There are many reasons someone will choose Cat Ba island over Ha Long Bay. They might have already visited the UNESCO heritage site. They are looking for discovering something new. They prefer somewhere quieter and less polluted. Or simply they are on a tight budget. In this blog, we will list down everything you need to know about Cat Ba, the biggest island that makes up the southeastern edge of Halong Bay.
Cat Ba Island Overview
Located on Ha Long Bay to the South, Cat Ba island is the largest among the 367 islands that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago. The island is inhabited by approximately 13,000 people divided into six communes. A further 4,000 people live in the floating villages immediately off the coast. Located off the coast of Hai Phong City, its two beaches (Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2) are great for sunbathing and swimming during the summer months.
2. History and Legend
Based on many researches and evidences, the history of Cat Ba have lasted for almost 6000 years. The name Cat Ba Island means “Women’s Island” and as with all things in Vietnam, there are a lot of interesting legends about this island. One of the legends goes like this: many centuries ago, three women of the Tran Dynasty were murdered. After their bodies washed up on a different beach in Cat Ba, they all were found by local fishermen. The people of Cat Ba built a temple for each woman, and the island soon became known as Cat Ba. Another legend traces back to the war time. At that time, women on Cat Ba became the solid rear for men in the front line fighting with enemies on another island named “Cac Ong” (Men’s Island).
Cat Ba Island is the giant green carpet contains many mysterious and attractive. The natural flora and fauna here are extremely diverse. There are 1,561 plant species identified, from 186 different families. There are also 279 animal species of which 23 are endangered and critically endangered species. The fauna includes 53 mammals, 160 species of birds, 66 amphibians and reptiles and 274 insect species. Aquatically, there are 900 sea fish, 178 species of coral, 7 species of sea snakes, 4 species of sea turtles, and 21 species of seaweed found here. With that high biodiversity, Cat Ba Island was officially recognized by UNESCO as a world’s biosphere reserve zone. It is no wonder Cat Ba Island is considered a wonder of nature.
When is the best Time to Visit Cat Ba Island?
The favorable weather for tourism falls in the summer and autumn, between April and November. This period is also the peak tourist season in Ha Long Bay, with numerous boat tours stopping on the island. The beaches hence can be filled with other tourists so you should head there earlier to find a good spot. The hotel prices go up during this time so make sure you book well in advance. To save more, you can visit the island from September to November. During these months, the climate transitions into monsoon season and people are back to work/school.
Temperatures go down from December onwards thus having a chilly weather. March and April are wet with drizzling, and June, July and August are hot with a really high percentage of humidity.
How Many Days to Spend in Cat Ba Island?
Three days on the island is a safe number. You would have enough time to take in all the sights on and around Cat Ba. With the great nature, historical sights, fun activities and plenty of tourism services Cat Ba offers, your days will fly by quickly.
How to Get to Cat Ba Island?
Cat Ba island is usually part of an itinerary of a Halong Bay tour. Au Co Cruise Halong, Emerald Cruise Halong and Emerald Premium Cruise Halong include the island in their itinerary. Tourists would stay overnight at Cat Ba en-route to Halong Bay. Gia Luan Pier, where boats from Ha Long City and Tuan Chau dock, is on the northern coastline. From here you can go to the main town, where most of the islanders live and most of the accommodation, tourism services and dining options are located. Alternatively, you can also buy a ticket from Luong Yen Bus Station. After a three-hour bus ride to Hai Phong City, you spend another 30 minutes on a hydrofoil to Phu Long Pier. From there, it takes another hour-long for buses to arrive in Cat Ba Town.
Things You Must Try In Cat Ba
Cat Ba is well-known as a place of entertainment, relaxation and leisure for many travelers to Vietnam. Cat Ba island is juggle-clad, rough on the terrain, with a large portion that is still untouched and wild as ever. Here, professional rock climbers can challenge their limit against the rock walls of Butterfly Valley. The restless can seek solace in search for inner peace through yoga and meditation at Cat Co 1. And you can find the harsh memories of WWII lies etched upon the abandoned walls of Cannon Fort.
Let’s check out what this wonderful island has to offer:
1. Cruising Lan Ha Bay
The surrounding waters of Cat Ba belong to Lan Ha Bay, which has 300 or so karst islands and limestone outcrops. Lan Ha Bay’s landscape is just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay, not to mention it has the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches. Due to it being far away from Halong City, not so many tourist boats venture here, meaning Lan Ha Bay has a more isolated appeal. Take out a kayak and explore the area at your own pace, or take a sailing trip organised in Cat Ba Town.
2. Take a panoramic view in Cannon Fort
For one of the best views in Vietnam, head to Cannon Fort. Hike up there to soak in the panoramic views of Cat Ba’s thick jungle and rolling hills rolling down to colorful tangles of fishing boats. Cannon Fort is one of the top places that give fantastic bird-eye view of Halong Bay.
3. Try delicious seafood at Quang Anh Village
If you are a huge fan of seafood, get your fishy fill at Quang Anh floating village-cum-restaurant. Here, you can buy fish and shellfish by weight. You can have them fried, steamed, and grilled to perfection by locals who know the best way to complement the local flavors.
4. Trekking Cat Ba National Park
Head to Cat Ba National Park for an up-close experience with the celebrated gold-headed langurs and the 32 other types of mammal.. The park is filled with great hiking trails; so pack your hiking boots and charge your camera batteries.
5. Visiting the fishing harbor
The fishing harbor is where you should head to for a variety of delicious street food and local style bia hoi stalls. 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.
Where to Stay in Cat Ba
Accommodations start as low as US$6 for dorms and much higher for a room in a luxury 4* resort. We have done some research to find you the highest recommended places to stay in the island.
1. Cat Ba Sunrise Resort
If your budget permits, treat yourself a night in this secluded and luxurious family-owned resort. Just steps from the beach, this garden getaway presents its guests with panoramic views of a turquoise sea and lush isles.
2. Monkey Island Resort
Boasting a private beachfront, this place offers relaxing stays in wooden bungalows. Here you can enjoy the fresh air of the ocean as well as fun beach activities. Spend your time swimming, kayaking, playing football, volleyball, or climbing up the mountain for the spectacular view of Lan Ha bay.
3. Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hotel
This hotel is ideally located in the center of Cat Ba Island, which is full of beautiful natural scenery, abundant forest and sea resources. All rooms are tastefully furnished. Many of the rooms provide such comforts as air purifiers, complimentary instant coffee/tea, etc.
4. Dolphin Hotel Backpackers
Located a few steps from Dau Be Island, Dolphin Hotel Backpackers in Cat Ba is really easy to find. The place has a fitness center, garden, a restaurant, a children’s playground, evening entertainment and a 24-hour front desk.
How to Get Around Cat Ba Island?
You can easily find motorbike rentals in Cat Ba and the prices varies from US$4 for 24 hours. Half rental is US$2.50 (as of 1 Jan 2017).
If you are not confident with your driving skills, get yourself on minibuses that go to and from Haiphong for VND 10,000.