If you were to ask me what’s the best place to visit for adventurous travelers in Vietnam, Cat Ba Island is surely one of them. It’s not so far from Hanoi, making it a perfect holiday getaway destination for the locals. Cat Ba Island is also, in my opinion, the best place to discover Ha Long Bay. So if you’re planning a trip to Cat Ba Island or Vietnam, I’m sure you’ll get the most out of it in this post on things to do, see, eat and more in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in and plan for your trip to Cat Ba Island now!
Quick View on Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Ha Long Bay, spanning an area of 260 square kilometers. Tourism has been booming these recent years, welcoming both locals and travelers alike. During the weekend and summer, Cat Ba Island will be crowded especially at the beach. Scroll down and you’ll find the best time to visit Cat Ba Island.
The ferry port in Cat Ba Island is located at the east while the town is in the south. It took around 45 minutes to get to the town by bus. In the middle, it’s Cat Ba National Park, home to one of the most endangered langurs on Earth – the white-headed langurs.
In the town itself, most of the buildings facing the sea are either hotels or restaurants. As I said, due to tourism. Constructions of new hotels are going on everywhere so if you’re planning to visit, do it as soon as possible.
The roads in the town are narrow, but they’re more than enough for motorcycles. Outside the town, road conditions might not be as good, with holes here and there. For example, the road from the Cai Vieng Ferry Harbor to the town. But the highway from the town to Cat Ba National Park is well-maintained. Overall, it’s easy to get around the whole island.
Best Time to Visit Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is located in North Vietnam, so there are four seasons there.
Winter – I visited Cat Ba Island in January during the winter months. The temperature wasn’t as cold as expected. As someone who’s afraid of cold, I would say it’s just mildly cold there. Totally bearable. During the winter season, the number of tourists dropped drastically. If you hate traveling with tourists everywhere, I would suggest visiting during winter. The tours and hotel rates are much cheaper too during this off-peak season. Kayaking is okay, but swimming in Ha Long Bay is too cold for me. I almost got hypothermia.
Spring – The best time to visit Cat Ba Island is during the spring season. Tourists aren’t as many yet, and the weather is just pleasant for all kind of activities around the island. It rains occasionally though. But the water is now warm enough for any water activities and swimming. For the best months, it’s March & April.
Summer – From May to August, the summer season in Cat Ba Island is chaos. Local and overseas tourists flocked in, restaurants are all full, hotels are booked out, beaches are occupied and tours are much more expensive. But still, it’s the best time for water sports.
Autumn – From September to November, Cat Ba Island is invaded by tropical storms and rains. It might not be the best time to visit Cat Ba Island but if you’re not planning to do any water sports activities or tours, Autumn can be a good choice.
Editor’s Note: Going for a backpacking trip to Vietnam? Check out this in-depth Vietnam Backpacking travel guide!
How to Get To Cat Ba Island?
In this section, I will only talk about getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island, since that’s where most visitors come from.
There are many travel agencies in the Old Quarter so if you’re staying there, things will be really easy. The whole bus journey will take around 3.5 to 5 hours depending on the traffic and the bus speed.
When I was leaving Cat Ba Island heading to Ninh Binh, the bus driver drives at 50km/h all the way, which is killing me inside.
The prices of bus tickets differ depending on the seasons as well, but the cheapest ticket you can get is around $6. I got mine for that price during the winter season. If you’re visiting in other seasons, expect $7 or slightly higher.
From the Old Quarter, if you buy your ticket from travel agencies, you’ll have to wait in front at the designated time. And if you buy from the bus company, like Cat Ba Express, you’ll have to wait at their office. Some offer hotel pickups too so ask while you’re booking.
Getting From Hanoi To Cat Ba Island
Your bus will pick you up at the designated location and time. After picking up every passenger, the bus will take around 2 hours to get to Cat Hai. This involved the crossing of South East Asia’s longest sea-crossing bridge, Tan Vu – Lach Huyen Bridge.
When you finally arrive at Bến phà Gót in Cat Hai Island, you will be instructed to leave the bus and board the ferry, along with the bus.
By the way, when you’re booking your ticket, you will be asked whether you prefer ferry or speedboats. Most travelers opt for the former as speedboats are more expensive and don’t save you a lot of time at the end of the day. The scenery from the ferry wasn’t the best but still, I enjoy watching the sea.
