Cat Ba Island Travel Guide

(Updated: 8/23/2016 4:16:04 PM)

Cat Ba is the largest of the 367 islands spanning 260 km² that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam

Nestled on the periphery of Vietnam's fabulous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island is big -- more than 350 square kilometres -- but most tourists see but a sliver of it. Put ashore as part of a three-day tour of Ha Long Bay, time is spent on organised treks or bike rides in the national park and tours of Monkey Island, or eating at one of the many seafood places around the harbour.

Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba, the largest island in Halong Bay, has experienced a tourism surge in recent years. The central hub of Cat Ba Town is now framed by a chain of low-rise concrete hotels along its once-lovely bay, but the rest of the island is largely untouched and as wild as ever. With idyllic Lan Ha Bay just offshore you'll soon overlook Cat Ba Town's development.

Cat Ba is a pretty laid-back place most of the year and for climbers, kayakers and hikers it's the launching pad for a swag of sweat-inducing activities. Between June and early August (and particularly on summer weekends) the energy level gets dialled up significantly as Cat Ba Town transforms into a roaring resort, filled with vacationing Vietnamese. This is peak season and hotel prices during this period can rocket.

Almost half of Cat Ba Island (with a total area of 354 sq km) and 90 sq km of the adjacent waters were declared a national park in 1986 to protect the island’s diverse ecosystems. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs, but there are some sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages hidden away in small coves.

Lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot the spectacular limestone hills, the highest rising 331m above sea level. The island’s largest body of water is Ech Lake (3 hectares). Almost all of the surface streams are seasonal. Most of the island’s rainwater flows into caves and follows underground streams to the sea, creating a shortage of fresh water during the dry season.

Ho Chi Minh paid a visit to Cat Ba Island on 1 April 1951 and there is an annual festival to commemorate the event. During this time, expect lots of waterfront karaoke and techno beats from 8am to midnight.

But independent travellers shouldn't rule out a stay. Three beaches are located near the harbour town -- hardly world class, but they'll do for a quick swim and some baking on the sand. The national park is a good place for a close-to-nature trek among the mangroves and freshwater lakes and it's a good launching point for tours of Ha Long Bay and kayaking trips.

You can also explore Hospital Cave on the main island, which played its part in the war with America, enjoy the views from Cannon Fort or just cruise the island on a motorbike. A 100 kilometre circuit runs along the bay and into the interior, through incredibly beautiful countryside, and small villages where life in Cat Ba has gone on, largely untainted by the decades-long boom in tourism.

If you have the time, allow at least a couple of days to explore -- longer if you plan to use it as a base to take boat trips out into Ha Long Bay, relax on the beaches or engage in activities such as rock climbing. And, of course, you'll want to leave enough time to enjoy the fresh seafood, relax with a beer overlooking the bay or stroll along the promenade, which provides a pleasant view, dotted with fishing boats and floating restaurants. Make sure you catch at least one of the smouldering sunsets.

Accommodation on Cat Ba isn't particularly inspiring but there are some good options in all price ranges. If you want some luxury you'll need to go to the beach. With so many hotels it's unlikely you'll have problems finding a room – we went on a weekend in August and only a few places were full.

Orientation
Cat Ba Island is shaped like an upside down and poorly drawn triangle, with the national park filling most of its land area. Gia Luan Pier, where boats from Ha Long City and Tuan Chau dock, is on the northern coastline. From here a road runs through the centre to the southern point where the main town is located. The town doesn't have a name as such, but it's where most of the islanders live and where most of the accommodation, tourism services and dining options are located.

Most of the action is along the main thoroughfare (1-4 Street), which runs along the edge of the harbour, and along two roads that head inland, perpendicular to it. Both of these roads are named Nui Ngoc (it's actually one road that loops inland and returns to the harbour). It's not easy to get lost.

ATMs are in scarce supply but in the town you'll find one in a kiosk near the entrance to the pier and another in the entrance of the Holiday View Hotel. We weren't able to get cash out of the one near the pier, so best to travel with enough cash to see you through, just in case. Internet is available at hotels and restaurants.

Attractions near the town include Cannon Fort and the beaches, all of which are accessible by foot. The pier from where the day trips and boats to Monkey Island depart is just over one kilometre from the town. To reach the national park or Hospital Cave you will need to take a motorbike, taxi or motorbike taxi back up the central road -- if you're not going on an organised tour.

