Exploring Cat Ba, Vietnam: everything you need to know

Cat Ba is an island located off the coast of northeastern Vietnam and is definitely worth a visit! Its stunning beauty combined with plenty of activities make it a great destination to visit. From snorkeling and trekking to rock climbing and visiting caves, Cat Ba has a lot to offer! In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know for visiting Cat Va, Vietnam. Enjoy!

How to travel to Cat Ba?

To travel to Cat Ba, there are several transportation methods available:

– Traveling from Hanoi to Cat Ba

Traveling from Hanoi to Cat Ba is very easy and comfortable. You can book a bus-boat-bus ticket at most travel agencies or ho(s)tels and all of this is perfectly arranged. The minivans are comfortable and the boat ride only takes about 5 minutes. The entire journey should take around 4-5 hours.

– Traveling from Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba

There are two transportation methods possible between Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba; a bus or boat. The bus from Ha Long Bay to Cat Ba is the quickest transportation and will take about 2 hours. For a more unique way to get to Cat Ba, you can also take a cruise from Halong Bay to Cat Ba Island. This is a great way to explore the beauty of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay.

– Traveling from Ninh Binh to Cat Ba

Taking a bus is the easiest and fastest way to travel from Ninh Binh to Cat Ba. The journey takes around 5 hours.

Tip: still planning to visit Ninh Binh? Have a look at the best things to do in Ninh Binh to prepare your journey.

– Traveling from Cat Hai Island with cable car to Cat Ba

The Sun World cable car is a fun way to travel from Cat Hai Island to Cat Ba Island. The almost 4,000 long cable car will provide wonderful views from above. The cable car runs daily from 09:00am – 15:30pm, except from Tuesdays. The ticket price is only 4 USD. I recommend to visit the official website for the most accurate information.

Tip: please note that big suitcases are not allowed in the cable car.

Transportation Tip

I always use 12GoAsia when traveling in other countries. With just a few taps, you can easily book a ride ensuring a seamless and budget-friendly travel experience. Most of the time, you will receive a digital transportation ticket, so you don’t have to worry about printing.

The best things to do in Cat Ba

Here are some of the best things to do when visiting Cat Ba:

Hike between the Cat Ba Beaches

The Cat Ba beaches are great for sunbathing and swimming. The best part of visiting these beaches, is the stunning trail between Cát Cò 1 Beach and Cát Cò 3 Beach, also called the Rock Trail. The path is green and clean, very easy to walk and a great spot for photos. I’ve walked this trail several times and loved the views.

Take a boat tour or ferry to Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay

Located within the stunning Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From fishing trips and snorkeling excursions to day trips and multiple day trips, Cat Ba has plenty of boat tours available to explore the surrounding islands.

I booked a day excursion to explore the breathtaking views of the bays. During the excursion we first visited the Cai Beo floating village to interact with the local fishermen. We also explored some hidden lagoons and coves, went kayaking through the dark and bright caves and had a delicious lunch (with some fresh seafood). The day ended at Monkey Island where we got the option to swim to the island and feed the monkeys. The tiny 5-km-round island is covered by green trees and sandy beaches in the front. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to dock at the island as it is a protected island these days. After our visit to Monkey Island, we experienced a beautiful sunset. I loved every minute of this excursion!

Another (cheap) option to explore Ha Long Bay between May and September is to take the public ferry from Cat Ba to Tuan Chau Island. With only 2 USD per person, you will get a ferry ride through the most scenic parts of Halong Bay. The public ferry is a cargo boat with benches and low amenities, but the views from the ferry boats are pretty nice.

Tip: when you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a party experience, both with an overnight in Ha Long Bay, I recommend to book a multiple-day tour instead of a day excursion. Actually, I regret not booking a multi-day excursion. This was a perfect way to see even more of the beautiful nature. I went for the cheap option and decided to go for just 1 day.

Exploring Cat Ba with scooter

One of the best ways to explore Cat Ba is by renting a scooter. The island has many scenic roads that are perfect for exploring on a scooter.

Scooter rental shops can be found all over the island, especially in the Southern part of the island. It is important to check the condition of the scooter before renting it. Additionally, make sure to wear a helmet when you drive and to have the proper paperwork and documents needed to rent a scooter in Vietnam. As a dutch resident you officially need a motorcycle license to ride scooter in Vietnam. A car license is not enough, because scooters of 50cc and above are considered motorcycles in Vietnam. You can rent a scooter with an international license from the ANWB, but beware, if something happens, you are not insured!

Tip: always take a video of the scooter before driving away from the rental company. This way, you have proof of how you received the scooter and you cannot be held liable afterwards for any scratches or damages that were already on the scooter.

Hike in Cat Ba National Park

If you like nature, make sure to explore Cat Ba National Park. The park features a diverse range of landscapes and wildlife. At the beginning of the park, you can find some abandoned buildings which are being gradually reclaimed by nature. This is pretty cool.

There is also a small museum at the entrance with an exhibit of preserved animals. Here, you can also find a restroom with two toilets, so if you’ve always wanted to poop with your lover or travel buddy, here’s your chance!

