Cat Ba Island in Vietnam – Full Guide & 20 Best Things

Boat between Cat Ba Island Limestone Mountains

Just a fact: You can’t visit North Vietnam without seeing Ha Long Bay. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. Another fact: Cat Ba Island is the best option to experience Ha Long Bay. Or at least, it was for us.

Most people opt for a Ha Long Bay Cruise, but they may not be aware of Cat Ba Island or why it’s the better choice. In short, it’s less touristy and less expensive, yet equally beautiful. Plus, there are more things to do, rather than just being on a boat.

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to plan an unforgettable trip to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the famous Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

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This article is long and detailed, but we always try to get straight to the point. If you’re looking for some specific information, jump here to the right chapter.

Is Cat Ba Island Worth visiting?

Do you want to visit Ha Long Bay on a budget and experience a more laid-back vibe? Cat Ba Island is the answer. It’s a domestic tourism destination, not well-known among most foreign tourists, which makes it an affordable option and an excellent choice for backpackers.

Even though Cat Ba has gained popularity in recent years, it remains relatively unknown compared to the famous Ha Long Bay, especially if you avoid the summer season when most locals visit.

Cat Ba Island is the perfect starting point to arrange cheaper boat tours and cruises to Ha Long Bay and its neighbor Lan Ha Bay. Plus it also offers plenty to do on the island, like beautiful beaches, breathtaking viewpoints, and the stunning Cat Ba National Park.

Cat Ba Island is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Vietnam. Convince yourself with our YouTube video.

8 BEST Hotels in North Vietnam

North Vietnam has many amazing places to visit, each with its best places to stay. Here are some handpicked recommendations.

  • Ha Giang: Connect with adventurous travelers at the Lotus Hostel

Cat Ba Island vs Ha Long Bay

Natural Pool, Cat Ba Island

Here are some reasons why Cat Ba Island is the better choice, comparing it to a Ha Long Bay Cruise.

  • Less crowded,  with the same scenery
  • More local tourists than international ones
  • More affordable, especially the boat tours
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: You have the option to do things independently without the necessity of being on a boat. You can explore on your own, which means a lot of freedom to us.

5 BEST Tours in North Vietnam

Check out our handpicked tours in North Vietnam and tick off some must-see attractions.

  • Ban Gioc Waterfall: Explore Ban Gioc Waterfall and more in Cao Bang with this 2D/1N Tour
  • Hanoi Streetfood: Join a local Food Tour in Hanoi with visit to Train Street
  • Ninh Binh: Discover Ninh Binh on this small-group guided Full Day Tour from Hanoi

Where is Cat Ba Island located?

Drone shot of Cat Ba Island Floating Market

Cat Ba Island is the largest island located in the World Natural Heritage Site of Halong Bay. It is situated 30 kilometers from Hai Phong City and 20 kilometers from Halong City. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to drive from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island.

Best Time to Visit Cat Ba Island

Cat Co 3 Beach, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Generally, we would recommend visiting North Vietnam during the dry season from October to April. However, for Cat Ba, it’s a bit more complicated, as you’ll not only want dry weather but also warm temperatures to fully enjoy all the beach and water activities. The rainy season lasts from May to September.

Cat Ba experiences its peak season in the summer, between June and August when locals have public holidays and come here for vacations. This is when temperatures are the hottest and humidity is at its highest.

During winter, between December and February, it gets chilly and windy. Things slow down and some hotels and restaurants may even close. However, it’s also the time when more international visitors come.

Our recommendation is October to November and March to April. Consider which time of the year in Cat Ba is more interesting for you based on your interests. 

We loved visiting in October and felt we had the best of both seasons. All restaurants and hotels were open, and the weather was warm enough for all water activities, but not too humid for some hiking. There was a mix of local and international tourists, but it wasn’t too crowded.

How long to stay in Cat Ba Island?

Aerial View: Island Near Cat Ba Island

We recommend staying a minimum of 3 days, but longer is even better, as it will give you the chance to explore more of the island. The length of your stay depends largely on how many tours or overnight cruises you want to do.

How to get to Cat Ba Island?

Cat Ba Island Street

Cat Ba Island is exclusively accessible by ferry or speedboat.