There's not much of interest in the north of the island, and no road access to most of it anyway, but other than the main road running north to south a smaller road runs west from just north of the national park entrance and takes a circuitous and beautiful meander along the coast back to the town (south) or north to the pier from where boats depart to Ha Long City.

Things to Do in Catba Pearl Island
Plying the turquoise waters of Ha Long
Ha Long Bay... Well, it is definitely long and the story is similarly elongated. There is nothing to prepare you better for the realities of travel in Viet Nam as the posts on Tripadvisor. There the sections about the Ha Long bay cruising are filled with posts deleted by the moderators apparently for offensive language and other trespassing. Then after filtering through the enormous amounts of information on which of the 500 boats to embark it becomes clear that you are never far away from being sheared for the sole purpose of some Vietnamese nouveau-riche to buy his second Mercedes (or wife). As usual, the best practice is to collect knowledge and then go to the place armed with it so you can choose accordingly. In this case the cheapest trip available on line for similar experience and time would have cost from 35USD to 90USD MORE per person, only compared to one and seemingly cheapest boat company. Moreover, you would have to pay at least 40% in advance in a pay method most convenient to your “service provider”. Ha (ha, ha) Long Story!

Homestay
The home stay option is not different from the cruise ship one in the sense that you would have been moored somewhere at night, it is not the Caribbean where the ship travels during the night to a distant island. At the same time the home stay exposes you to a polished up version of a fisherman’s life on the waters of the bay. The home is constructed on a grid of wooden planks together with some fishing amenities and attached to buoys of blue plastic barrels attached to the neighbouring karst hills by ropes so they are not sent to the open seas by the tides. The price includes the bed and food for dinner and breakfast and some kayaking and hiking during the day. More inquisitive persons might opt for a Vietnamese style rowing boat where the rower goes forward not backwards, looks woven not built and get to know the local people and dogs with their reactions to outsiders – a thrill in its own right. The fishermen life includes lots of fishing of course but what is different in this case is that the action is taking place at night. The local fishes seem to be madly attracted by spot lights and noises of diesel engines. Since the lights on boats and homes are produced by electric generators the noise of their boisterous humming is incessant in the period from sunset to at least ten o’clock. C’est la vie a la Ha Long! If bored with the Chinese Kong fu movies avidly devoured by your host and his companions you might choose to take their boat and explore the bay at night, with the vapours of Vietnamese wine drastically improving your rowing technique for some fine barking action from the overprotective dogs while deftly dodging stealthily unlit boat traffic in the larger channels.

Discover Catba islands
If you have time ( like 3 or 4 days) to come to Catba islands, you can arrange your time as follows:
1. Half day to visit Catba national park, Hospital cave, Trung Trang cave. Those 3 places are in the same area closed by and you can go by bus/ taxi or motobike.
2. Visit Lan Ha bay and Monkey Island. You can rent a boat ( small or big depends on your group size) to cruise Lan Ha bay. You can ask the captain to stop at Van Boi Con beach for swimming, go kayaking at Ba Trai Dao area with sandy beaches and islets and then go back to Monkey Island to take pictures of some monkeys, climb up the mountain to have panorama view of Lan Ha bay or you can swim at Monkey Island beach.
3. Visit Viet Hai fishing village: there are two ways to come to Viet Hai fishing village, an old village in Cat Ba national park with old houses and different way of life. You can go trekking through the forest, Frog lake to come to Viet Hai village, total time about 6 hours trekking in the forest. Or you can go easier way by cruising in Lan Ha bay from Ben Beo harbour to Viet Hai harbour and then rent a motobike/ bicycle to go 6 km on a good and beautiful road.
4. Activities: You can go swimming at Cat Co 1,2 beach ( most of local people do in summer time), Tung Thu beach, Monkey Island beach or especially swimming in Lan Ha bay. It is so fantastic to go kayaking in Lan Ha bay as there are not many tourists come and you can feel the nature beauty here very well. Besides, you can go rock climbing in butterfly valley or in some islands.
5. Place to eats and play: most of the restaurants and bars are in Cat Ba town. You can easily find a seafood restaurant, coffee shop or a bar in the town center. You can go to the beach to drink some beer in the evening.

Address: Catba island, Hai Phong, Vietnam

Directions: To go to Cat Ba island, you can go to Hai Phong city and then go by speed boat from Ben Binh harbour to Cat Ba island town. You also can go to Tuan Chau island in Halong bay, take a ferry to Catba island and then go by bus to Cat Ba town.



