Rock formations with azure clear water

Cat Ba Island – Largest Island in Ha Long Bay

This post was last updated on February 21st, 2020 at 07:20 am

Cat Ba, the largest island in Ha Long Bay, is a rugged island covered with jungle. Travelers who come here are looking for adventure and tranquility. Apart from Cat Ba Town, with its concrete hotels, the island is unspoilt with an idyllic Ha Long Bay just off the coast. The nature here is so beautiful because half of the island has been declared a National Park.


A Base for Ha Long Bay

Cat Ba Town is a relaxed city for large parts of the year that serves as a base for activities on the island. And with Ha Long Bay just around the corner, there is plenty to do here. In the summer season (June to August) and in the weekends, the relaxed town turns into a booming town that attracts not only travelers but also many locals.


It’s no surprise that Cat Ba island is known as “Costa de Cat Ba”. The prices for overnight stays are also going up considerably during this time. Don’t expect an extensive party scene here, the main thing here is karaoke. Don’t worry, there are plenty more things to do in Cat Ba! Read on to find out what else you can do on this beautiful island.


Ha Long Bay Kayaking between 2 rocks
Kayaking between beautiful rock formations and azure water


10 Best Things to Do on Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba island is a popular place in Vietnam, but not as crowded as Ha Long Bay. Most travelers who come here stay for a few days to explore the impressive region. There is plenty to see and do in the region around Cat Ba. We have listed the best things for you, take a look.


1. Discover the Hospital Cave

If you have ever been to the Cu Chi tunnel complex you know how inventive the Vietnamese were with tunnels during the war. Cat Ba Island was a good strategic vantage point during the war, but that also meant that there was a lot of bombing. That is why the Vietnamese built the Hospital Cave. As the name suggests, it is a hospital in a cave!


It is impressive to see how they built it. Try to hire a guide so that you learn more about this special place. The cave is on the same road that takes you to Cat Ba National Park.


TIP – Entrance fee is 40,000 dong ($1.70) p.p.


2. Cruise Through the Bay

This is the reason that everyone comes to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba island. Cruises in beautiful azure water, which is what this region is so famous for. Whether you book the tour in Hanoi or take yourself to Cat Ba Island and book a tour here, it will be a wonderful experience that you will not forget.


In addition, you have the advantage that you can easily book a tour from Cat Ba to Lan Ha Bay, the smaller version of Ha Long Bay.


A boat cruise is a perfect opportunity to explore the islands in the water. The costs depend very much on the tour you book; the organization, the number of days, and where you book the tour. In Cat Ba, it can sometimes be more expensive (because there are fewer people) than in Hanoi. So think about it carefully!


TIP – If you want to know more about the Ha Long Bay cruises, check out our Ha Long Bay page.


Boat taking a cruise through the Ha Long - Cat Ba Bay
You can take beautiful boats and tour through Cat Ba / Ha Long Bay


3. Explore the Cannon Fort

Cannon Fort is an interesting place to visit. You will find old bunkers and helicopter landing platforms that were built in the past wars. It is special to see that bloody fighting was once held in a beautiful region such as Cat Ba.


One thing you can try is waiting at the fort until the sun goes down. From here you have a beautiful view of the islands in the area.


TIP – Entrance fee is 40,000 dong


View from Cat Ba Island Cannon Fort
Beautiful view from the Cannon Fort on Cat Ba Island


4. Take a Trip to the Cat Ba National Park

Cat Ba National Park is a beautiful park on the island. Different tours to the park are organized, to book at your accommodation or the park itself. You can spot wildlife such as macaques, wild boar, deer, and squirrels (including the giant black squirrel).


In addition to these animals, you will also find birds such as hawks, hornbills, and cuckoos. And if that isn’t enough, the Cat Ba National Park also houses thousands of species of plants, including 160 plants with medical value (which the locals believe in).


One of the best things to do is the 18-kilometer track that you can walk to the mountain tops. It is advisable to hire a guide for this 6-hour walk. A guide is not mandatory in the park but is recommended.


Certainly, if you go to the Trung Trang Cave it is useful to have a guide who ensures that the cave is open.


TIP – From Cat Ba Town you can get to the park for 20,000 Dong ($0.85) in 20 minutes. The best way to explore this park, however, is to rent a scooter for a day and drive through it yourself.


The Cat Ba jungle area is very large
The Cat Ba jungle area is very large!


5. Monkey Island

Monkey Island is close to Cat Ba island and is one of the most visited islands in the area. The island is divided into two parts. On the one hand, you will find a resort and the other a beach for the locals. What everyone comes for, however, is the tower from where you have a stunning view of Ha Long Bay, and taking pictures of the monkeys that wander around on the island.


TIP – This is THE spot to take beautiful pictures! You can kayak there.


Cute monkey on Cat Ba Monkey Island
Cute monkey on Cat Ba’s Monkey Island! Unfortunately, many tourists leave plastic bottles on the island, please put them in trashcans when you visit this place 🙂


6. Visit Lan Ha Bay

Everyone who travels, or ever has been, to Vietnam talks about Ha Long Bay. That is not surprising, because it is one of the most beautiful and visited regions in Vietnam. Many travelers also use Cat Ba as a base for a Ha Long Bay tour. These tours are almost always concentrated around Ha Long Bay, which is not surprising.