WITHOUT A VEHICLE

Direct transfer from Hanoi or Ninh Binh

If you don’t bring a vehicle to the island, we recommend booking a direct transfer from Hanoi or Ninh Binh on 12go. Booking online gives you the advantage of checking different company’s reviews, prices, and inclusions (such as hotel pick-up).

Speedboat from Haiphong

The fastest and most convenient option from Hai Phong City or its Airport is the speedboat from Ben Binh Pier directly to Cat Ba Town Pier. This speedboat journey takes 45 minutes and costs 180,000 VND (≈ 7€), providing a direct link between the centers of both towns.

Cable Car from Haiphong

Cat Ba Island Cable Car, Vietnam

For a unique experience, you can opt for the impressive Cat Ba Cable Car. After the ride, you’ll still need to take a taxi to reach Cat Ba Town. Before your visit, please verify the latest opening hours and if it’s operating during your planned visit by checking their website.

WITH A VEHICLE

If you’re traveling with a motorbike or car to Cat Ba Island, there are two piers, where you can bring your vehicle on the ferry for an additional fee. Once you’ve decided on your route, consult the timetable of the pier, which is often available on Google Maps in the latest reviews.

Scenic Ferry from Halong City

Ferry, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

From Halong City, it’s a 15-minute drive to Tuan Chau Harbor. From here, you can take a 50-minute ferry to Gia Luan Harbor on Cat Ba Island. From there, it’s a 40-minute drive to Cat Ba Town. The ferry ride is scenic with some breathtaking views of Lan Ha Bay. The ticket costs 60,000 VND (2.3€) for one person and 80,000 VND (3€) for a person with a motorbike. 

Cheap Ferry from Hai Phong City

From Hai Phong City, you first drive 35 minutes via the 5km Bridge to Cat Hai Island where the Ben Pha Got/Lach Huyen Harbor is located. From here, you can take a 20-minute ferry to the Phu Long Pier on Cat Ba Island. Finally, it’s only a 30-minute drive to Cat Ba Town. The ferry ride is the cheapest and shortest option to Cat Ba Island. It costs 12,000 VND (0,5€) per person and 45,000 VND (1,7€) per person with a motorbike. The ferries depart regularly, usually every hour, depending on passenger demand.

Arriving in Cat Ba Town

Arriving in Cat Ba Island, you’ll likely want to stay in Cat Ba Town. Consider accommodations near the pier, as this area offers a variety of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife options to choose from.

How to get around in Cat Ba Island?

Two Fishers on Boat, Cat Ba Island

The most convenient option, which maximizes your time, is to hire a driver. This is a good choice if you’re traveling with your family or if you don’t feel confident in riding a motorbike.

For a more adventurous experience, consider renting a motorbike in Cat Ba Town, giving you the freedom to explore on your own.

If you prefer, you can also choose to rent a bicycle to get around the island and to add some physical activity to your exploration. Just be sure to check the distances you plan to cover.

Where to stay in Cat Ba Island?

There are different accommodation options available for different budgets and preferences. Consider spending a little extra for a room with a sea view, like this one at Cat Co Beach 3.

If you opt to stay in Cat Ba Town near the pier, you’ll find that everything, including the beaches, restaurants, and shops, is within easy walking distance.

Best Accommodations in Cat Ba Town

Budget ($)

Mid-range ($$)

Luxury ($$$)

Alternatively, if you choose accommodation outside of Cat Ba Town, you can enjoy a more natural environment.

Best Accommodations outside Cat Ba Town

Where to eat in Cat Ba Island?

Best Tours in Cat Ba Island

Limestone Mountains, Floating Market, Cat Ba Island

One of the highlights of Cat Ba Island is the opportunity to experience stunning boat tours at a much more affordable price compared to the famous Ha Long Bay Cruises. Take a look at these highly recommended tours. The best thing about booking online is being able to compare reviews, prices, and inclusions from different companies. 

20 Best Things to Do in Cat Ba Island

1. Take a Day Boat Tour in Lan Ha Bay

Luxury Boat Amid Cat Ba Limestone

The number one thing to do in Cat Ba Island is explore Lan Ha Bay with a boat tour. Lan Ha Bay is the famous smaller neighbor of Ha Long Bay, just as beautiful but less crowded and cheaper to visit. If you ask us, it’s the better choice.

