Most of the tourist boats remain in the northern half of the bay, but get off the beaten track and head down to Cat Ba Island and you will be rewarded with truly stunning scenery and many unique experiences.
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the whole of Halong Bay and the main island of the 367 that make up the Cat Ba archipelago.
Cat Ba Stats
Cat Ba Island covers 285 square kilometres and is inhabited by approximately 13,000 people who live in six communes. A further 4,000 people live in the floating villages immediately off the coast. The largest town on the island is Cat Ba Town towards the south.
Just about half of the island belongs to the Cat Ba National Park, which means that a vast portion of the area’s ecosystem is protected. Tropical limestone forests, limestone karsts, coral reefs, seagrass beds, lagoons, mangroves, beaches, caves, and willow swamp forests are just a few example of the natural habitats found in Cat Ba.
The Legend of Cat Ba Island
The name Cat Ba Island means “Women’s Island” and as with all things in Vietnam, there is a legend attached. It goes like this; hundreds of years ago, three women from the Tran Dynasty were murdered and their bodies floated across the water to Cat Ba Island. Each one washed up on a different beach and were found by the local fishermen. The people of Cat Ba built a temple for each woman, and the legend was born. People have since lived here for 6,000 years.
The Natural Ecosystem
The natural flora and fauna in Cat Ba Island are incredibly diverse; there have been 1,561 plant species identified, from 186 different families. The island has 279 animal species of which 23 are endangered and critically endangered species; there are 53 mammals, 160 species of birds, 66 amphibians and reptiles and 274 insect species. Add that to the 900 species of fish, 178 corals, 7 species of sea snake and 4 different types of turtle, and it’s pretty safe to say Cat Ba Island is a wonder of nature.
By far the most important creature here is the Cat Ba Langur, one of the most endangered species of primate on the planet. These delightful golden-headed langurs were reduced in numbers to a mere 53 in the year 2000. The wonderful Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project is doing sterling work to save them and there are now around 70 individuals.
Things to do in Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is a wonderfully diverse place to visit, full of restaurants serving up delectable local flavours, hiking trails that take you meandering through the National Park, and waterways to the surrounding Lan Ha Bay area. Nature and culture are what it’s all about here, so pack your hiking boots and charge your camera batteries – Cat Ba Island has so much to offer.
- The surrounding waters of Cat Ba belong to Lan Ha Bay, a separate region to the widely discussed Halong Bay. Lan Ha Bay is generally far less touristy than its famous neighbour and yet lacks nothing in terms of scenic beauty; take out a kayak and explore the area at your own pace, or take a sailing trip organised by one of the helpful locals.
- Hike up to Canon Fort to soak in the panoramic views of Cat Ba’s rolling hills and thick jungle- you won’t find a better viewpoint anywhere else.
- Seafood lovers can get their fishy fill at Quang Anh floating village-cum-restaurant, where fish and shellfish are sold by weight and fried, steamed, and grilled to perfection by locals who know the best way to complement the local flavours.
- Explore the Cat Ba National Park and get an up-close experience with the celebrated gold-headed langurs as well as the 32 other types of mammal that call the park their home. The park is filled with great hiking trails; take the time to get out amongst nature and breathe in some fresh air.
- In the evening, head over to the Cat Ba Island fishing harbour where you’ll find a variety of delicious street food and local style bia hoi stalls serving out bubbly glasses of ice cold beers. Not only does it make for a cheap night out, it’s also one of the best ways to connect with the locals and get to know the culture here.
Tourism in Cat Ba Island
Tourism is being managed with conservation in mind, though it remains a difficult balance as more people become aware of Cat Ba and numbers of visitors increase. For visitors who seek an opportunity to get in amongst Cat Ba Island’s natural landscape, check out one of the tour operators offering trekking adventures.
Cruises that Visit Cat Ba Island
Planning a Halong Bay trip and hope to visit Cat Ba Island? If you’ve been there before, what’s your favourite part? Let us know in the comments.