EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING CAT BA ISLAND
I. Cat Ba island’s general information
Cat Ba island is a complex of 367 islands in the Northeast of Vietnam, which belongs to Hai Phong city. The biggest island, Cat Ba, is only about 25 km from the famous Halong Bay. Cat Ba island was recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO on Dec 2nd, 2004. It is the 3rd Biosphere Reserve in Vietnam after Can Gio mangrove forest (Ho Chi Minh city) and Cat Tien National Park (Dong Nai province). While Can Gio is a mangrove forest in the river mouth, Cat Tien is a dry-land forest; Cat Ba features a combination of tropical rainforest on Karst. It has mangrove forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, especially a system of caves and lagoons. There are white-headed langurs that are endemic to Cat Ba national park. In other words, Cat Ba island fully converges the most typical ecosystems of Vietnam.
II. Best time to go to Cat Ba island
Generally, Cat Ba island’s weather is quite enjoyable all year round, making it an ideal place for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing.
Taking any month of the year to go to Cat Ba island is up to your choice. Summer is from May to August is high season with hot temperatures. It is also the season of showers but no worries, as the rain will cool you down. During June and August, which is also a school break, Cat Ba island becomes a favorite destination for a family vacation. It is more crowded than other months of the year.
The best time to travel to Cat Ba should be in Autumn (from September to November) and in Spring (from March to May). During the time, the weather is more tolerant, calm and there are not so many tourists in the island.
In order to plan your trip to Cat Ba, it is essential to check the weather forecast beforehand. There are now many weather-forecast websites with high accuracy that help you to plan your trip efficiently.
III. Best attractions to visit in Cat Ba island
Lan Ha bay
Located on the southeast coast of Cat Ba island, Lan Ha bay is adjacent to the famous Halong Bay, with approximately 400 islands and islets covered by plantation. There are also tranquil lagoons and caves with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Geologically, Lan Ha Bay is an extension of Halong bay but stretches in a different province of Hai Phong. As a result, Lan Ha bay is as beautiful as Halong Bay, but visitors will find it more isolated and untouched with the additional attraction of numerous small white-sand beaches. It is accessible to organized cruising and kayaking trips from Cat Ba town.
1. Cat Ba island’s biggest floating village of Cua Van
The floating village of Cua Van (or Van Gia) is in a tranquil area of the sea surrounded by rocks, which is ideal for boats to anchor, especially when storms come. Thanks to the advantage, it has attracted many fishers to go and stay, making the village one of the biggest floating villages in the bay. There used to be more than 300 households with over 700 people living in the fishing village whose houses are close to each other. The children are taught by their parents how to row a boat and swim at a quite young age.
Since 2014, due to the local committee’s decision, most of the fishermen in floating villages have moved to the mainland for a more stable and safer life. Therefore, Van Gia fishing village now consists of only 12 rafts, including classrooms, cultural houses, and some new rafts suitable for fishers. They want to protect the environment for the famous natural heritage Ha Long Bay in general and the oldest fishing village in the world in particular.
2. Viet Hai village
Viet Hai village has become an ecotourism place thanks to the village’s peaceful beauty and villagers’ friendliness. It is a small valley nestled in Cat Ba National Park in an isolated location, which keeps it a typical traditional village in the Northern countryside of Vietnam. It’s one of the most visited places on any Cat Ba tour or by cruises in Lan Ha Bay.
Cycling tours from a pier in Lan Ha Bay through the jungle to the center of the village is an incredible experience for any nature lover. You will go under the forest canopy with a fantastic view of this scenic island.
Another perfect activity is to go trekking in Cat Ba National Park. From Viet Hai village, it takes you an hour to reach the Viet Hai peak. The 1-hour hike is quite tough, but the reward is big. Being the second highest peak in Cat Ba National Park, Viet Hai peak offers a gorgeous panoramic view of both Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay. For trekking lovers, you can enjoy a 4-hour trekking route from Cat Ba National headquarter that is 20 minutes drive from Cat Ba town. The trek is strenuous as you go up and down several rocky hills through the primary forest.
3. Nam Cat island
Nam Cat island is a small island in Lan Ha Bay, about 5km southeast of Cat Ba wharf of Cat Ba town. It owns a beach about 500m long, wide and surrounded by many small islands creating a beautiful natural landscape of the islands. The island is under the management of Cat Ba National park. They offer overnight facilities for tourists, including six bungalows and three big dormitory sharing houses. From the Beo pier on the main island, it takes you 15 minutes to get to the island by boat, and then you can enjoy your time here.
4. Cat Ba’s Hospital Cave
Hospital Cave is located on Cat Ba island, next to the private road across the island, about 13 km from Cat Ba town. It was a secret bomb shelter hospital during the American War and a safe house for Viet Cong (VC) leaders on Cat Ba island. Built from 1963 to 1965 (with assistance from China), this incredibly well-constructed three-story engineering feat was actively used until 1975. This cave is about 10km north of Cat Ba Town, on the road to Cat Ba National Park entrance.