During the tour, you’ll get to visit beautiful islands, kayak through caves and lagoons, enjoy lovely beaches like the famous Monkey Beach, explore a floating fishing village, have lunch on board, and go snorkeling. All of this while surrounded by emerald waters and lush greenery.

There are various offers available online and in agencies in Hanoi or Cat Ba Town. We always recommend booking online so you can compare everything, from prices and inclusions to reviews.

Discover Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay in one day on a budget-friendly Cat Ba cruise. Explore a fishing village, kayak to hidden lagoons and caves, and relax at two beautiful beaches, including Ba Trai Dao Beach.

Ask yourself these questions when booking a tour:

  • Do I prefer popular and well-known places or less crowded ones?
  • Am I interested in a full-day, half-day, sunset, or overnight trip?
  • Is the transfer to and from Hanoi included?
  • Will I be picked up from my accommodation in Cat Ba?
  • Is food and water included? Is it a traditional lunch on board?
  • How long does the tour last?
  • What activities are included? For example, kayaking or snorkeling.
  • Am I interested in extra activities like cycling to a village or rock climbing?
  • Which attractions are we visiting? For example, Monkey Island.

2. Monkey Island

onkey on Tree, Monkey Island, Cat Ba

Monkey Island, also known as Cat Dua Island, is one of the most popular destinations on many boat tours. It’s located very close to Cat Ba Town and features a beautiful white sandy beach and a viewpoint with breathtaking views.

The hike up to the viewpoint is short but steep, on sharp rocks. Be cautious of the monkeys living here; due to many tourists feeding them, they can be quite aggressive and are known to bite tourists.

3. Cai Beo Floating Village

Cat Ba Island Floating Market

Cai Beo is the oldest fishing village in Vietnam, dating back 7,000 years. It is often included as a destination in organized boat tours.

The village is characterized by floating connected houses, with underwater cages used for fish farming. It’s important to note that fishing is the most important occupation on Cat Ba Island. For visitors, this is a great place to experience this unique way of life and to taste cheap and fresh seafood.

4. Kayaking

Yellow Kayak, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Kayaking offers an adventurous way to explore Lan Ha Bay, whether on your own or as part of a guided tour. You can rent a kayak from the beaches in Cat Ba Island or choose a boat tour that includes this activity.

During a Lan Ha Bay kayaking excursion, you’ll have the chance to discover hidden caves, tranquil lagoons, and pristine beaches. Ask your tour company to schedule this activity during low tide, as some coves may not be accessible and a few beaches may be submerged at high tide.

5. Renting a Scooter

rent a Motorbike in Rental, Cat Ba, Niki & Timo

Renting a scooter is the most thrilling way to get around and explore the island independently. The roads in Cat Ba are well-maintained and very quiet. Renting a scooter in Vietnam is generally quite cheap. You can expect to pay around 100,000-150,000 VND (4-6€) per day in Cat Ba. This is a highly rated scooter rental in town.

6. Best Beaches

On Cat Ba Island, you’ll discover a variety of beautiful beaches where you can relax and swim. Some are easily accessible by land, while others are hidden away and only reachable by kayak or boat.

Cat Co Beach 1, 2 & 3

Cat Ba Island Beaches in vietnam: Cat Co 1, 2, 3

Three of the most popular beaches are located directly in Cat Ba Town, just a short walk from most hotels. They are known as Cat Co Beach 1, 2, and 3 (see picture above). Each features resorts, tourist services and activities, with sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

It’s worth noting that Cat Co Beach 1, 2, and 3 are not arranged in numerical order, which can be a bit confusing. In the middle, you’ll find Cat Co Beach 1, with the others situated on either side. You can rent umbrellas, sunbeds, and kayaks at reasonable prices (100-200k VND (4-8€)).

These three picturesque beaches tend to get busier during Vietnamese public summer holidays, around sunset, and on weekends. We visited early in the morning on a weekday in October and practically had them to ourselves. Our favorite is Cat Co Beach 3!

BEACH VIEW: You can wake up to a beach view by staying in one of the beach resorts like this one at Cat Co Beach 3.