The ferry will take around 20-30 minutes to arrive in Bến phà Cái Viềng Port in the west of Cat Ba Island. Leave the ferry and board the bus again. It will be another 45 minutes ride to get to Cat Ba Town. Look out the windows and enjoy the green views of the island.
Most of the time, the operator will ask for the location of your hotels and if the hotels are in the town, they will drop you off in front of your accommodation. Pretty convenient, huh?
This is the best way to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island.
Check out this conprehensive 3 days Da Nang itinerary!
Things to Do in Cat Ba Island
Here’s the fun part. The attractions in Cat Ba Island are sparsely located so you might want to consider renting a motorcycle.
Riding a motorcycle in Cat Ba Island is relatively safe compared to nearby cities like Hanoi and Ninh Binh. There is not much traffic on this island, and everything here seems slow-paced.
Take your time and explore the island slowly. But bear this in mind, don’t get distracted by the otherworldly sceneries around the highway. There are quite a lot of bumps on the road.
Here we go, the best things to do in Cat Ba Island!
Take A Cruise Tour To Ha Long Bay
A trip to North Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Ha Long Bay. Cat Ba Island has long been famed as the best place to discover the beauty of this legendary bay.
A cruise tour can be easily booked at the travel agencies in Cat Ba Town. Most of them are located in the southernmost part, by the main road. I booked mine from the bus company, which also operates the cruise tours.
So here’s how much I paid for the Ha Long Bay Cruise. It’s VND300,000 ($13) per person for the whole day tour, which included buffet lunch, kayaking for 3 hours, swimming in midst of the vast ocean and hiking in Monkey Island. And of course, satisfying view from the cruise deck on the Halong Bay limestone karsts. It was super worth it.
Cruise tours might not be the best things to do in Cat Ba Island during the peak season because there will be cruises and humans everywhere. During my visit in the winter month, cruises arrived in Monkey Island around the same time, causing some traffic jam. I couldn’t imagine how it’s like during the peak season. People might be more than monkeys.
Visit Cannon Fort
Cannon Fort is located near to the town, only around 15 minutes by motorcycle. The entrance fee was VND40,000 at the time of my visit. The motorcycle ride up to Cannon Fort is a pleasant one, with views over the island and sea from a higher altitude.
Cannon Fort is a French era fort used to defending Hai Phong during the Vietnam War. The fort itself was interesting but there is not much information around. Artifacts are shown without further information. During the peak season, it might get crowded here. The spaces in the fort aren’t big anyway.
Beware of the scams by the gate guards. There have been some travelers being scammed by them. I hadn’t experience that myself, luckily.
Hiking in Cat Ba National Park
In fact, a large part of Cat Ba Island belongs to Cat Ba National Park. It’s open for visitors for hiking and exploring at a very reasonable price. And guess what, it’s the home of critically-endangered white-headed langurs.
While you’re hiking there, pay extra attention to the surrounding, you might be able to spot them. Like any other animal, they’re afraid of human beings, so never approach or scare them!
From the town center, it takes some time to ride all the way to the entrance of Cat Ba National Park entrance. 30 minutes, to be exact. The most popular peak in the national park is Ngu Lam Peak, which will take around 30 minutes to reach the top.
Despite some hikers saying that the last 5 minutes of this track is ‘dangerous’, it’s not. The trail is just simply steeper than previous, and there are rock stairs for them, so it’s very safe for hikers. And if you’re wondering, nope, there is no rock climbing involved to reach Ngu Lam Peak.
Bring some food for a quick picnic on the peak, with a magnificent panoramic view on the surrounding ultra-steep hills. If you’re traveling in January or February, remember to bring your jacket and mask or you’ll get a frozen face when you got back to your hostel after the sunset. It’s cold and dry during the winter.
Explore The Hospital Cave
Like Cannon Fort, Hospital Cave is also a remain from the war in Cat Ba Island. But unlike Cannon Fort, you’re not likely to spend a long time here, because there aren’t many amazing things around to explore.
Information boards are insufficient, so most of the time you don’t know what you’re looking at. But it’s worth to spend some time here, imagining how it was like, during the war period.
