The Secrets of Cat Ba Island

(Updated: 8/23/2016 11:51:16 AM)

Nestled on the periphery of Vietnam's fabulous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island is big -- more than 350 square kilometres -- but most tourists see but a sliver of it. Put ashore as part of a three-day tour of Ha Long Bay, time is spent on organised treks or bike rides in the national park and tours of Monkey Island, or eating at one of the many seafood places around the harbour.

How to Get to Cat Ba Island
I highly recommend to book transportation to Cat Ba. For $17 I was picked up from my hotel in Hanoi in a minibus then we took the speedboat to Catba. We booked the tour with Sails of Indochina included kayaking in Ha Long Bay, a visit to a cave, full board and overnight on classic traditional sailing junk

What to Do on Cat Ba Island
Explore the island by motorbike
The best way to truly see Cat Ba island is on the back of a motorbike. If you know how to ride one, lucky you! Otherwise find a companion or hire a driver on basically any street corner. The island is way too big and hilly to explore on foot or bicycle and there is so much to see.

Three temples dedicated to each of the fabled women that Cat Ba island is named after are up in the hills with stunning views. There is a lookout point at Fort Canon with lots of secret bunkers from the war. A butterfly farm, a zoo, and lots of local culture can also be observed by meandering through the hillside. My favorite place I went to on the island is the Hospital Cave near the National Park. If you go just before sunset the light is absolutely beautiful.

Laze at one of the  stunning beaches
The beaches on Cat Ba island are surprisingly gorgeous. However, they are tiny and I imagine during the high season are positively crammed with tourists. Two of the beaches are backed by huge resorts which were all but empty when I was there (October) despite the perfect weather. Cat Ba 2 is most popular with backpackers as it has only a few small bungalows.

Hike at the National Park
Much of Cat Ba island is protected, thankfully, by a stunning National Park. The park has exotic species of animals, including the highly endangered golden headed langur, however spotting animals is uncommon. Cat Ba Adventure Tours and Blue Swimmer offer overnight hikes. There are other short, well marked trails that you can explore on your own and admission is cheap.

Tour Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay
The main attraction for anyone coming to Cat Ba island is access to the stunning limestone karsts in Ha Long and Lan Ha Bay. There are plenty of tours leaving every day with lots of variety, but be aware many of these tours are very low quality. Sails of Indochina and Indochine Junk are said to have excellent, albeit more expensive, options.

Rock climbing
Cat Ba Adventure Tours leads rock climbing expeditions which are said to be amazing. Given the scenery I can only imagine.

Kayak around the island
It is possible to rent kayaks for the day ($15) from Ethnic Voyage and wander on your own. I wish I had done this perhaps instead of my tour to Lan Ha Bay to have a more authentic experience exploring the fish farms and local boats.

Indochine Junk Classic Sailing Cruises
Stay overnight on Junk/boat: Indochine Junk to 02 or 03 days crusing to venture off the beaten tracks line no Other to explore the hidden lagoon, caves, floating villages and life on water way of life of fishemen.

Where to Stay on Cat Ba Island
Coming home to Cat Ba town after an amazing day in the jungle or on the bay can be a serious let down. Really, the town has no charm. Ask anyone… and it’s only going to get worse. They have big plans to develop a huge resort, casino, and golf course on the South end of the island. A real shame if you ask me.

Ideally stay on the beach, outside of town in the jungle, or onboard a boat. If you do want a truly economical choice, you can usually negotiate a double room in town for $8 with air conditioning, a sea view, and a private bathroom.

Cat Ba Eco Lodge
$60 per night for a double room
In the gorgeous hills this eco lodge is the perfect relaxing retreat. They have an onsite restaurant, beautiful rooms with hot water showers, and will arrange tours for you.

Monkey Island
$75 for a double room
Stay at your own private paradise at Monkey Island. The resort has a restaurant, bar, arranges activities, and offers all inclusive packages.

Cat Ba Beach Resort
Beachfront bungalows on the most laid back beach on Cat Ba Island: Cat Ba 2. They are beautifully done and there is an onsite restaurant and bar.

Woodstock Beach Camp
Offering free WiFi and a restaurant, Woodstock Beach Camp is set in Cat Ba, 14 km from Soi Sim Island. Sung Sot Cave is 14 km from the property. Free private parking is available on site. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant, with packed lunches available on request. You can play billiards at the property, and the area is popular for fishing. Dau Be Island is 15 km from Woodstock Beach Camp. Cat Bi International Airport is 30 km away

Woodstock Beach Camp is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Cat Hai. The hotel offers a high standard of service and amenities to suit the individual needs of all travelers. Free Wi-Fi in all rooms, taxi service, ticket service, luggage storage, Wi-Fi in public areas are on the list of things guests can enjoy. Some of the well-appointed guestrooms feature towels, mirror, internet access - wireless, internet access - wireless (complimentary), non smoking rooms. The hotel's peaceful atmosphere extends to its recreational facilities which include canoe, private beach. Convenience and comfort makes Woodstock Beach Camp the perfect choice for your stay in Cat Hai.

What to Eat on Cat Ba Island
The food on Cat Ba Island does not hold a candle to the cuisine in Hanoi. Don’t expect much authenticity here. Most menus are tailored to Western and Chinese tourists.

$2-$10 for dishes
A good assortment of seafood and vegetarian dishes. The spring rolls here are among the best I had on the island. The hot pots also looked excellent.

Mr Zoom
$2-10 for dishes
The delicious seafood hot pot for $10 feeds four people. They also offer a free beer and a free vegetarian appetizer plate on some nights. The service is very friendly.

Fruit from the market
At the end of the road on the harbor, turn right and you’ll see an alley with a huge market. Culturally it’s a great experience and you will see a huge variety of fresh seafood, some still alive, lots of fruit, and fresh young coconuts.

Sails of Indochina - Lan Ha Bay

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