However, there’s also a smaller bay called Lan Ha Bay. The landscape here is just as beautiful as in Ha Long Bay, it’s just a lot smaller. The biggest advantage is that there are far fewer tourists. The disadvantage is that there are fewer boats and less good quality boats because almost everyone goes to Ha Long Bay.


Lan Ha Bay once belonged to Ha Long Bay but became an independent archipelago in an effort to preserve natural biodiversity. Something that is quite difficult to do in Ha Long Bay. It is a surreal experience to cruise between the ancient cliffs. This tour is a lot more expensive.


7. Rent a Kayak

Kayaking is one of the must-do activities when you visit Cat Ba. Because the bay is reasonably sheltered, the sea is quite calm here, making kayaking a lot easier. Rent a kayak and discover the coast and the beautiful beaches around Cat Ba. It is a wonderfully relaxing getaway.


You can also kayak to fishing villages and snorkel at various places in the bay. A kayak tour is also one of the options, although you may be a little less flexible about where you can go kayaking. And since the weather and the water here are fairly mild, you can easily kayak somewhere by yourself.


Kayaking in Ha Long Bay
It is a very beautiful place to kayak


If you want to float around yourself it is better to rent a kayak. If you want to see all the beautiful places in the bay you better book a tour.


TIP – A one-day tour costs between 500,000 and 700,000 Dong (US$21.50 to $30). Renting a kayak costs around 270,000 Dong (US$11.60) per day.


Sideview of a kayak in Cat Ba Island
It was truly one of our best experiences in Vietnam!


8. Rent a Scooter and Explore the Area

Cat Ba is a big island, but just small enough to explore by scooter. It is a great experience to cruise the island and explore all the beautiful places. Along the way there are many beautiful views, you pass small villages, deserted beaches, and find friendly smiling locals.


The roads are in good condition and the traffic is a lot less busy than on the mainland. Always look carefully. Unfortunately, accidents happen and often you are held responsible as a tourist.


TIP – Renting a scooter will cost around US$5 a day.


9. Discover the Best Cat Ba Beaches

Although nature is beautiful here you will find, crazily enough, only three beaches on Cat Ba island. In terms of naming these beaches, they were not particularly creative as they are called Cat Co I, Cat Co II and Cat Co III. The beaches are not of A-quality standards but the water is nice and clear so you can go snorkeling or kayaking.


For the really tropical islands and blindingly beautiful beaches, you can rent a boat and sail to one of the 336 islands in the archipelago. The closest are Cat Trai Gai, Duong Gianh or Hien Hao.


Cat Ba Beach with Cloudy Weather
The weather wasn’t great but the beaches still looked very beautiful


10. Book a Tour to Cat Ba

You can go to Cat Ba on your own, but this is often cumbersome and it takes much longer than an organized tour. In Hanoi, you can book a lot of tours ranging from one day to several days and from bus tours to the most luxurious boats. Prices therefore also depend entirely on what your wishes are.


You can also book tours where you sail from Hanoi city to Ha Long Bay, spend the night in Cat Ba and return the next day, or later, by boat to Hanoi. The possibilities are endless. We recommend booking a tour.


That saves you a lot of research, it is easier, and you are more likely to see everything.


Best Time to Visit Cat Ba Island

The best time to visit Cat Ba island is from March to April. This time of year the temperature is pleasant and the skies are usually blue. The water also feels pleasantly warm. It gets cooler from December to February although it never gets too cold in South-East Asia. You can expect some rain from February to April but it rains most often from June to August. June to August is the high season.


If you make plans to visit Cat Ba, try to be on the island around the 1st of April. Ho Chi Minh was here on April 1, 1951, and they still celebrate that every year with a lot of karaoke and fun along the coast.


Average temperature and rainfall in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Average temperature and rainfall in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam


Cat Ba Island Hotel, Hostel & Homestay Guide

Cat Ba Harbor Town has many cheap hostels, hotels & homestays. If you’re coming here during the Vietnamese summer holiday you should definitely book your accommodation in advance. During this time, it will be very busy and the prices will vary from day to day.


The Best Hotels on Cat Ba Island

If you like to travel in style, with a bit more luxury, the Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is the best choice.


If you’re looking for a great experience with decent luxury, these are the best hotels on Cat Ba Island:


Boat Trips

Unfortunately, many poor boat trips are organized to Ha Long Bay. Many of them start in Hanoi, but there are also a few moderate options from Cat Ba. That is why we recommend booking your boat trip at Cat Ba Ventures (you don’t have to book anything online, they are located in Cat Ba itself).


With this organization – located on the boulevard of the village of Cat Ba – you pay a bit more, but you are on a clean boat with a friendly crew. Moreover, you will not only visit Ha Long Bay, but also the quieter and just as beautiful Lan Ha Bay.


How to Get to Cat Ba Island

With a bus / boat combination you can be in Cat Ba from Hanoi in four to five hours. From the Ninh Binh area it takes about 6 hours of driving. You can buy the tickets for this trip on the spot but you can also buy them online (check below). You can choose from several departure times.


Booking Bus Tickets Online

We often use 12GoAsia to book our bus tickets in advance. It’s very easy to do and you won’t have to worry about transport on your trip. Check it out!


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