Cat Ba Island sits just off the coast of Northern Vietnam, slightly South of the more famous destination Ha Long Bay. The island itself is surprisingly large and is home to some of the most jaw dropping mountainous scenery in Vietnam.
We made the decision to visit the island over visiting Ha Long Bay based on advice from friends. And it’s a decision we didn’t regret. Cat Ba Island has to be our favourite destination in Vietnam!
Getting to Cat Ba Island
Motorbike – Bến Phà Gót Ferry
The ferry port to Cat Ba is a 3 hour drive from Hanoi centre and pretty straight forward. The drive follows a main road all the way to Hai Phong, where you will turn off for Bến Phà Gót ferry port.
Tip: Be sure to follow the AH14 road. The QL5B road is a motorway and does not allow bikes.
The ferry runs hourly and costs 12,000VND ($0.70) for the bike and 20,000VND ($1) for a person.
Bus from Hanoi
If you don’t fancy the long drive, catching the bus is another affordable and easy option. There are various tour companies that run daily buses to Cat Ba town. Buses generally cost between $10-20.
What to do
Cat Ba National Park
We were pleasantly surprised to see how vast and mountainous Cat Ba was, something I have to admit we weren’t expecting. The islands mountains stick out the of the ocean covered in lush green forest and can be seen from Hai Phong’s coastline.
The National Park is easily accessible by bike and sits in the centre of the island. There are few roads on the island, so it’s difficult to get yourself lost.
You’ll be able to spot the entrance to the park from the main road leading to it. Look for the 10ft fibreglass giraffe. I’m not sure what the relevance of the giraffe is; they certainly don’t have them in the park.
Entrance to the park is around 30,000VND ($1). You will be asked if you’d like to do the long jungle hike (4 hours and no view) or the short hike (2 hours and one hell of a view). Obviously we opted for the short hike and I’m not too sure why you wouldn’t.
Hike in Cat Ba National Park
The hike itself is pretty easy, but there are some scrambling bits right at the end.
There are two viewpoints when you reach the top. The first is very deceiving. When you reach it, it’s hard to see that you haven’t actually summited already. The view is great and there is a large viewing platform.
Do not be fooled. Carry on following the path for another 15 minutes and there you have it, my favourite view in Vietnam. A rock points out at the and from here you have a 360 view of the whole island.
Quite literally rolling mountains and jungle as far as the eye can see. It’s worth a trip to Cat Ba just to take in this view alone.
On the Southern tip of the island, just past Cat Ba town, you’ll find a little beach cove. The beach itself is pretty wide and is the perfect place to have some downtime. The cove means that the water is very calm and ideal for swimming.
There are also some cliff side footpaths you can follow to get a better view of Cat Ba Town’s bay.
Do keep your eye out for jellies though. We saw a poor girl who’d got a sting on her wrist. Those mindless floating pain machines will catch you if your not careful!
Sadly when we visited they were in the process of building a new resort, which did mean our downtime was sound tracked by cranes and diggers. This didn’t stop us from grabbing our afternoon nap on the sand.
Cat Ba Town
Cat Ba town is particularly lively and there are an endless amount of bars and restaurants to try. The sea front offers the perfect place to grab a bite to eat whilst you watch the sunset over the sea. You can pick any meal from a traditional Pho to a Western Pizza.
There are also a number of floating restaurants along the coastline where you can grab some fresh seafood caught that day by local fishermen.
Many of the fishermen have set up their homes on the water and it’s easy to spend hours just watching the way they live from the shore. You can see them going about their everyday lives on their floating homes.
There are number of companies found on the seafront that offer day trips around Cat Ba and Lan Ha Bay. This is an absolute must whilst on the island.
We opted to go on a day trip with Asia Outdoors, a company that offers a number of different activities out and around Lan Ha Bay. This is by far the best day out we have had since arriving in Vietnam.
Day trips start in their shop on the seafront at 08:15. From here you are taken by bus to a near by port where you’re shipped off for a day of outdoor activities.
In the morning we stand-up paddle boarded around the beautiful Lan Ha Bay. There really is no better way to take in the stunning scenery than floating around and taking a dip in the still water.
Lunch is then served on the boat and is absolutely delicious traditional Vietnamese. Afterwards you have a short amount of time to chill and sunbathe before the afternoon of rock-climbing begins.
Rock Climbing at Cat Ba
We were shipped off on a smaller boat to a small beach at the bottom of some limestone cliffs. The beach itself is beautiful and if you don’t fancy climbing, it’s the ideal place to spend the afternoon chilling.
For those of you who are thinking you need experience to be able to rock climb, you don’t. Top-rope rock climbing is fool proof and can be completed by an absolute beginner.
You are strapped in and hooked up to an experienced climber at the bottom of the climb, who literally has your life in their hands. But do not panic, these guys know what they are doing.
When you fall, you just swing like a pendulum. It’s terrifying, I won’t lie, but thrilling all the same!
I asked to be let down at numerous points throughout the climb, I’m pretty damn terrified of heights, but my guide at the bottom insisted I continue. And to be honest I’m pleased he did. I reached the top on my very first climb!
Looking out over the bay at the top of a climb was something I won’t ever forget. When I landed my feet on solid ground once again I felt as though I had achieved something I never would.
I owe it all to the lovely chap at the bottom who pushed me to keep going.
You may want to look at booking your trip in advance. These guys are very popular and trips get booked up quickly. You can book online or in the store.
Where to Stay
The island has an endless amount of hostels and hotels at affordable prices. We opted to stay at Mountain View.
Here you can stay on the top of the mountain overlooking amazing scenery. At the top there is a pool and a bar where you can relax and swim on a summers afternoon.
What more could you want from a 2 day trip?