If you have time ( like 3 or 4 days) to come to Catba islands, you can arrange your time as follows:
1. Half day to visit Catba national park, Hospital cave, Trung Trang cave. Those 3 places are in the same area closed by and you can go by bus/ taxi or motobike.
2. Visit Lan Ha bay and Monkey Island. You can rent a boat ( small or big depends on your group size) to cruise Lan Ha bay. You can ask the captain to stop at Van Boi Con beach for swimming, go kayaking at Ba Trai Dao area with sandy beaches and islets and then go back to Monkey Island to take pictures of some monkeys, climb up the mountain to have panorama view of Lan Ha bay or you can swim at Monkey Island beach.
3. Visit Viet Hai fishing village: there are two ways to come to Viet Hai fishing village, an old village in Cat Ba national park with old houses and different way of life. You can go trekking through the forest, Frog lake to come to Viet Hai village, total time about 6 hours trekking in the forest. Or you can go easier way by cruising in Lan Ha bay from Ben Beo harbour to Viet Hai harbour and then rent a motobike/ bicycle to go 6 km on a good and beautiful road.
4. Activities: You can go swimming at Cat Co 1,2 beach ( most of local people do in summer time), Tung Thu beach, Monkey Island beach or especially swimming in Lan Ha bay. It is so fantastic to go kayaking in Lan Ha bay as there are not many tourists come and you can feel the nature beauty here very well. Besides, you can go rock climbing in butterfly valley or in some islands.
5. Place to eats and play: most of the restaurants and bars are in Cat Ba town. You can easily find a seafood restaurant, coffee shop or a bar in the town center. You can go to the beach to drink some beer in the evening.

Address: Catba island, Hai Phong, Vietnam

Directions: To go to Cat Ba island, you can go to Hai Phong city and then go by speed boat from Ben Binh harbour to Cat Ba island town. You also can go to Tuan Chau island in Halong bay, take a ferry to Catba island and then go by bus to Cat Ba town.

Visit Catba cannon bunker
Located in populations world-famous scenic Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba island is considered the jewel of Vietnam. It is famous as one of the legends of the island jewel of thousands were cast into the sea forming Ha Long Bay. Cat Ba is the place between the forest and the sea blend to create a one of a kind landscapes.
Come to this beautiful island, visitors are not only bathed in cool blue beaches, but also can discover mysterious nature through primitive forests on the island. In particular, due to its location at the end of the arc that strategic island was seen as a massive fortress guarded day and night sea route going to the North East of our country. High Point 177 on Cat Ba island became weak position with responsibility insurance guarded waters, air space of the country.

Visit Viet Hai Village
Viet Hai is a small village in the midst of jungles, covered by high mountains range of the Cat Ba National Park, which belongs to Cat Hai district of Hai Phong city. Vietnamese tourists seldom go to this place, but it has been becoming a popular attraction to the foreign tourists
ew years ago, Viet Hai was absolutely separated with the outside world. The local residents lived their self supply life as the primitive human of thousand years ago. Because of this cultural practice, foreign visitors to this village increase gradually. In recent years, together with the recognition of Cat Ba Archipelago as the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, thousands tourists have trekked through the mountains, jungles, springs to visit this unique attraction. They are interested in this wild area in the midst of the Biosphere Reserve, the Cat Ba National Park. You can see more in Vietnam Travel Agency.
With the support of agencies and local government, in order to push the tourism development of the city a spearhead economy, on the February 21st, 2011 the Viet Hai community tourism project was launched.
The Viet Hai Community Tourism Project is managed by the Hai Phong Border Security force. According to the plan, the commune will be invested in tourism infrastructure including accommodations, farms and production of local specialties.

Tour advice: you can book a boat from Catba to Viet Hai harbour, then go by motobike, bicycle, trekking to Viet Hai village passing a forest road 6 km to the village. In the village, you can visit old houses, take pictures of forest trees or see people, buffalows working on the green fields.

Monkey Island in Cat Ba
Monkey Island previously known as Cat Dua Island ( Pineapple Island ) because there are many pandanus fruits wich people often use for making drinks to treat some kind of diseases.
Today, the name of the island is often called Monkey Island. The reason is that the island has more than 20 monkeys, they usually play down the beach with tourists, eating foods such as bananas, apples, tangerines, candy ... funny monkeys playing, climbing impress anyone come here and gradually familiarize people call this the Monkey Island
Monkey Island about 3 km in circumference. It is an island composed of sand as there are mountains formed over millions of years of wind and waves take sand, rock, coral, shells of marine organisms such as type shells, seashells, shrimp, crab legs in mountains a sandy beach stretches several kilometers. Monkey Island 2 beach arcs that form sand beaches Cat Dua 1 and Cat Dua 2. Cat Dua 1 beach is longer, have stationed military barracks. This is an ideal location for tourists when traveling to Cat Ba because the sea here is clean and very green. There is a restaurant so visitors can sit to enjoy sea breeze, buy drinks, eat some ice cream ... together with a number of services for visitors such as bathing suits rentals, kayak .. .

