Tucked away in Northern Vietnam, Cat Ba island is a treasure trove of diverse landscapes, promising an adventure at every turn and a postcard-perfect view in every corner.
Wondering what to do in Cat Ba? Don’t you worry, I’ve got you covered! In this travel guide, I’ll help you uncover the best things to do in Cat Ba Island. This will not only tell you where to go but also share some secret tips to make your visit even more memorable.
From sunbathing on secluded beaches to exploring awe-inspiring bays, Cat Ba offers a wealth of experiences that will make your heart race and your camera’s shutter work overtime.
Sunbathe on Cat Ba’s Beaches
Soaking in the sun on the pristine beaches of Cat Ba was, hands down, one of the most relaxing things I’ve done. The island boasts several beautiful beaches, but my favorite spots are Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3. They’re all just a short walk or a quick bike ride from the town center.
Each beach is neatly tucked between mountains, offering an intimate spot to unwind. I particularly loved the serene ambiance in the mornings when the beaches were quieter. Taking a gentle stroll along the connecting path and watching the sunrise paint the sky in a burst of colors was an experience I will cherish.
Pro tip? Set your alarm, grab your camera, and catch the mesmerizing sunrise from these sandy shores – trust me, it’s a sight you won’t want to miss.
Remember, though, that swimming can get risky after 6:30 pm due to fast-rising tides. I’d suggest checking the tide timings and taking local advice on this.
If you’re looking for a quieter beach experience, head over to Monkey Island or Tung Thu Beach, or one of the tranquil beaches nestled in Lan Ha Bay. These spots are less frequented by tourists, letting you enjoy your beach day in peace.
Experience the untamed beauty of Lan Ha Bay
A trip to Cat Ba Island wouldn’t be complete without a day spent exploring Lan Ha Bay. This mesmerizing area used to be a part of Ha Long Bay but has since claimed its independence, making it somewhat of a hidden gem as it receives fewer visitors than its famous neighbor.
If you prefer an organized excursion, consider booking a guided tour of the bay. It’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and activities that Lan Ha Bay has to offer.
These tours typically include kayaking, swimming on the golden sand beaches, a visit to Monkey Island, and the chance to marvel at the area’s breathtaking limestone formations and karsts.
And if you’re based in Hanoi, don’t worry, you can easily book a tour to Lan Ha tour from Hanoi.
Go snorkeling on Monkey Island
Monkey Island is more than just a picturesque location with beautiful beaches, it’s a gateway to an underwater haven filled with marine life.
From iridescent coral reefs to fascinating creatures like abalone, pearl, dragon shrimp, and vibrantly colored fishes, there’s plenty to discover beneath the surface.
At Monkey Island Resort, you can embark on an underwater journey either by diving with a professional instructor for approximately 1 million VND ($50) for 30 minutes, or choose to snorkel solo for around 600,000 VND ($30). Remember that prices might vary.
Apart from snorkeling, the island features stunning beaches where you can relax and soak up panoramic views of the remarkable limestone and karst formations. You can also hike up to the top of the mountain.
Visit the floating village
One of my favorite things to do in Cat Ba is visiting Cai Beo Fishing Village, one of the country’s most significant floating villages that date back to prehistoric times.
Picture this: over 300 households floating gently on the water’s surface, sustained mainly by fishing and aquaculture. It’s a unique way of life that you simply can’t miss when you’re in Cat Ba.
What I found fascinating about Cai Beo is the intricate network of boat houses, floating homes, and fish cages, all interconnected. It was a delight to simply walk from one house to another, taking in the local life and chatting with the villagers.
And guess what? The floating restaurants here serve some of the freshest and tastiest seafood you’ll ever have! Plus, the bay views and local life provide a stunning backdrop for all those travel photos you’ll want to snap.
Getting to Cai Beo Fishing Village is pretty simple. I usually opt for a guided tour of Lan Ha Bay, which often includes a stop at the Cai Beo floating village. You can also charter a fishing boat from Ben Beo port.
Explore Cat Ba National Park
This natural paradise offers an exhilarating mix of hiking trails, wildlife spotting opportunities, and breathtaking vistas that can make any nature lover’s heart flutter with excitement.
From leisurely walks to more challenging hikes, Cat Ba National Park caters to all levels of fitness and adventure spirit. I’ve explored the park through various routes – the popular 1.8 km trail is an easy walk that offers a snapshot of the park’s diverse flora and fauna. However, for the more adventurous, the 16 km trail leading to the quaint Viet Hai fishing village is a fantastic trek, although it’s a bit demanding.
The park is also home to a number of endemic species, but the real star is the Cat Ba langur. This species is one of the most endangered primates in the world, and spotting one during your hike is indeed a thrilling experience.
Always remember to wear appropriate hiking shoes and carry enough water and snacks. If you plan to go on the longer treks, hiring a local guide can be helpful. They not only know the trails well but also share interesting tidbits about the park’s biodiversity.
Explore the caves
One of my favorite adventures in Cat Ba has been exploring its intriguing network of caves. Each visit brings a new discovery, a new experience, and a newfound appreciation for the island’s natural wonders.
Trung Trang Cave has always captured my imagination with its mesmerizing stalactite and stalagmite formations that have evolved over thousands of years. The cave stretches over 300 meters, creating a labyrinthine network of chambers to explore. Just remember to carry a flashlight or headlamp for better visibility.
The Hospital Cave, on the other hand, offers a peek into the island’s wartime history. It served as a secret, bomb-proof hospital and safe house for Viet Cong leaders during the American War. It’s an eerie and humbling experience to walk through the halls that were once buzzing with covert activity.
