Cat Ba is the biggest island in the world famous Ha Long Bay, so it is easy to understand why it is well known to most tourists who visit Vietnam.
This has helped add comforts and conveniences for the visitors. These days, in the heart of the island, Cat Ba Town, hotels and homestays are no longer an unknown development.
At the same time, nature lovers can breathe a sigh of relief because it is still several steps away from becoming an urban jungle. This is because almost half of Cat Ba and its adjacent waters belong to a national park established in 1986 to protect the island’s diverse ecosystem.
A few days of proximity to nature in Cat Ba, therefore, can comfortably rejuvenate you.
There are several ways to reach Cat Ba from the capital city of Hanoi.
You can get a bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong and take the Hanoi-Hai Phong Expressway or National Highway No.5 to get to Hai Phong City.
With the grand opening of the Tan Vu-Lach Huyen Bridge in Hai Phong last year, getting to Cat Ba Island is easier and faster.
The bridge, the longest sea crossing bridge in Southeast Asia, is connected to the Hai Phong-Hanoi Expressway, allowing vehicles to travel all the way from the capital city to an island named Cat Hai, from where you can take a ferry at the Got Wharf to Cat Ba.
The ferry operates all day and will take you around two hours in total.
In case you do not want to travel via the cross-sea bridge, you have the option of taking a high-speed boat from the Binh Wharf in Hai Phong City. A boat departs every two hours, and tickets cost VND250,000 ($10.77) per person. The traveling time is around 45 minutes.
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can fly directly to Hai Phong and take one of the steps mentioned above.
You can also travel to Cat Ba from Ha Long Bay. Catch a ferry from Tuan Chau Island to reach Gia Luan Port and take a cab to Cat Ba Town.
Cat Ba Island - Tung Thu Beach
Lan Ha Bay
Cat Ba National Park, shopping.
Once you get to the island, you can either travel along the long promenade surrounding the island or trek through the forest to get to Cat Ba Town. Tickets to visit the Cat Ba National Park costs VND40,000 per person.
You can also take a beach tour. Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 3 beaches are quite famous but crowded. Around one kilometer away from the town lies the Tung Thu Beach, which is cleaner and more peaceful.
If you want to camp on Tung Thu Beach overnight, make sure that you stay in groups or hire a local guide to ensure safety.
The Cat Ba night market and its fresh seafood delicacies is a good way to spend time when it gets dark.
Remember that you can also hire bicycles or take cyclo tours.
Devote the second day to satellite islands around Cat Ba. For this, it is better that you find a tour guide in town. A whole package for a one-day tour around those islets will cost VND1-1.5 million ($43-65) per person.
There are boats departing Cat Ba Island every morning at around 8 a.m. to take tourists to more than 400 surrounding islets.
Along the way to the islets, stop at floating fishing villages for fresh seafood. Most of these islets have white sandy beaches with clear and calm waters, which is perfect for swimming.
For lunch, the tour guide will arrange for fresh seafood to be cooked and also start a fire for a beach party.
The one-day tour will last until late afternoon, so you can make your own schedule for snorkeling and kayaking, or just exploring more islets.
On your way back to Cat Ba Town, don’t miss the Cai Beo fishing village, said to be the oldest of its kind in Vietnam and considered a living museum of Vietnamese fishing culture.
The second night on Cat Ba Island, you can visit the Than Cong Fortress, which is famous for its observatory and complicated tunnel system. Ticket to the fortress costs VND50,000 per person.
On the last day on the island, you should wake up early to admire the sunrise on the beach and spend some time exploring the cave system in Cat Ba National Park.
Don’t forget to try local specialties on Cat Ba. The Cat Hai fish sauce, dried squid, and honey from the bees of Cat Ba National Park are authentic products that should not be missed.
No trip to Cat Ba Island can be complete without tasting its signature dishes.
The island’s shrimp noodle soup, made with locally caught shrimps, is served with a fresh, sweet broth.
The geoduck, a large salt water clam, is one of the most famous seafood items on Cat Ba Island. Locals usually grill, steam or make congee with it.
Next on the list is grouper fish, which tastes good in a congee, steamed or grilled. It is also used in hot pots.
The tri-spine horseshoe crab is yet another great choice for seafood lovers visiting Cat Ba. Grilled or a sweet and sour stir-fried dish get the best flavors out of this crab.
Then there is the mantis shrimp, which is roasted with salt. Cat Ba is home to big and fat mantis shrimps.
- If you travel to the island is summer, do not swim in the sea after 6 p.m. to avoid the high tide.
- If you are making a weekend visit to Cat Ba, brace to be part of the crowd on the sea-crossing Tan Vu-Lach Huyen Bridge. The safest solution to escape from the crowd is give up on the mighty bridge and book a high-speed boat from the Binh Wharf in Hai Phong City.
- Leaving the island in the afternoon will help avoid the crowd, too, as most tourists choose to leave the island in the evening.
- It is better that you book a hotel room in Cat Ba Town before arriving. But in case you cannot find any hotel room, a homestay is not a bad choice.
The parting note: Tourists can get ripped off when buying local specialties, so beware.
Photos by Than Trong Hieu, Nguyen Thuy Van, Hoang Manh Cuong, Nguyen The Hung, Trekking Island - Cat Ba