Cat Dua 2 beach located behind the right-hand side spur of the tiger rock. There is a large gardens with plants such as pandanus, three maple trees si, white apple tree ... and many different kinds of birds on the island.

As to Monkey Island, a favorite of visitors can explore climbed halfway up the mountain, even up to the top of the mountain for panoramic sweeping away the Lan Ha Bay with hundreds of small islands rise over the blue water dotted the white sand beaches of sight in the distance.

Currently, visitors can go to Monkey Island and Monkey Island resort area Resort at Cat Dua beach 2. The resort has 30 rooms built thatched bungalow style home. Each house is a furnished room air conditioners, hot and cold shower, TV, electric fan ... and the internet, wifi - free internet. This really is an ideal place for you to relax, swim, enjoy the delicious cuisine of the restaurant right next to the beach.
Indeed, Monkey Island has become a highlight of Cat Ba tourist with a natural gift, with bungalow house, with tours give visitors a happy vacation.

Visit Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park is situated in Cat Ba Island and on several smaller islands nearby. The park currently comprises 98km2 of total land are, 54km2 of inshore waters. The National Park was Vietnam’s first national park to included both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. It is recognized nationally and internationally for its importance in biodiversity conservation, as it contains many different types of ecosystem and habitat. The Park has a great variety of plant and animal species. Catba National Park differs from other national parks in Vietnam because of the great variety of landscapes and ecosystems, including tropical evergeen forests, mangrove, freshwater lake and streams, isolated sandy beaches, coral reefs, caves and grottos. The Park is a tourist attraction to million of domestic and oversea visitors. Come to Catba, travelers not only can worship the beauty of landscapes, seascapes, relax on isolated beaches in Lanha Bay or visit primeval forest but also have chances to discover many unique, precious species of fauna, flora and local culture…

The golden–headed langur or Cat Ba langur is a rare and a precious animal and exists only in Cat Ba island. A special type of tree called “Cay Kim Giao” is unique to Cat Ba. In ancient times, kings and nobles would eat only with chopsticks made from this timber, as the light coloured wood was reputed to turn to black when it touched anything poisonous. There are 745 species of plants recorded on Cat Ba, including 118 timber species and 160 plants with medicinal value. The national park is home to 32 types of mammals and more than 70 species of birds have been sighted. There is a beautiful lake inside the national park called Frog Lake, with a water forest and amazing landscape.

Visit Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay is the same as Halong Bay, even more beautiful because it is not much affected by the human. Coming to Cat Ba, you should hire a boat or book a tour to visit the bay, do kayaking tour or fishing tour here. An other actitvity in Cat Ba is rock climbing. The place for rock climbing tour is also on Lan Ha Bay

Cat Ba Town
The aptly named Cat Ba Town is the main settlement on the island with around 8,000 inhabitants or on boats moored in Cai Beo bay, about 2km away from the town itself. It features 3 beaches and a parade of restaurants and hotels along the seafront and reminded me a little of small coastal towns back home in the UK. It also features some nightclubs and bars - one that we went to called the Flightless Bird Bar. Unfortunately, we arrived in the town quite late and so didn't have any time to really explore it.

Canoeing & Kayaking and Sup
Part of my tour involved a bit of paddling in canoes - the first time I'd been in one since I was in the Cub Scouts! We transferred into canoes and made our way into a small lagoon that you entered under a natural stone bridge where we heard the rustling of trees by monkeys that we couldn't see. We then paddled past floating fishing communities complete with barking dogs back to the boat and then set off for Cat Ba Town and our overnight stay at the Princes Hotel.

Community Centre
During our trek on Cat Ba Island we visited some old style wooden buildings that looked like temples but were in fact a community centre that some French guy had brought over from the mainland and built here. However, they weren't finished because the government had created the National Park whilst they were being built and so didn't give him permission to finish building them!