There are several hiking trails available in the park and you can hike to a very cool lookout tower. It takes about 1 hour to reach. It’s not that far, but it’s pretty steep in places and the heat and humidity of Vietnam will have you sweating buckets. The views at the top are incredible, they really give you a sense of how large the national park is here. The descent takes about 30 mins. Prepare your hike and bring along enough water, sunscreen, insect repellant, some snacks and a hiking outfit.

Tip: if you buy a ticket for the Cat Ba National Park, you can also visit the Trung Trang Cave.

Visit the Trung Trang Cave

The Trung Trang Cave is another popular cave in Cat Ba. It’s a limestone cave system with a small lake in it. It’s a nice place to take photos, as well as to relax and enjoy some fresh air. You need around 15 minutes to reach the cave and some flexibility, as the openings are narrow and low.

Tip: if you buy a ticket for the Cat Ba National Park, you can also access this cave.

Travel Insurance

Don’t forget a travel insurance for your Vietnam trip. Heymondo is one of the cheapest travel insurances for backpackers and covers medical emergencies, theft, delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and more. For being a reader of Girlswanderlust, you’ll get a 5% discount on your next Heymondo travel insurance.

Kayak and swim through caves and grottos

The limestone karsts that surround Cat Ba are home to many caves and grottos. Kayaking and swimming through these natural wonders is a great way to experience the beauty and adventure that Cat Ba has to offer. You will also be able to spot a variety of wildlife such as monkeys, lizards, and bats.

Shop for local handicrafts at the market

Shop for local handicrafts and souvenirs at Cat Ba Market.

Watch the sunset

The sunsets in Cat Ba are very beautiful, with the sky turning a brilliant orange and pink as the sun dips below the horizon. After the sun sets, Cat Ba Island is a great spot for stargazing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Tip: Cat Ba Paradise Hotel has a great rooftop terrace with swimming pool where you can enjoy a beautiful view and sunset! When entering the hotel, take the elevator on the left side to the rooftop. Thank me later! 😉

Try karaoke

The Vietnamese love karaoke and you can’t escape this anywhere in Vietnam. In Cat Ba you can find several karaoke places, ranging from small bars to big karaoke venues. Don’t be shy if singing is not your forte. Just grab a microphone and have fun at karaoke by night.

Visit a floating fishing village

If you want to learn something about the local culture or if you love fish or fishing, I can recommend visiting a floating fishing village. Here, you can learn about fish, admire the beautiful landscapes, spot some birds and enjoy some traditional Vietnamese dishes. A well-known floating village in Cat Ba is the Cai Beo floating village. Most day excursion trips to Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay will cross this village.

Tip: there are some really cool and floating homestays located in the fishing villages. Lan Ha Floating Homestay offer a unique experience of being away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. Here, you can enjoy a peaceful stay, watch the sun set, experience the local culture and try the delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

Learn about the history at the Hospital Cave

The Hospital Cave is one of the most interesting sites on the island, as it was used during the war as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. This cave is filled with rich history and a unique atmosphere.

Tip: take a guided tour and learn about the history and how the surroundings were used during the war.

Go rock climbing

Cat Ba is a great place to go rock climbing. The natural beauty of the limestone cliffs provide an amazing backdrop and the large variety of routes make it ideal for climbers of all levels. The cliffs are accessible from the city of Cat Ba. The warm weather and long days make it a great destination.

Visit Cannon Fort, but be careful!

Canon Fort is a relic of the long war between Vietnam and China. The fort is a series of cannons and tunnels that were used to guard against invading forces. It’s surrounded by a wall of limestone, which creates an impressive view of the surrounding.

The place is no longer cared for by the government, but has now been claimed by a number of locals. Unfortunately, this has left the fort in poor conditions. The locals also charge a fee to visit the fort. Sometimes the fort is not accessible and access will be denied. The locals can then appear aggressive. My advice is to always listen to the locals and to leave the location.

Tip: Fort Cannon is a great place to see the sunset.

Visit the square and pier

Visit the Quảng trường Cát Bà square and Cat Ba Pier to experience some local activities, especially in the evening. Here, you can rent motorized tricycles for 50 vnd for 20 minutes or see the sunset from the Pier.

Go diving

Cat Ba is known for red coral reefs that shelter a lot of sea creatures like pearls, lobsters, and fishes. If you have your PADI, consider booking a scuba diving trip.

Bike around the Viet Hai Village

Nestled amidst the mountains of Cat Ba National Park, Viet Hai stands as Vietnam’s largest floating village. Here you can cycle around the village and see the floating houseboats. I recommend to book a bicycle tour to Viet Hai at one of the tourist offices in the city centre.

Go squid fishing in the evening

As daylight fades, boats venture out for fishing, illuminating the water with bright lights. Squid fishing is a great activity in Cat Ba to connect with nature, fellow travelers and to catch your own squids. Is it your first time going squid fishing? No worries, the fishermen will guide you on how to catch a squid!

Where to party in Cat Ba?