More Beaches on Cat Ba Island

Chút Chít Beach, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Another well-known beach is Tung Thu Beach, located just a 5-minute ride from Cat Ba Town. This beach offers a less crowded and more peaceful atmosphere.

While exploring on a motorbike, we also came across some smaller beaches on the island:

  • The beach in front of Woodstock Beach Camp
  • Bai Bien Chut Chit (see picture above)

Beaches in Lan Ha Bay

Island with beach Near Cat Ba Island

There are also some beaches only accessible by boat, like Monkey Beach located on Monkey Island. You can visit this beach as part of a boat tour or by taking a short boat ride from Ben Beo Pier. The beach is best captured from the Monkey Island viewpoint.

Another beautiful beach located in Lan Ha Bay, and included in some tours, is Ba Trai Dao Beach.

7. Rock Trail Walk

Cat Ba Island Rock Tail: Connecting Beaches

The Rock Trail connecting the Cat Co Beaches is a scenic walk, offering breathtaking views of Lan Ha Bay, especially at sunset. It’s an easy thing to do, but the scenery guarantees a memorable experience.

8. Cat Ba National Park

Limestone Islands, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

For those seeking more than just beach relaxation, hiking in Cat Ba National Park is an excellent choice. This densely vegetated park covers most of the island and is part of the UNESCO Cat Ba Archipelago Biosphere Reserve.

The park’s entrance is a 20-minute drive from Cat Ba Town. Here, you can choose from 9 trekking trails through the forest and 5 boat trips.

Here are some popular activities in Cat Ba National Park:

  • Ngu Lam Peak Viewpoint offers breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and jungle.
  • Explore the picturesque Viet Hai Village, immersing yourself in local life.
  • A diverse range of animals, including the highly endangered White-headed Cat Ba Langur, call this park home. With some luck, you might spot one.

Tips for visiting Cat Ba National Park:

  • The hikes can be challenging and steep, but the experience is highly rewarding.
  • We recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the intense heat and humidity.
  • Consider hiring a guide. If you choose not to, take a picture of the map at the entrance to avoid getting lost.
  • Be prepared to pay 10,000 VND (0,4€) for parking and 80,000 VND (3€) for the entrance fee.

9. Best Viewpoints

Ngu Lam Peak View, Cat Ba, Vietnam

These are the viewpoints with the best views of Cat Ba Island and the surrounding Lan Ha Bay. Some of them are accessible by road, while others are only reachable by boat.

  • Cannon Fort: The most popular viewpoint on Cat Ba Island is Cannon Fort with amazing views, especially to catch the sunrise or sunset.
  • Ngu Lam Peak (see picture above): This lookout point is located in Cat Ba National Park and is the highest point on the island. This viewpoint is only reachable by a 45-minute hike.
  • Monkey Island Viewpoint: This one is not on Cat Ba Island but is very popular on most Lan Ha Bay Day Tours from Cat Ba Island. If you don’t visit it as part of a tour, you can take a boat from Ben Beo Pier to Monkey Island.
  • Cat Ba Coastal Road: There is one road in Cat Ba Island that runs along the coast with beautiful views. Rent a scooter to explore the road and stop wherever you want.
  • Cat Ba Town Rooftops: Many hotels and restaurants in Cat Ba Town offer great views from their top floors, like this one.
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NAVIGATION TIP: Use Google Maps to mark places you want to visit and use colours for different categories.

10. Viet Hai Village

Viet Hai Village is a small and remote village located in the middle of Cat Ba Island. It is only reachable by boat via Viet Hai Pier or by hiking in Cat Ba National Park.

You will experience traditional rural life in this village and learn about local houses, rice fields, fish farms, and delicious food. You can interact with locals and get to know their culture and traditions, all while being surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes. It’s an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience in Cat Ba Island.

11. Picturesque Forest Road

Niki on Tree-Lined Street, Cat Ba Island

While we were exploring Cat Ba Island, we found this beautiful forest road. It was a perfect spot for photos.

12. Watch the Sunsets

Cat Ba Island Rock Tail: Sunset and Sea

Our top spots for watching the sunset were Cannon Fort, the Rock Trail, and a little pier next to the Cat Co Beach 3 Parking.