Other notable caves to explore are the Hoa Cuong Cave and Thien Long Cave, each boasting unique geological features and historical stories. Ensure you’re wearing sturdy shoes, as cave floors can be slippery. Guided tours are also available, which I highly recommend for first-time explorers.
Enjoy fresh seafood
As a seafood enthusiast, I’m always on the hunt for the best catch, and Cat Ba certainly delivers.
With the ocean at its doorstep, you can be sure that the seafood here is as fresh as it gets. I’ve spent countless evenings wandering the streets of Cat Ba town, hopping from one local eatery to another, each offering its unique spin on the day’s catch.
Some of my favorite dishes include steamed clams in lemongrass, grilled mackerel with dill, and deliciously spiced sea snails. Don’t miss out on the local-style hotpot, a communal feast that’s perfect for those chillier nights.
For a more hands-on experience, I suggest buying seafood directly from the local fisherfolk at the floating village. It doesn’t get fresher than this! Just remember, haggling is part of the buying process, so don’t be shy to negotiate the price.
Join a cooking class
Cat Ba Island is a paradise for seafood lovers, and you can dive deeper by taking a cooking class. This isn’t just about following recipes – it’s a culinary adventure that gives you a peek into the local life and the island’s bounty.
Accompanied by a friendly local guide, you’ll learn how to select fresh fish and seafood at the local market. The fish market is a fascinating place, filled with the sounds, smells, and sights that make up the island’s vibrant culinary scene.
The cooking class itself is a great experience, where you’ll learn to whip up several Vietnamese dishes. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of preparing a meal from scratch, especially when you’re using fresh, locally sourced produce.
View the town from Cannon fort
One of my favorite spots to enjoy panoramic views of Cat Ba, Cannon Fort offers more than just a great Instagram location. Perched 177m above sea level, this historical site is a tangible remnant of Vietnam’s turbulent past, playing a strategic role during the anti-French and anti-American wars.
Walking around the fort, I often find myself marveling at its historical significance, imagining the battles it must have seen, and the stories it could tell. The well-preserved underground tunnels and gun emplacements are a stark reminder of the not-so-distant past.
But it’s not all solemn reflection at Cannon Fort. The breathtaking view from the hilltop is a vibrant tableau of Cat Ba town, the rolling hills, the distant beaches, and the beautiful bay.
I’ve spent a few evenings there, watching the sun slowly dip below the horizon, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink. Now, that’s a sight I never get tired of!
Take a bike ride around the Island
One of the best ways to explore Cat Ba Island is by renting a bike and taking a ride around the island. The island is not too big, and the roads are in good condition, making biking a fun and convenient way to get around.
Cycling around, you can soak in the island’s scenic beauty at your own pace. Stop by a beach for a quick swim, visit a local cafe for Vietnamese coffee, or simply enjoy the lush greenery and the cool sea breeze on your face.
Just a tip – it can get hot during the day, so I recommend biking early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat. Don’t forget to carry sunscreen, a hat, and water!
Visit Viet Hai Village
Every time I visit Viet Hai Village, it’s like stepping back in time. Tucked away in the heart of the Cat Ba National Park and surrounded by lush mountains, this quaint fishing village offers a refreshing change of pace from the usual island activities.
I love the peace and tranquility that envelops the village, with traditional Vietnamese houses dotting the landscape.
Cycling around the village is an absolute must-do. The scenic trail through the verdant countryside is not just a feast for the eyes, but also an excellent opportunity to experience local life. The warm and friendly locals, often seen tending to their fields or casting fishing nets, add to the village’s charm.
A unique highlight for me has always been the trek to Hai Quan Hill, the highest point in Viet Hai. The uphill walk might be a bit challenging, but the panoramic view from the top, overlooking the stunning countryside and azure sea, is worth every step.
If you are up for a cultural experience, I recommend staying overnight. The homestays in the village offer basic but comfortable accommodations and a chance to sample authentic home-cooked meals. It’s these connections with the people and the place that makes Viet Hai Village a special part of any Cat Ba visit.
Go rock climbing
Looking for an adrenaline rush? You can try rock climbing in Cat Ba.
There are several popular climbing sites around the island. Some popular spots include Dau Be Island and Ben Beo Mountain Cliff, which are relatively close to the town center. The cliffs at Ba Trai Dao Island, though further south, offer a unique climbing experience with their magnificent sea views.
Remember, always ensure your safety first. While it’s possible to rent climbing gear on the island, it’s best to go with a certified climbing guide, especially if you’re a beginner.
How to get to Cat Ba island?
Cat Ba Island is 30 km from the bustling city of Hai Phong and 25 km from Ha Long city. It’s well-connected by road, sea, and even air.
a) From Hanoi to Cat Ba: I’ve often traveled from Hanoi to Cat Ba island by bus and ferry. The journey is fairly straightforward and offers picturesque views along the way. Buses depart from Hanoi several times a day, and the whole journey takes about 4 hours.
b) From Hai Phong to Cat Ba: Alternatively, you can catch a ferry or speedboat from Hai Phong to Cat Ba. I recommend the speedboat as it cuts down on travel time, getting you to Cat Ba in just 45 minutes.
c) From Ha Long Bay: For a more scenic journey, you can take a boat from Quang Ninh. This route takes you through the mesmerizing landscapes of Ha Long Bay. You can buy the ferry ticket at Tuan Chau Port.
d) Get around Cat Ba: Once on the island, there are several options to get around. You can hire an electric car for a quick tour of the town. If you prefer to explore at your own pace, rent a motorbike or a bicycle. Just be careful on the roads, and always wear a helmet!