The cave traverses 17 rooms, including an old operating room (complete with patient mannequins) and a large natural cave used as a cinema (and even had its own small swimming pool).
5. Trung Trang cave
Located in Trung Trang valley, Trung Trang Cave is 15 km northwest of Cat Ba town. It is a narrow cave with a length of over 300 m. Over millions of years of geological tectonics, this cave owns thousands of natural stalactites with unique shapes, evoking visitors’ imagination. Throughout the cave, visitors will come to a cave cavity with stalactites glistening under the dim lights.
Trung Trang Cave has an ecosystem in the mysterious darkness inhabited by many creatures such as birds, bats, reptiles, and insects. The National Park uses a simple lighting system in the cave to preserve the characteristics of the ecological environment in the cave. The fuzzy virtual space has helped visitors to have an exciting experience.
At the end of the journey to explore more than 300 m of Trung Trang cave is a towering cave with many cubes as beautiful sculptures of nature. From here, visitors will enter a lush green space with many ancient trees and vines. Trung Trang Cave is often a highlight of the trekking journey in Cat Ba National Park. In general, it is also featured in the program of many cruises on Lan Ha Bay.
6. Cat Ba island’s Canon fort
Canon fort with two big canons was built in the 1920s by Vietnam Army on the island, which offers a beautiful view to Lan Ha Bay.
7. Ngu Lam peak
Another excellent viewpoint is the Ngu Lam peak, an ideal destination for adventurous travelers who want to see Cat Ba from above. At the altitude of 225m, it is one of the highest peaks in Cat Ba, giving you an overview of the island and island life. The whole picture of Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay, is captured in your sight with the sea, islands, forests, and floating villages on the sea, gentle and peaceful. The steep trekking route from the mountain foot takes you about 1 hour to conquer, and you won’t feel regret.
8. Beaches in Cat Ba island
The sophisticated beaches Cat Co 1, 2, 3
Three famous beaches attract the most tourists when traveling to Cat Ba island. The common point of all three is not big and surrounded by green mountains, gentle waves, clear water, and little wind. They are connected by a small wooden bridge along the mountainside, which makes the scenery romantic. Cat Co 1 is the most bustling and fun atmosphere thanks to clear water, wide sandy beach. Those who like a quieter area will find Cat Co 2 beach more suitable. The beach of Cat Co 3 is less traveled than Cat Co 1 & 2 because it is quite deep and wavy, which is ideal for good swimmers. However, the tide will come up quickly around 6.30 PM, so you are not advised to swim here after the time.
Tung Thu beach
About 2km away from the center of Cat Ba town, visitors will reach Tung Thu beach, which has been opened since mid-2010. In Cat Ba island, Tung Thu beach is set up based on international standards with an outdoor stage on the beach, designed according to a unique concept. Tourists will find it more modern and fun once they come here.
Cat Dua beach on Monkey island
Cat Dua beach in Monkey island, which is about 1km long with clear water, could be found in the middle of the beautiful Lan Ha bay. To get here, tourists need to take a boat trip from Cat Ba town’s pier for about half an hour. There is also a small beach called “Cat Dua 2” which is smaller but more private and worth to visit thanks to its well-equipped facilities.
Van Boi beach
Located on a small island facing the island of Like Rua in Lan Ha Bay, Van Boi beach attracts summer tourists with all the beauty of a young girl in Spring. Unlike the bustle in Cat Co beach, Van Boi beach still retains its wild and natural charm. Small Van Boi Beach, enclosing a protruding part of a cliff, provides visitors with a quiet white sandy beach and shallow clear seawater. The water is so clear that you can see the bottom of the sand or bragging coral reefs and enjoy a few rays of sunlight shining down a large area in waves.
VI. What to do in Cat Ba island
1. Sight-seeing boat trip in Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay in Cat Ba also includes islands protruding from the sea and many cave systems that share similarities to Ha Long Bay. However, many tourists believe that visiting Lan Ha Bay is more interesting because the scenery here retains more wild features than in Ha Long Bay. You can arrange a half-day cruise for approximately 4 hours deep into Lan Ha bay to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. During the cruise, you can also combine visiting the fishing village or trying a kayaking trip on the beautiful bay of Hai Phong.
2. Swimming in one of Lan Ha Bay’s deserted beaches
Get yourself a cruise for a more in-depth exploration of Lan Ha bay, and you’ll reach deserted beautiful small beaches on islands’ feet such as Van Boi, Nam Cat, Ba Trai Dao (Three Peaches), etc. Those beaches have similarities of white sandy beaches, clear water, and less used by travelers.
3. Rock climbing
It is a type of adventure tourism that attracts adventurous tourists when coming to Cat Ba. The island offers dozens of climbing points on islands in Lan Ha Bay, such as Hang Ca, Nam Cat island, Ba Trai, etc., or on the mainland of Cat Ba town. The rocky cliffs, the feeling of conquering the cliffs is always a sport that brings strong feelings to visitors.