The entrance fee is VND 40,000. If you’re interested in learning the history of Cat Ba Island, consider hiring a local guide from Cat Ba town. Do this during the non-peak season because there are not that many guides around.
Cat Ba Trung Trang Cave
Trung Trang Cave is probably one of the most creepy things to do in Cat Ba Island. The 300-meters-deep cave is located 15km northwest of Cat Ba town.
Locally known as ‘gold treasure’, Trung Trang Cave has thousands of natural stalactites hanging over the ceilings, with water droplets dripping all the time.
The cave is also home to a variety of creatures like bats, reptiles, insects and more. If you’re planning a visit, remember to bring your head torch and make sure you have spare batteries!
The entrance is free if you have Cat Ba National Park entrance ticket.
Cat Ba Beach
There are 3 beaches in Cat Ba Town, namely Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3. (Bet you’ll bite your tongue if you try pronouncing all of them fast.) Here’s the good news – all the beaches are within walking distance from Cat Ba Town, at around 1.5km.
If you have a motorbike, cool! If you don’t, enjoy the bay view on your way there! Cat Co 1 Beach is located near Catba Island Resort & Spa, it’s much quiet compared to Cat Co 3, which is the most popular beach.
I would say Cat Co 2 is on the same level as Cat Co 1 Beach because both are quiet and very near to each other. The views offered by these two beaches are similar too. Cat Co 3 is the most crowded beach especially when it’s approaching the peak season.
You’ll find that there are more activities that could be done here, like renting a kayak (at a whopping rate of 200,000 VND per hour!). Nevertheless, all the beaches have chairs and umbrellas for rent, and you can order your drink there while watching over the bay.
Visit Viet Hai Village
If you’re the type of traveler who loves to blend into the locals, Viet Hai Village will not disappoint you.
The farmland village surrounded by pristine mountainous limestone karsts has been receiving a large number of visitors every year ever since Cat Ba Island stepped into the tourism spotlight. The villagers here are exceptionally friendly and always smiling, kind of reminding you that humans do not need materials to be happy.
This rural village was only recently exposed to technology, so you’ll find most of the things here less-developed. There are no gates, and the doors of every house are always open. How peaceful it is, in Viet Hai Village. A perfect destination in Cat Ba Island to rewind the era, and observe how lives were before technologies.
I recommend visiting Viet Hai Village on a motorcycle because it’s located quite far away from Cat Ba Town. It’ll take many hours of hiking if you were to go there on foot.
Rock Climbing in Butterfly Valley
If you expected here to be full of butterflies flying around like a natural butterfly farm, you might be disappointed. Yes, you’ll find some butterflies here, but it’s much less than you imagined.
Butterfly Valley is located in the northwest of Cat Ba Town, with the road leading only to this destination. So, I’ll only recommend Butterfly Valley if – you love rock climbing, or that you have a few extra days in Cat Ba Island.
Butterfly Valley is one of the few places in Cat Ba Island where you can do rock climbing. The hooks are already in place, so all you need is the rock climbing equipment, which is available for rental there.
And because of the rural location, it takes around 30 minutes of motorbike ride to get there. In short, Butterfly Valley is a very underrated destination for tourists and visitors. So if you’re escaping the crowds, there is no better place than here.
How To Get Around Cat Ba Island
The cheapest rate for motorcycle rental I’ve ever come across in my life was in Cat Ba Island, at only $3/day!
Sounds crazy, right? I know. It’s even cheaper than Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang and elsewhere. But still, I rented mine for $4 from my hotel owner, simply because they are so nice to us.
Since this is the so-called “Ultimate Guide”, I shall include another way of transportation too. So here we go.
A bicycle is probably the most convenient way to explore Cat Ba town. But that would be all. It would be a huge struggle to visit outside the town because the attractions are far away.
For example, you will need to cycle for hours to get to Canon Fort because it’s literally an ascending slope. Leave alone Cat Ba National Park. But still, definitely feel free to do that if that’s your thing.
You can get a bicycle for $2 per day even though they are not as common as motorcycles, which are literally everywhere.
My most recommended way to explore the island. It was winter when I was traveling in Vietnam so there weren’t many vehicles roaming around the roads. I had the freedom to drive like I owned the road.