13. Cannon Fort

Sunset at Canon Fort, Cat Ba, Vietnam

Cat Ba was an important spot during wartime because of its strategic location and caves. There are still relics from that time, like Hospital Cave and Cannon Fort.

Cannon Fort is a great place to watch the sunset and see the islands in Lan Ha Bay. It’s about 2 kilometers from the town center.

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IMPORTANT: There’s no entrance fee for Cannon Fort. Check Google Maps reviews for the right way to get there and avoid potential scammers trying to charge you.

14. Hospital Cave

If you’re interested in history, consider visiting this interesting cave in Cat Ba. It’s a hidden underground bomb-proof shelter hospital that was used during the War with America. It has 17 rooms, including a cinema and a swimming pool.

15. Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a common activity in boat tours to fishing villages. In Lan Ha Bay, you’ll find colorful coral reefs and lots of marine life. If you want to snorkel, make sure it’s included in your boat trip and check the visibility forecast.

16. Rock Climbing

Interested in some real action? Cat Ba Island is a great place for rock climbing. There are numerous islands with peaks and cliffs in different shapes and sizes, and they offer various levels of difficulty, all with breathtaking views of Lan Ha Bay. You can look for a tour that includes this activity in the program.

17. Local Food & Nightlife

Cat Ba Town offers a wide variety of restaurants and nightlife activities. Fresh seafood is particularly popular in Cat Ba Town’s restaurants and markets. The nightlife scene includes enjoying drinks, live music, and karaoke.

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LOCAL TIP: If you ask locals, they’ll suggest going outside of town for cheaper seafood restaurant prices.

18. Bioluminescent Plankton

Cat Ba is known for its magical bioluminescent plankton, tiny organisms that create a stunning blue glow. To witness this natural phenomenon, visit specific beaches on the island at night. We missed this must-do experience and recommend booking a tour or asking your homestay for information.

19. Floating Homestay

Cat Ba Island Floating Market

Are you interested in spending the night in a floating homestay and kayaking directly from your room? You can explore beaches, caves, and lagoons by kayak. 

CHECK IT OUT: This is one of these truly unique accommodations: Lan Ha Floating Homestay

20. Overnight Cruises

If you have more time, you can book a 2-day or 3-day cruise to Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. This package includes everything you need for your stay on the boat. There are budget and luxury options.

Discover Lan Ha Bay on a 2-day cruise from Cat Ba island. Includes meals, kayaking, and visits to unique attractions like floating fishing villages, Ba Ham Lake and Ba Trai Dao Beach.

A luxurious 3-day cruise through Ha Long Bay, filled with adventure like biking, kayaking, and cooking classes. Relax on your private balcony with stunning views and enjoy a modern cabin with WiFi.

Packing, Tips & Costs

Boat near Cat Ba Island, Vietnam, Sunset

After 2 months and 4000 km on a North Vietnam Motorbike Trip, we’ve put together the ultimate packing list, tips, and costs to help you plan your trip.

Where to go after Cat Ba Island?

After exploring Cat Ba Island, there are more wonderful places to discover in North Vietnam. Here are some we’ve visited and highly recommend:

Depending on your next destination after Cat Ba Island, you might need to return to Hanoi/Ninh Binh first and then catch a bus to your next stop. You can check on 12go to see if there’s a direct bus option. If not, plan your journey through Hanoi. 

If you like riding a motorbike, you could include Cat Ba Island in a bigger adventure around North Vietnam. Our 2-week motorbike tour in North Vietnam was one of the most exciting trips of our two years of travel in Asia. You can easily rent a motorbike in Hanoi for this fun trip.

Conclusion

Bird's Eye View: Natural Pool, Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island is the better alternative to Ha Long Bay if you ask us. Alongside its twin, Lan Ha Bay, it offers the same stunning scenery but provides a more untouched experience at a cheaper cost. Cat Ba Island has something for everyone, offering a mix of forests, sea, mountains, hills, beaches, caves, and villages.

If you’re traveling without a tour and visiting Ha Long City, you won’t find the same vibe as in Cat Ba Town. It primarily serves as the starting point for cruises, but there’s not much to do or see unless you choose an expensive cruise.

Any unanswered questions? Have you ever been to Cat Ba Island? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!

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