Cat Ba Trek
We came to Cat Ba Island on our second day to do some trekking and canoeing and to stay on the island overnight. We reached the island and walked to a village called Viet Hai which featured old wooden houses alongside piles of modern bricks that were ready to build new houses. We stopped by a family who were making square 'cakes' for Tet (the Vietnamese lunar New Year celebration) which included pork, rice and egg shaped into a square and wrapped in banana leaves. Anyway, we visited some old style wooden buildings that looked like temples but were in fact a community centre that some French guy had brought over from the mainland and built here. However, they weren't finished because the government had created the National Park whilst they were being built and so didn't give him permission to finish building them! We then had lunch served to us by a 70-year old woman in the village and headed back to the boat in order to do our canoeing. After this we came back to Cat Ba Town (the main settlement on the island) for our overnight stay at the Princes Hotel (see my accommodation tip). We had a nice dinner here and then hit some nightlife in the form of a nightclub before winding down at the Flightless Bird Bar.

Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay and is commonly used as an overnight hotel stop if you decide to do a 3 day/2 night trip like I did. Half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur and other mammals such as civet cats and oriental giant squirrels. The Park covers both land and marine areas and has a high biodiversity, although it is at risk from too rapid an increase in tourism. We came to Cat Ba Island on our second day to do some trekking and canoeing and to stay on the island overnight (see my next tip).

Cat Ba National Park
A moderately challenging 8 hour hike through temperate rain forest and over 4 hills, or a simple 1 hill and back hike. The long hike involves a lot of scrambling over slippery smooth and muddy rock. I needed my guide to walk me through it but my wife went past like a mountain goat. Pleasant village at the end where you can have lunch, then a boat back to Cat Ba town. You really need a guide but any of the places on the waterfront in Cat Ba town that organize tours can set it up. We used Indochine-Junk.com, and the guide he gave us was very helpful.

Boat tour of Halong Bay and area
High Point 177 also known as known as the Divine Fortress, located in Cat Ba tourism, Cat Hai, Hai Phong city. Divine Fortress is the historic district sits atop a hill with an elevation of 177m from sea level, including the cannons on the battlefield large marine and tunnel system, trench fortifications was built 40 years of the 20th century. Thanks to its prime location, the observed protruding 3 the sea, a full range of high-income East Sea in sight, behind the mountains is the same message as the fulcrum, the Divine Fortress became witnesses accompany military history and Cat Ba people spent two fierce wars against France and the United States, contributing up to the resounding of our army and people. It preserves the historical record of 2 guns each weighing tens of tons exported.
From the Divine Fortress, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy scenic beauty of Cat Ba Island in many ways, seems to enjoy the pristine beauty captivated the hearts of the islands, romantic beaches, the places associated with the history and legends of how this life. Located in the foothills of the two most beautiful beaches of Cat Ba - Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2. In the distance looms, bobbing on the waves Clogs island, Long Island European dragon eyes, Hon Hai, Hon Shooting, Easter Elephant Mountain, Cat Ong, Ang Carpet, Monkey Island ... At this level, there is the Cat Ba Bay lively and crowded with hundreds of fishing boats moored and floating.
Especially when the sun sets, the sun glowing like a coal equivocal after the mountain, visitors will enjoy the sediment, romantic sunset on the sea. Guests will truly overwhelmed by the beautiful lines that create natural and cultural background have drawn on blue sea create unparalleled picture is difficult.

The Divine Fortress has officially opened its doors to visitors from 13/06/2010. Now, come to Cat Ba, tourists have more meaningful choice to return to nature - where reconciliation of heaven and earth - and the historical value of the national good.

Boat tour of Halong Bay and area
Well, Halong Bay is a UNESCO site and the reason that there are any tourists on Cat Ba at all.
The usual trip has been to go to Halong City and take a boat from there, but the descriptions we'd read of Halong City all sounded rather seedy, and Cat Ba sounded pleasant enough on its own, having a national park and all, so we went there instead.
It's easy to get a boat tour of the bay but some of the people we met were on fairly crappy tours. A lot of these tours are organized in Hanoi, and if something goes wrong along the way, the whole tour can be spoiled. But most people seemed to have competently run tours.
We took a tour from Sails of Indochine. They've been organizing these things for 10 years and  worked in tourism in Switzerland, so they knows what they's about. We booked a tour with Indochine Junk where we had one day on a boat and one full day hiking in Cat Ba National Park for $115/person. It was more than we were planning on spending but the 2 of us had our guide and our boat all to ourselves! Am sure you can do this for less money esp if you don't mind other people. Visit www.indochine-junk.com

Sails of Indochina - Lan Ha Bay

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