You can get a motorcycle for, as I mentioned, $3 per day. But still, make sure you check the brakes, lights, mirror, and anything that could be a safety hazard. Unless you’re tight on budget, I recommend getting a newer bike for better safety. It would be around $5 per day.
You’ll also need to ask where to refill the gas before renting the bike because there are literally no obvious gas stations around. There’s one outside the town though.
It’s probably not something you should consider if you’re tight on budget. But in Cat Ba Island, motorcycle taxi does exist. I never personally tried them so I couldn’t give many details here.
What to Eat in Cat Ba Island
While a lot of bloggers boast about how great the seafood is in Cat Ba Island, I personally find that they’re not as impressive. The great news is that you can count on the freshness because most of them, if not all, were caught just a few hours earlier around the island.
Seafood Hot Pot
Highly recommended! They might be a little more expensive than what you eat any other time, but it’s definitely worth it. The seafood is so fresh and juicy, and the portion is sure to fill your stomach with satisfaction.
I traveled to Vietnam before I started this blog. And I wasn’t the kind of person who lets my phone eats before me. So, I checked my phone and camera, I did not take a photo of it.
But the question is – where to find the best one? More than 50% of the restaurants in Cat Ba Island have Seafood Hot Pot in their menu. Along with vegetable hot pots, chicken hot pots, or mixing them up.
I had mine in Yummy Restaurant, and was super satisfied. My hotel owners introduced me to that, it was cheap, the friendly boss speaks good English, and the food was nice. So don’t miss out.
As the name suggests, the dish is made up of shrimps and bun (noodles). Like Pho, the broth made of fish bones and herbs is the essence of the dish. Often served with fish balls, fish cakes, and pork meatballs. Plus chili and lots of green herbs.
Kind of rare seafood in Cat Ba Island so they will have a higher price tag than other dishes you’ll find in the island. There are many ways of serving the clams – stir-fried, grilled and boiled.
Like Coffee Cafe
Arguably the best cafe in the whole island. The foods are mostly Western cuisines, with excellent reviews by travelers from all around the world. Check out them in TripAdvisor if you don’t trust me.
I seldom dine in the same restaurant more than twice but I did here because there aren’t many cafe and restaurants serving great foods like them at cheap price tags. Definitely check them out and try their pancakes! They might be better than those in your hometown.
Check out this post on more Vietnamese food you should try while traveling!
Where to Stay in Cat Ba Island?
Love short answer? You should stay in Cat Ba town.
Want a long answer? Here you go.
When you first arrive in Cat Ba Island, you’ll most likely be dropped off at Cat Ba Town area by the bus. This is the area where most hotels, restaurants and travel offices are located.
You’ll get easy access to convenience stores and all sorts of snacks as well. But if you’re riding a motorcycle all the way from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island, you have the option to live outside the town area because you have mobility.
The ferry carrying you from Hai Phong to Cat Ba Island will drop you off at the western side of the island, at the jetty. From there, it will be around 45 minutes ride all the way from the jetty to the town.
But on the way, you could also see several backpacker hostels, which are located in rural areas. Most of them are huge, and I’ve seen a lot of backpackers living there as well.
Here’s the thing, the prices to stay in a hotel in Cat Ba Town area and the backpacker hostels outside the town are very similar.
Staying in the hotels in Cat Ba Town provides you the flexibility and access to travel resources. While staying in rural areas, you’ll enjoy a different experience and get to know many friends from all around the world.
I enjoyed my stay in Cat Ba Town because, through Booking.com, I’ve found that the hotel prices in Cat Ba Island are much cheaper than those I find in Hanoi city. It’s probably because I’ve visited during the off-peak season in January. Scroll down and use the widget to find the best deals from Booking.com!
Interested in learning how to snorkel? Check out this post here!
Ready For Your Cat Ba Island Trip?
Here you go for all the things to do, see, eat and more in Cat Ba Island. I hope you find this article useful in planning your trip to Vietnam. As I said, this island should never be missed if you have the time and the desire to visit Ha Long Bay. Thanks for reading, and enjoy traveling in Vietnam! Need more spark to ignite your inner wanderlust? Check out this video by National Geographic!
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