There are not many places to party in Cat Ba, but there are some really cozy pubs located in the city centre. Grab a beer at Quiri Pub Cocktail & Restaurant or Cat Ba Oasis Bar and Restaurant.

Budget Tip

Traveling to a country with a different currency? Avoid ATM transaction fees and pay in local currency with a Wise Visa Card or Revolut Maestro Card. I have been using these cards for several years and have saved a lot of money as a result. I recommend bringing both bank cards with you when you travel.

The best places to eat in Cat Ba

Casa Bonita was my favorite restaurant in Cat Ba. There was a cozy ambiance, the staf was friendly and the food was very tasty. Here, you can enjoy a wide array of traditional Vietnamese dishes, but also Western dishes and vegetarian dishes. It’s a great place to work too.

If you are on a budget, you can try to eat at Yummy 1 or Yummy 2. Both places have the same owner and offer affordable dishes.

Napoli Pizza is another excellent option if you are in the mood for some Italian food.

If you’re looking for a more traditional Vietnamese experience, The Red Lotus is the perfect spot. Enjoy some of the classic Vietnamese dishes, such as pho and spring rolls. This family-run restaurant is cozy and inviting, and you’re sure to leave feeling satisfied.

There are also many seafood restaurants in Cat Ba. Here you can enjoy a variety of local seafood dishes, such as grilled fish, fried squid, and steamed mussels. I don’t eat seafood myself, so unfortunately I can’t recommend a good restaurant.

What are good cafes to work in Cat Ba?

Casa Bonita and Rustic House & Coffee are two great cafes to work in Cat Ba. Both places have great coffee, strong internet and airconditioning.

Tip: you can also stay overnight at Rustic House & Coffee. The property has dormitory and private rooms with stunning views on the lake, great areas to work and a cute coffee place downstairs.

Recommended accommodation in Cat Ba

Budget accommodation:

Catba Buffalo Hostel is a very cozy (party) hostel in Cat Ba. It’s located outside the city centre, but they provide a shuttle in the evening to the city centre, so you can have a drink in town. They also provide happy hours, have a great pool and can help you organizing (multiple day) excursions to Ha Long Bay.

Another great hostel is Secret Garden. The property has dormitories and private rooms, is located in the city centre and has a lovely atmosphere. It’s a very social place, but you’re able to get a good night’s sleep if you want to. They provide cheap food options too!

Mid-range accommodation:

Cat Ba Green Hotel is located near the sea and offers quiet and spacious rooms. I loved the breakfast buffet and kindness of the staff. There are many restaurants nearby and they can help you with organizing tours or scooter rental.

If you like to stay outside the city centre, Lan Homestay is a nice alternative. The property is set within a beautiful and lush garden that is very picturesque. The rooms itself are clean, comfortable and have a nice shower. The staff is very friendly and helpful with arranging transportation or tours. You won’t regret staying here.

Luxury accommodation:

For those looking for a luxurious sta, I can recommend Flamingo Cat Ba Beach Resort or Hôtel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba. Both resorts are located directly at the sea, offer beautiful rooms and have great swimming pools.

Unique accommodation:

If you are looking for something unique and fun to stay at, you might like Cat Ba Eco Lodge Resort. This resort is located in nature, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Here, you can stay a comfortable cabin and experience nature to the fullest.

Of course there’s also the possibility to overnight on the water (all-inclusive). Gia Luan, Lan Ha Bay – Sapphire Cruise offers the perfect place to relax! The place is magical, the crew is amazing, and you will be treated like a royalty. You won’t be disappointed!

Other useful things to know before traveling to Cat Ba

– What is the best time to travel to Cat Ba?

The best time to go to Cat Ba is in March, April, October and November. These months are known for the most comfortable temperatures (Spring and Autumn), but can be crowded with tourists. The winter in Cat Ba runs from the beginning of December until the end of April and can get surprisingly cold. During these months, most of the hotels are closed and I don’t recommend visiting the island.

– Average costs for visiting Cat Ba

Accommodation ranges from budget guesthouses to luxurious resorts, with prices starting from as low as $15 per night. Food is also inexpensive, with meals costing as little as $2. Activities like snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking are all easily accessible and affordable.

– Is Cat Ba worth visiting?

Yes, Cat Ba is definitely worth visiting and I would choose it instead of visiting Ha Long Bay. Cat Ba is more quiet, has stunning views, lush jungles, serene beaches and great places to stay and eat.


In conclusion, Cat Ba offers a beautiful surrounding and a variety of activities, making it a great destination to visit. From snorkeling and hiking to exploring caves and forts, Cat Ba has something for everyone. The island is easily accessible from Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Ninh Binh and the best time to go is in March, April, October, and November. Accommodations are available for all budgets, and the cost of food and activities is affordable. Cat Ba is a quieter alternative to Ha Long Bay, with serene beaches, beautiful sunsets, and opportunities for cultural experiences.

If you have any questions about the above mentioned information, please let me know in the comment section below. I’m happy to help you. Safe travels!

Author: Daphne

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