Monday, May 7, 2018

Cat Ba Island

cat ba island halong bay vietnam


              Cat Ba is a beautiful island set of the coast of Vietnam in the heart of Ha Long Bay.  Many tourists only get to see a small piece of this island when they come ashore as part of their Ha Long Bay cruise, but there is so much more to be had here.  For those independent travelers, Cat Ba is a great place to get away from the normal tourist grind and spend a day or two, or more, to enjoy the amazing views, history, and natural reserves Cat Ba Island has to offer.


How to Get There



view bay cannon fort cat ba halong bay vietnam
View of the bay from Cannon Fort


              There are many options for traveling to Cat Ba depending on where you are traveling from.  The most common route for tourists is to book a direct bus from Hanoi.  There are a few different companies that offer this and you can usually book straight through your hotel.  Keep in mind that the bus you start on takes you to the port in Hai Phong, where you will board a ferry to Cat Ba Island and take a different bus into town.  This option will cost around 320,000 VND/14 USD depending on the company and includes full transfer from the Old Quarter to the boardwalk in Cat Ba.


traditional boat cat ba halong bay vietnam
Traditional fishing boat in northern Cat Ba Island


              The much cheaper option from Hanoi, which is what we did, is to take public transportation all the way.  Take the public bus to Gia Lam bus station (7,000 VND/0.35 USD) where you will board a bus to Hai Phong (85,000 VND/3.72 USD).  From there you can take a moto/taxi to the port and grab a bus to Cat Ba (100,000 VND/4.38 USD), which includes the bus to the ferry, the ferry, and the bus into town.  


ferry cat ba halong vietnam
The ferry from Cat Ba to Halong


              If you are in Ha Long you will need to take a taxi to the Tuan Chau Port (100,000-200,000 VND/4.38-8.76 USD depending on what part of town you are located).  You can also take a motorbike if you don’t have too much luggage for much cheaper.  You then take a ferry to Cat Ba (80,000 VND/3.51 USD) where you will get on a bus that will take you south into town (25,000 VND/1.10 USD)


How to Get Around



wooden bridge temple cat ba halong bay vietnam
Wooden bridge out to a temple in northern Cat Ba Island


              Cat Ba is a large island with lots to see and the scenery is amazing.  Whether you take the central road through the National Park to the bay on the other side or cruise down the coastal road and take in views of the sea, you are sure to love the ride.  


pathway cannon fort cat ba halong bay vietnam
One of the pathways through Cannon Fort


To explore the island, you have two options.  You can either rent a bicycle, including a tandem, or a scooter.  There are quite a few mountains and climbs along the way around the island so unless you are an avid cyclist, or have a lot of time, I don’t recommend renting the bike for an island tour.  


cat ba view halong bay vietnam


The scooter, on the other hand, is a great way to cruise around the island.  Many of the hotels will rent one to you for about 115,000 VND/5 USD, but you can get a better deal if you barter with one of the people on the streets renting them out.  We got ours for 70,000 VND/3 USD.  Either way you will need to fill the tank with gas.  This can be bought from one of the two Petrolimex stations (recommended: its much cheaper) or from stands along the road selling it in plastic bottles. When riding a moto in a foreign country it is always safe to have travel insurance


What to Do



cat ba ocean halong bay vietnam
View of the ocean and smaller islands from Cat Ba Island


              Cat Ba is a great island to explore and with lots to see for any type of tourist. 
              

trench cannon fort cat ba halong bay vietnam
One of the many trenches that snake through Cannon Fort


Hospital Cave



sign hospital cave cat ba halong bay vietnam


              Hospital Cave is located just 10 km north of town on the main road.  There is parking (15,000 VND/0.66 USD) at the café across the street.  The ticket to enter the cave is 40,000 VND/1.75 USD and is also bought at this café.


hospital cave cat ba halong bay vietnam
A hallway through the Hospital Cave

manikins hospital cave cat ba halong bay vietnam
Manikins on hospital beds in the Hospital Cave


              Hospital Cave is exactly what its name infers.  During the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese Army converted the cave into a fully functioning 17 room hospital, including a swimming pool and theater inside.  There isn’t much left inside the cave these days though.  Many of the rooms now have scenes set up with manikins acting out the routines of the room.  The cave is well hidden in the mountainside, surrounded by deep foliage, that it can hardly be seen from the outside.  You have the option to either go through the cave with or without a guide.  The pathway through the halls is well marked so it is easy to do it on your own. 


