Cat Ba Island – all you need to know
If you already read the Ha Long Bay DIY post then you know that Cat Ba is a small island near to the famous bay. From there you can organise a very cheap Ha Long Bay boat trip. It’s a great idea to go to Cat Ba Island if you don’t want to buy an organised trip to the bay in Hanoi. Thanks to that you will escape the touristic crowds that start the journey from Ha Long city. Cat Ba Island has also much more to offer: crazy parties for backpackers, good food, very cheap accommodation, great view points and a big national park.
How to get to Cat Ba Island?
If you are in Hanoi then just buy a ticket to Cat Ba Island at you hostel or any touristic agency. We bought ours at the reception of our guesthouse The Giang Guesthouse in Hanoi. The price was 230.000 Dong (around 10 USD). It includes a pick up from your accommodation, a bus and a ferry to the island. If you will leave in the morning you will arrive on the island at noon.
What to do on Cat Ba Island?
- Ha Long Bay boat cruise – the main reason why people go to Cat Ba Island is to visit Ha Long Bay. On the island you can buy very cheap whole day trips to the bay. It’s very convenient for people who don’t want to visit the bay with an organised trip bought in Hanoi and want to escape the crowds. I wrote in separate articles how to plan such a trip on you own and how does a 12 USD boat cruise look like.
- Cannon Fort – it’s a hill with bunkers and trenches that remained after the war. On the top you will find artillery spots with big cannons. Additionally there are some fantastic viewpoints, from which you can watch the sunset over the Lan Ha Bay. The landscape is very similar to the one in Ha Long Bay.
On the western side of the hill you can find a stand with cold drinks and music that is open during the sunset. On the other side there is a restaurant with food. A walk from the city centre to the top will take about 40 min. You can also get there with a scooter. There is a road almost to the top of the hill. At the end of it you will find a parking area. The entrance fee is 40.000 dong per person.
- Cat Co Beaches – on Cat Ba Island there are also sandy beaches. The only problem is that on all of them there are currently construction sides. The best one at the moment (2019) is the Cat Co 3, which is located in front of the Cat Ba Sunrise Resort. In 2019 there was also one hotel in construction but still this beach is the nicest and quietest from all. The fun fact about the finished hotel Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is that inside of it there is also the Honorary Consulate of the Czech Republic.
- Another two beaches in this area are Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2. On both of them the company Flamingo is currently building luxury apartments resort called Flamingo Cat Ba Beach Resort. It includes three buildings that will be covered with green plants and glass. The Cat Co 1 Beach is theoretically accessible but you can expect that it will be loud and dirty there. What about Cat Co 2? This one is totally closed for tourist because the company bought the whole hill (with Cannon Fort) together with the beach. Two of the three building will be build there.
- Cat Ba National Park – the Cat Ba National Park is covering almost the whole island. There is a road in the middle of it which will lead you to the most interesting places within the park, like caves and viewpoints. At the reception of our hostel two caves where recommended to us: the Hospital Cave which was a real hospital during the war and Trung Trang Cave. In order to get to these places you have to rent a scooter or use other means of transport. Unfortunately we didn’t visited the park because we had not enough time.
Where to sleep on Cat Ba Island?
Cat Ba Island is definitely less touristy than the Ha Long City. But still there are a lot of accommodations on the island. If you go there in the off-season (for example in February or March), you will have the feeling that the investors definitely overestimated the demand for hotels on Cat Ba Island. There are a lot of them and many of them where almost empty at the beginning of March 2019. During the day you can see almost no tourists compared to other places in Vietnam and many restaurants are closed. On the top of that a lot of places are renovated at that time of the year and you can see many construction sides where new hotels are build.
When it comes to cheap accommodations I can definitely recommend you Victor Charlie Hostel. It was the cheapest place we were sleeping at during our whole trip in Vietnam. For a just renovated two-people-room, with private bathroom, air-condition and breakfast we paid 5 USD… The room was located on the last floor, there was a lift and two big beds that would be enough for 4 people. The only minus was that inside you could smell cigarettes and the humidity was high. But after airing it was just fine. At the front desk you can buy also boat tours and tickets for transportation. The breakfast was very simple (like everywhere in Vietnam). You could choose for example noodles or bahn mi with omelette and a drink (tea or coffee).
Where to eat at Cat Ba Island?
On the island you can find a lot of different restaurants but definitely the best and cheapest one we found was Yummy Restaurant. They serve simple Vietnamese food and have a lot of dishes, also vegetarian ones. Because it’s a budget place I wouldn’t recommend ordering more fancy dishes, even if they have them on the menu. Watch out because there is also another restaurant with the same name in the city but I haven’t been there and can’t say if it’s as good as the first one.
We also went to one recommended vegetarian restaurant, namely Buddha Belly Restaurant. It’s located a little bit outside of the city centre. The food was good but some of the vegetarian dishes you can find much cheaper in other restaurants. I can remember that the lunches were something special: big and cheap. Also the service wasn’t very good. Our waiter didn’t spoke English at all so it was super hard to communicate with him.
Where to party on Cat Ba Island?
In the off-season (Feb/March) it seems that there is not much going on in the city. Although there are many restaurants and bars along the promenade, most of them had just a few clients. But there is one place that I can definitely recommend – the Oasis Bar. At the beginning it seemed there is as much going on as in any other place but at some point they started to give away beer for free for an hour… Can you believe that? You could literally enter the bar from the street between 10pm and 11pm and just grab a beer without paying for it. This is definitely something that makes the party starting: we were dancing till 4am on the dance floor with other crazy people. If you like to spend a nice and calm evening you can go to Oasis Bar 2. There is less going on, it’s more quiet and there is a pool. Of course at the main road you will find many other places you can choose from.
Where to go after Cat Ba Island?
A big plus of staying on Cat Ba Island is that you can go from the island directly to the next destination without going back to Hanoi. Buses are leaving from here even to Saigon or Sapa and the tickets include the bus and the ferry. We went from Cat Ba to Ninh Binh and paid for the ticket 250.00 dong per person. The buses to Ninh Binh are departing in the morning (7:30am) and in the afternoon (around 4pm).
Here is a map on which I marked all the important places on Cat Ba Island and in its neighbourhood. It will help you to plan your stay on the island. It includes the cheap hostel we slept in, restaurants and bars that we checked and all the sights that we visited or recommend. By clicking on the star you can save it in your Google Maps Account under Your Places and use it later while travelling. Enjoy!