pack of Oreos. The same applies if you’ll be coming from other places to Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
I arrived at Cat Ba Island from Hanoi and then continued to Ha Giang from there. Both trips I booked at my accommodation.
How much does it cost?
Well, that’s a very tricky question. In my experience, you’ll find different prices for the same trip depending on who is offering it. For example, after the Ha Giang Loop, I got back to Hanoi on a night bus and paid 200 000 VND. As I see it, it should cost the same another way around, from Hanoi to Ha Giang. I was told by another traveler that in Hanoi, they ask him from 500 000 VND to 400 000 VND for a trip to Ha Giang and the best price that he found was 330 000 VND.
With this in mind, what can I advise you would be just to compare the prices in a few places before deciding with which company to book your trip.
Where to stay on Cat Ba Island
When I arrived at Cat Ba Island I didn’t have any accommodation booked. On the way, I checked online and liked one place so I decided to go straight there. I told the driver to leave me there, but when I got in I was told that they don’t have any availability. The guy on the reception recommended me to go and check another place that was just on the other side of the street.
It was the closest place to where I was already, it was available and it was cheap, so I took it. The place was called Cat Ba Hostel.
Cat Ba Hostel is okay, especially for its price. It has everything that you need such as a bed and hot water. Except for that they also have good Wi-Fi, they sell water and beer, you can have breakfast and organize your island hopping tour or transfers there.
It’s far from being the best place I’ve ever stayed at but it was okay.
Other recommended places to stay in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam:
Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hotel – the one I was originally going to
You can use the widget below to search for other places to stay in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
Where to eat on Cat Ba Island
If I don’t tell you about this place, then someone else will. At some point everyone that is visiting Cat Ba Island ending up there being recommended by someone else. That’s how I found this place in the first place.
The restaurant is called Yummy and it’s a 5-minute walk from the center of the town.
The restaurant is pretty popular and the food there is really great. I was eating there at least once every day.
The restaurant is also very affordable. Here’s what you could expect to pay (as per my visit in March 2018):
- Coffee – 20 000 VND
- Breakfast – 25 000 VND
- Soup – 25 000 VND (the pumpkin soup is great!)
- Meal – ranging from 40 000 VND to 100 000 VND and up
Location: Click here to open it in Google Maps.
There is also one other place that I would recommend in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam and that is the 25 Klub bar/cafe/restaurant.
I was taken there by two guys that I meet in Cat Ba. Here, you can find probably the cheapest beer in Cat Ba and the spring rolls are great too. The atmosphere of the place is very nice and the lady running the place is adorable!
It is called a restaurant but it’s more like a cozy café. 20 000 VND for coffee and 20 000 VND for breakfast.
Location: Click here to open it in Google Maps.
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