Among the climbing spots, visitors should choose one of the three places that are invested quite professionally with instructors, specialized climbing gears, ensuring safety for visitors.
The first is the valley climbing point in Lien Minh village, which is about 5 km from the center of Cat Ba town.
The second is the climbing spot on Tien Ong Island, located in Lan Ha bay, about 1 hour and 30 minutes by boat from Cat Ba tourist resort. The place offers eight climbing routes, which are easily accessible even at high tide. The topography and sea depth here are suitable for free-sea climbing. For those who love adventure, this is the ideal climbing point with low cliffs, simple climbing routes with an island with a small cave, and the rest is a cliff with large stalactites.
The last one is a newly-operated spot located in the center of Cat Ba town – Ang Tre mountain climbing point. This place is surrounded by green trees and steep green cliffs suitable for the climbing experience. It has three climbing paths, and the lowest is 7m, the highest is 23m with the terrain from easy to difficult.
4. Try Fresh seafood tasting at one of the floating restaurants
Cat Ba island is a marine tourist area, so the delicious dishes and famous specialties in Lan Ha Bay are main dishes made from seafood such as lobster, sea crab, seaweed, mussels at different types. Try yourself at one of the floating restaurants in Cat Ba island is also a pleasant experience. The fish farms underneath the restaurant are lively with fresh sea creatures ready for many delicious dishes for visitors to enjoy, such as Fried crab with salt, sea sam grilled, baked lobster with egg sauce, and wine-poached lobster, grilled shrimp, steamed shrimp, etc.
5. Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay
It is easy to hire a boat for a half-day cruise to see Lan Ha bay’s beauty with hundreds of Karst islands and islets. Be prepared with swimwear and ready to paddle in a quiet, tranquil area to learn more about the rocks’ formation.
6. Bike cycling to Viet Hai village
From Cat Ba town, it takes you about 1 hour by boat then hop on a bike to cycle for about 5km to visit the peaceful village of Viet Hai. The cycling route covers a long shady path along the coastal line and tunnel through the mountain.
7. Trekking in Cat Ba National Park
The National Park offers you a few trekking routes that one may select to fit their needs through the jungle. Below are the popular:
Cat Ba National Park to Viet Hai village: It’s a 4-hour tough trek followed by a 45-minute gentle walk from the village to the boat pier. You’ll need to catch a boat trip to return to Cat Ba island.
V. How to get to Cat Ba
From Hai Phong city to Cat Ba island
By Ferry: It is easy to get to Cat Ba from Hai Phong by taking the hydrofoil at Binh pier. It takes 45 minutes to get to the center of Cat Ba island.
By road: From Hai Phong city, follow the highway to Dinh Vu and continue to Cat Hai island on the new bridge. From the Got pier, you can either take the ferry to Cat Ba island or using the cable cars to Phu Long. It’s a brand-new cable car by Sun group, which has been in operation since May 2020. Its ticket booth is in Cat Hai station, which is close to the Got pier.
By bus: there are many options for the bus companies for you to choose from. They include Good Morning Cat Ba, Cat Ba Express, Daiichi Travel, Full Moon, Cat Ba Discovery, etc. All of the buses are equipped with comfortable seats, water, and wet tissues. These buses depart daily with three or four turns a day. Each of the turns is 2.5 to 3.5 hours apart. The earliest bus at 7.30 AM; and the latest is between 2.00 PM and 2.30 PM. The bus will pick you up in the Old Quarter area in Hanoi for a direct drive to the center of Cat Ba Island. The bus runs on the Hanoi- Hai Phong Highway to Got pier in Hai Phong. After getting off the bus in Got pier, you will take the ferry, or high-speed boat to Cai Vieng harbors in Cat Ba. From Cai Vieng, you will continue using the bus to Cat Ba town.
By train: Get a train ticket to Hai Phong station for about 2.5 hours. From Hai Phong City, follow our guide on how to get to Cat Ba from Hai Phong city above. This option will be quite attractive for those who like local experiences. Every day, there are four turns from Hanoi to Hai Phong. They ar6.00 a.m. a9.17 a.m. a3.20 p.m. p.m.,6.15 p.m5 p.m.
By cable car from Ben Got pier (Cat Hai island) to Phu Long (Cat Ba island): The longest cable car in Vietnam is Cat Ba cable car, which is 21km long. Since May 2020, the first part from Ben Got pier (Cat Hai island) to Phu Long (Cat Ba island) has been put into operation with ticket price at 150,000 VND (approx. 6.50 USD)
From Saigon or Danang:
It’s easy to fly from Saigon or Danang to Cat Bi airport in Hai Phong then follow our guide above.
From Halong Bay – Halong City:
You can take a 45-minute ferry trip from Tuan Chau (Quang Ninh province) to Gia Luan. Then get yourself a transfer to the center of the town for about 20 minutes. Please note that the last ferry leaves Tuan Chau at 3.00 PM.