Cat Ba National Park 



cat ba national park cat ba halong bay vietnam
A view of Cat Ba National Park


              Cat Ba National Park is located right in the center of the island.  Known for its green forests, steep limestone cliffs that jut into the sky, and its mangroves along the bay, this national park is a great place for adventurous hikers.  The national park is also home of the endangered Cat Ba Langur, but don’t expect to get a glimpse of one of these guys on your trek, as there are very few of them left.  The entry fee for the park is 15,000 VND/0.66 USD for the short hike and 35,000 VND/1.53 USD for the longer hike; you can also hire a guide to make the best of your hike for 100,000 VND/4.38 USD per group.


Cannon Fort



naval defense gun cannon fort cat ba halong bay vietnam
One of the naval defense guns at Cannon Fort


              Cannon Fort was easily my favorite place to visit in Cat Ba.  The historical reason for this site may not interest everyone, but the views from the top are guaranteed to.  Cannon Fort was originally built in 1942 as a naval defense and lookout point.  At the top of the hill you can walk along a path to see a series of large cannons, bunkers, trenches, and buildings, along with some amazing view points of Cat Ba and the bay below.  


sunset view point cannon fort cat ba halong bay vietnam
The sunset viewpoint at Cannon Fort


              Cannon Fort is located just north of town and is easy to get to.  As you begin to go up the hill you will come to a gate to buy your ticket (40,000 VND/1.75 USD).  When we went there were a lot of scooters parked outside the gate, so we parked ours as well and walked up the hill.  It’s not a hard walk, but it is kind of long, so if you have a scooter I suggest you ride it to the top and just stop to take pictures as you feel like it.  At the top of the hill is also a small cafe where you can sit and watch the sunset from the best viewpoint on Cat Ba Island. 


Beaches



cat co 1 beach cat ba halong bay vietnam
Cat Co 1 Beach


              There are three beaches to the southeast of town.  Cat Co 1 is the easiest to get to and is a walkable distance from town.  Cat Co 2 is just north of that on the other side of the peninsula and Cat Co 3 is to the south.  You can also walk along a cliff side path overlooking the water from Cat Co 1 to Cat Co 3.  The beaches, in my opinion, weren’t great and it was a bit chilly. 


Excursions



northern bay cat ba halong vietnam
View of the northern bay


              If you are wanting to get off the island or want to see it from the sea there are a few excursions you can book in town.  One of the more popular excursions takes you around the island by boat and allows you to kayak in and around some of the seaside caves.  There are also a few companies that allow you to book a Ha Long Bay cruise out of Cat Ba if you would like. 


Where to Stay



cat ba town halong bay vietnam
Cat Ba from my hotel


              Cat Ba has an array of both budget and expensive accommodations for you to pick from.  Many of the hotels along the boardwalk advertise that they have rooms that are either ocean or mountain view.  I recommend being weary of the rooms advertised as mountain view, as most of the hotels sit right along the mountainside, which means your view will literally be the side of the mountain (not very picturesque).  


cat ba bay halong bay vietnam
View of the bay from town


We stayed in the Lang Chai Hotel, with a view of the bay from our room, and it was very nice.  It was $11 for the room, but breakfast was also included in the fare.  It was located at the end of the boardwalk, so it was quieter, but was only a short walk away from where most of bars and restaurants were.


ATM’s



statue temple northern cat ba halong bay vietnam
Statue at a temple in northern Cat Ba Island


                             There are two ATM’s in town; Siagon Bank and Agribank.  Both of these ATM’s run out of money frequently, so I recommend bringing enough money for the duration of your stay with you.  That being said, credit cards are also accepted in many of the more touristy places like hotels and nicer restaurants. 


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