What to do on Cat Ba Island? Our top 10 activities
Cat Ba Island, located 145 km east of Hanoi, is the main island in Northern Vietnam and the second-largest island in the country, after Phu Quoc.
In this article, we present to you the top 10 activities you can do while staying on Cat Ba Island.
The island itself is interesting to explore, and it is also our favorite gateway for navigating Halong Bay.
Contact us to organize a cruise and explore the island.
Table des matières de l'article
Exploring Cat Ba Island by motorcycle
We strongly advise travelers against attempting to drive in major cities in Vietnam such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic there is very dense and can be confusing for those not accustomed to it. However, it is possible to rent motorcycles in many other places in Vietnam, including Cat Ba Island.
By renting a motorcycle from the town of Cat Ba, you can explore the Cannon Fort, the national park, or the various caves on your own. It’s an excellent way to discover the island independently.
The traffic is very light, allowing you to ride safely. However, be sure to wear a helmet!
Our agency organizes a cross-island drive with a driver before reaching the Beo port, where our boats depart. After the ferry to Cat Ba Island, you will be taken care of by our colleagues who will take you along the coast for 1 hour before arriving at the port. They will guide you to the fishing port and the local market in Cat Ba town. It’s a unique touch from the agency that our travelers particularly appreciate.
Our travelers stopping at a view point. Crédit: Mathieu Arnaudet
Visit Cannon fort for the view
If you rent a motorcycle in the town of Cat Ba, your first stop could be visiting the Cannon Fort.
Built in 1942 by the Japanese, this fort was a strategic piece in the defense of Vietnamese territory, used alternately by the French and then by the Viet Minh, the North Vietnamese army. The visit, therefore, has a very interesting historical aspect.
Above all, if the weather is clear, it will allow you to admire the surroundings of the island from different viewpoints. You can thus have a magnificent and unobstructed view of Halong Bay. A cafe has been set up on one of the fort’s projections, and you can sit on the terrace to enjoy the view. It’s a popular spot for wedding photos !
View from the cafe, Cannon Fort. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Visiting “Hospital cave”
Due to its strategic importance mentioned earlier, Cat Ba Island was incessantly bombed during the war between the Viet Minh and the Americans. The population living on the island had, during these air raids, no choice but to take refuge in the numerous caves on the island.
From 1963 to 1965, one of these caves was converted into a hospital to accommodate the victims of these bombings, as well as the wounded Viet Minh fighters. We recommend visiting this place, where 17 rooms have been arranged for visitors to easily imagine the harsh reality of life on the island at that time. The reconstruction also highlights the resourcefulness of the inhabitants who, like in many places, made the most of their environment in the best possible ways.
We recommend visiting with a guide to immerse yourself in the history of Vietnamese resistance. You can either book the services of a guide through a tour or, if you are traveling independently, hire an English-speaking guide on-site.
Room in “Hospital cave”, Cat Ba island. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Explore Trung Trang cave
You can then continue your journey to the Trung Trang Cave located along the main road and close to the entrance of the National Park. This time, it’s the natural side of this place that is to be discovered.
Discovered in 1938 by French explorers, the stalagmites and stalactites found here took 6 million years to form! Also known as the ‘Bat Cave,’ you can have some spooky fun here! Indeed, there may not be many people inside the cave during your visit, and the cave has minimal infrastructure.
Inside Trung Trang cave, Cat Ba island. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Trekking in the national park
In the middle of the island is the entrance to the National Park. It occupies more than 80% of the total surface of the island and is home to a beautiful tropical forest. It is important to note that the Indochina Peninsula lost 50% of its tropical forest area in the 20th century. The forest on Cat Ba Island still harbors very rich ecosystems despite the numerous bombings it endured. Many of the species living in this forest are indeed rare and classified as species to be protected by the IUCN.
You can venture into this tropical forest by hiking from the park entrance. A short walk is possible to a viewpoint overlooking the forest. A longer hike is also possible, taking you to the village of Viet Hai. It takes about 3 hours of hiking, and you can return to the town of Cat Ba by taking a boat from the port leading to the village of Viet Hai.
Cat Ba National Park trails. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
View point in Cat Ba National Park. Photo: Stock Pixa Bay
Cruising in Lan Ha bay
Cat Ba Island is one of the gateways for cruising in Halong Bay. However, from Cat Ba Island, you won’t be sailing in the main Halong Bay, which is now saturated with cruise boats, but rather in Lan Ha Bay located all around the island.
The port from which the boats depart from Cat Ba Island is called Beo and is located south of the island. There, you won’t find large pleasure boats but small traditional wooden junks with only a few cabins. Our two junks, named Quatre Saisons and Majonq, are docked at this port.
We recommend taking a cruise from this pier and on one of these boats. The cruise will maintain the charm of yesteryear, and you will enjoy Halong Bay in the tranquility that suits it so well. Several activities during your cruise are planned, such as kayak or bicycle rides.
Our Four Seasons boat. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Biking to Viet Hai village
A nice way to visit Viet Hai is to rent bikes at the pier and ride to the village. Parfum d’Automne and other cruise operators include this activity in their itinerary.
Viet Hai is a remote village on Cat Ba Island, and the road from the pier leading to it offers glimpses of the island’s dense vegetation.
The residents of Viet Hai are fishermen, but not only that: they cultivate rice fields, vegetable gardens, and also raise animals. You will likely encounter some goats on the way to the village!
A beautiful stroll to be enjoyed at your own pace.
Biking to Viet Hai village, Vietnam. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Visiting Monkeys Island
The Monkey Island is located very close to Cat Ba Island and is part of its archipelago. It is, of course, known for the abundant presence of monkeys throughout the island. Upon your arrival on the beach, you will make acquaintances with these monkeys. Be careful not to get too close; most of them are mischievous little thieves who play pranks on tourists…
But Monkey Island is also interesting for the view it offers from its summit. A little climb will indeed reward you with a superb panorama of Halong Bay.
The sunset from this summit is beautiful; we can only recommend it.
A monkey… meditating on the island, Cat Ba. Photo: Stock Pixa Bay
Enjoying beaches of the island
Being an archipelago, Cat Ba is full of beaches and coves. The Monkey Island we just mentioned has some secluded ones away from the presence of monkeys. Three other beaches are easily accessible from the town of Cat Ba: Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, Cat Co 3, and Tung Tu.
The Cat Co beaches are crowded during the summer, from May to the end of August. We do not recommend visiting these beaches during this time unless you enjoy large crowds! Tung Tu Beach is a private beach, and you will need to pay an entrance fee to enjoy it.
A bit further up, Woodstock Beach Camp has a beach and offers camping on the beach. Camping is not yet common in Vietnam, and this place has just opened. It’s perfect for those on a budget! The hotel also has rooms and small bungalows.
Beach volley at the Woodstock Beach Camp, Cat Ba
We hope this article will be helpful in planning your stay on Cat Ba Island.
Here are the locations mentioned in this article on the map.