Cat Ba is a small island just off the west coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin and super easy to get to from Hanoi. It is the largest of 367 islands making up the Cat Ba Archipelago and it is beautiful. The topography is made up of sheltered bays dotted along sweeping coastlines and lush green forest flowing over steep hills and valleys where peanuts and fish are farmed.
Most people just visit to take a boat around Lan Ha and Halong Bay – which you should absolutely do because it’s awesome – but if you can spare it we’d highly recommend staying an extra day to explore Cat Ba Island itself.
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What to do in Cat Ba?
Between the expansive jungle of Cat Ba National Park, upcoming coastal Cat Ba town and the gorgeous secluded sandy beaches it’s quite difficult to decide on what to do in Cat Ba. But don’t worry! We’ll tell you how to make sure you don’t miss the best things to do in Cat Ba here.
Rent a Motorbike
The best way of navigating the island is by getting a motorbike and exploring independently. You can rent a 115cc or 145cc automatic bike for around £3.50 and £5.00 respectively easily from most hotels in Cat Ba Town. Helmets are provided and the bikes are in pretty good condition. the fuel for the day cost us roughly £2.00.
Top Tip: You can buy fuel from the place you rent the bike but it’s cheaper if you get it from a petrol station in Cat Ba town.
There aren’t many roads so it would be quite difficult to get lost and the roads are very quiet save for the odd coach. They’re not in the best condition but fine if you pay attention, there’s just quite a few pot holes and also lots of goats on the roads you need to watch out for.
Explore independently by motorbike.
First up visit the Hospital Cave, it’s a couple of quid entrance and definitely worth a stop off if you are interested in Vietnamese history. You can pay a little entrance for a guide to take you around if you wish. It opens at 7am.
It’s named the Hospital Cave because a 3 storey hospital complete with swimming pool and cinema was quite literally built inside the natural cave to treat to treat the injured during the Vietnam War and was in constant use for over 10 years. It’s interesting but naturally very bleak.
Cat Ba Hospital Cave.
Cat Ba National Park
Just up the road is the Cat Ba National Park. The thick green jungle covers almost half of the entire island and amongst many other animals and birds is home to the endangered Cat Ba Langur. The Cat Ba Langur is a small monkey with golden hair and a really long tail and is the world’s most endangered primate with only around 60 of them remaining.
The entrance fee is around £3 per person and there’s a few easy to moderate routes up to peaks for views over the island and nearby caves that should take you around 2/3 hours up and down depending on your level of fitness.
Top Tip: Make sure you have comfortable shoes, sun cream, plenty of water and mosquito repellent with you.
If you are wanting to explore further afield you should hire a guide from the ranger station or visit via a tour agency because much of the Vietnamese countryside is still contaminated with unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam war.
Stunning view from Cat Ba Island.
Out of Town Lunch
There’s loads of places to stop for lunch whilst your exploring Cat Ba Island but our advice would be to drive further up North from Cat Ba National Park towards one of the ports and try one of the restaurants attached to the fish or oyster farms. We had some of the best food we’ve had in Vietnam here, a beautiful lunch of freshly caught fish and shrimp salad.
Delicious lunch on Cat Ba Island.
The scenery you’ll see while cruising around is truly breath taking and there are loads of places that you’ll want to stop off at to take in the views, just make sure you keep an eye out for those pesky goats on the roads!
Goats on the road!
Next on your itinerary should be to head back down through Cat Ba town and round to the beaches on the south coast. The sea is warm so don’t forget your swimsuit and the sandy beaches are perfect for an afternoon nap after your swim and morning hike. You’ll be charged around 30p for parking.
One of our favourite things to do on Cat Ba.
Chilling on a beach is one of our much-loved pastimes so this was one of our favourite things to do in Cat Ba. There’s 3 in total, we liked number two the best so let us know which you prefer!
Fort Cannon Sunset
A short drive inland and uphill from Cat Ba town is Fort Cannon. Built in 1942 it was first used by the Japanese during World War II, then later by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. It has a strategic position 177m above the sea.
Cannon at Fort Cannon.
It’s not just the commanding view that’s a treat as the site is quite expansive and there are lots of tunnels to explore. The entrance fee is under £2 each, it stays open until after sunset and trust us this is the best place to go and watch the sunset from on Cat Ba island.
Sunset view from Cat Ba Fort Cannon.
The smaller outlying rugged limestone landmasses and silhouetted boats shooting across the bay make for truly incredible views over the emerald sea.
Top tip: Grab a couple of cold beers on your way up to enjoy up there whilst you’re watching the sun go down. There is a café but the prices are pretty pricey.
And there you have it, the best of what to do in Cat Ba. It really is such a magical place and one of our highlights of our time in Vietnam.
Let us know what you think of the island and if you find anything else worth adding to the list?
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