The nicest and most beautiful alternative to busy Halong Bay is the island of Cat Ba in the northeast of Vietnam. From this large island you can visit the beautiful Lan Ha Bay. Here you share the equally beautiful views with hardly anyone! And Cat Ba has much more to offer.
The only town on the island is Cat Ba Town. This town is characterized by many high narrow concrete hotels, mini supermarkets, restaurants and tour agencies with the necessary neon lighting and billboards. I didn’t think it was an attractive town, but the beautiful island makes up for it.
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7 things to do in Cat Ba Vietnam
1. Lan Ha Bay
Those who know Vietnam probably also know Ha Long Bay. It’s the landmark of northern Vietnam. But for that reason it’s very crowded and you are never alone. Therefore choose Lan Ha Bay! Lan Ha Bay is the new Ha Long Bay, but much quieter. So ideal! The area is just as beautiful and there is a good chance that you won’t encounter another boat along the way.
The price for a day trip on the boat with lunch costs about $ 19. You sail through Lan Ha Bay and at the end also a bit through Ha Long Bay. On the way you stop once for snorkeling, for kayaking and at a fishing village. Good tour companies are Cat Ba Vision and Cat Ba Ventures. Both tour desks can be found on the main street in Cat Ba Town.
2. Rent a motorbike!
What better way to discover such a large island than on a motorbike? The roads are generally of good quality and there is little other traffic which makes Cat Ba a wonderful and safe place to drive around.
Unfortunately, the scooters you can rent on the island are generally of moderate to poor quality. My scooter failed several times while driving and sometimes a huge bang came out of the exhaust. Every time it was exciting whether the motorbike would start or not. And once it didn’t start anymore. Fortunately, this happened near the owner, so I only had to walk for 5 minutes. This gentleman fiddled with the scooter here and there, making the motorbike work perfectly again. Unfortunately, that was also short-lived. My advice is: always test your motorbike in advance and start it yourself a number of times. And of course never give your passport, but give a copy instead.
3. Cat Ba National Park
One of the most awesome attractions in Cat Ba next to Lan Ha Bay is the Cat Ba National Park. The route alone by motorbike is fantastic! The best thing about the national park is the cool viewpoint that you reach after a long walk. I admit; the walking route was quite exhausting, but the view was well worth it. Fortunately, you can rest in a covered cabin. After the hut, climb a bit further up the stone path for an even better view!
You can choose to take a guide, but this is not really necessary. The walking route is very easy and you really cannot get lost. The guides are generally not very chatty though.
You reach the National Park after about half an hour by motorbike from Cat Ba Town.
4. Cannon Fort
The Cannon Fort is located on a hefty hill west of the main street. Especially with the sunset you have a beautiful view of the bay and the rocks in the distance. The Cannon Fort, including the tunnels, was built in 1942 by the Japanese. Later it was also used by other French and Vietnamese during other conflicts. Unfortunately, there is hardly any more information about the fort on site. Entrance is 40,000 Dong.
The Cannon Fort is ideal to visit by scooter. It takes about fifteen minutes from the center. Parking your motorbike costs 10,000 Dong.
Only I was unfortunate that my motorbike only continued to drive when I accelerated. And that’s not really useful when you drive down the hill in the dark without light … A little tension can be healthy, I would say.
5. Hospital Cave
About 10 km north of Cat Ba Town is Hospital Cave. This three-storey cave is exceptionally well-made and served as a secret hospital and a safe place for the leaders of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
Entrance to the cave is 40,000 Dong and it includes a short tour from a guide. I really liked that we got a guided tour, but sometimes I was unsure whether the guide was talking to us in English or Vietnamese …
6. Trung Trang Cave
A gigantic large cave near the entrance of the Cat Ba National park is the Trung Trang Cave. The cave is well lit and it’s nice to walk through it. The gigantic stalagmites and stalactites are special to see. You also pay an entrance fee of 40,000 Dong for this attraction.
Both the Hospital Cave and Trung Trang Cave are located on the route to Cat Ba National Park. This makes these activities perfect to combine!
Despite the many cliffs, the island also has a number of beaches. Three beaches on the southeast coast are the best known and are closest to Cat Ba Town. The beaches are called very originally: Cat Co 1, 2 and 3. And the name order does not make perfect sense from north to south.
I only visited Cat C0 1 and was unable to reach Cat Co 2 at the time because the road was closed due to construction work. During my visit to Cat Co 1, they were building something on the beach. It wasn’t disturbing for me because the beach was long enough and also had quiet spots. And to be honest, after my journey through the north of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, I just longed for the beach and the sea. And Cat Co 1 is a wonderful beach!
Just when I had cleared my things and went up the stairs to my motorbike I heard a hell of a noise. I saw everyone on the beach looking back or running away. The crane, where I had been lying nearby, had collapsed! The colossus landed on a metal house that was little left. Nobody could tell me whether victims had fallen, because everyone was quickly dismissed by the employees. Crazy!
Best place to stay in Cat Ba
Most accommodations in Cat Ba are located in Cat Ba Town and this is also the easiest place to stay. Try to stay within walking distance of the main street (dotted line on the picture below). From here you can easily book a tour to Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay and you can easily rent motorbikes there.
On the island are also a few accommodations that are not located in the town, but try to find out if you can rent motorbikes nearby.
How to get to Cat Ba?
Cat Ba is easily accessible from several cities by bus and boat combination. Tickets can often be booked at your ho(s)tel and you will usually be dropped off on the island in front of your ho(s)tel.
A very nice, but also slightly more expensive bus company is Goodmorning Cat Ba. I thought the service was fantastic, even compared to Dutch standards. The buses are super comfortable and you can be sure that everything is well organized!
- Hanoi » Cat Ba: From Hanoi you can reach the island in about 5 hours. Tickets cost around 250,000 and 350,000 dong depending on which bus company you take.
- Ninh Binh/Tam Coc » Cat Ba: From Ninh Binh/Tam Coc you travel to the island in about 5 hours. Bus tickets cost between 250,000 and 350,000 dong.