- Spa and massage
- Encounters with locals
- Beach / Seaside Resort
- Nature Reserve / Wildlife Observation / Safari
- Hiking / Trekking
- Place or Historical Monument
Cat Ba is a great island from which to explore Ha Long Bay's limestone karsts, a must-see during a trip to Vietnam.
The first time I went to Cat Ba, we'd booked a hotel in Cat Ba City. It was a nightmare...we found ourselves above a karaoke bar! 3 years later I returned, this time during the Vietnamese holidays and found the docks had been turned into one big funfair...
That said, the view from the peak of Cat Ba National Park is a panoramic vista across 14,000 hectares of protected countryside. It's well worth spending an entire day here. And the hike is not a difficult one. You'll find yourself in the midst of a jungle and need to clamber up some steep steps, all to the sound of insects buzzing around.
The Hang Quân Y cave is an important local landmark, being a Viêtcong military hospital during the Vietnam War. The guide waited for us in front of a heavy, rusty metal door. He carried an (unloaded) machine gun, which certainly plunged us into the ambience. Long, dark corridors and empty rooms with dusty ceilings spoke for themselves.
If you like sampling exotic dishes, you can try a Cat Ba Island speciality - horseshoe crabs, whose wierd prehistoric shape made me think of the 'Alien' films. In Vietnamese culture they represent romance, so are eaten in pairs (one male, one female). Portions here are huge, so it's best to be several around a table if you want to avoid leftovers.
Cat Ba Island, during a trip to Vietnam is an ideal departure point for a visit to Halong Bay.. You can therefore pre-book cruises and kayak trips from the island.
Cat Ba island also offers superb landscapes of its own that are worth going out of your way for! A motor scooter is an ideal way to see a lot of the island in a short time. Several beaches also allow you to bathe among surreal islands made of limestone. Be careful, however, as the water in Halong Bay isn't exactly the cleanest...
Cat Ba also benefits from offering excellent quality for the prices charged. Room rates at the hotels along the sea front are sometimes unbeatable, although charm and authenticity are not necessarily part of the package.
I thought I was only going to spend a couple of days on Cat Ba. I had gone there to see the famous Ha Long bay and I was supposed to leave as soon as I had done so, but in the end I stayed a week... The island has its own attractions and it's worth spending time there visiting the island and not just the bay.
When you talk about islands, you talk about beaches, and those of Cat Ba, even if they aren't lined with coconut trees, are particularly beautiful and wild. The mountain descends directly into the sea via little creeks lined by cliffs, from which you can see the sugar loaf formations rising up out of the sea in the distance. Not bad...
There is also an immense national park on the island, which covers a large part of its surface. If you like walking you are in the right place, and you might be lucky enough to see Cat Ba Langurs, a species of monkey only found on the island. An absolute must see if you go to Cat Ba Island!
I left Haiphong and headed for Cat Ba Island, where a bus took us to the city center. The hostels where we stayed seemed expensive in comparison to the rest of the country, as did the food.
My overriding memory of Cat Ba is of its beautiful beaches and their fine sand. If you're looking for somewhere to relax, there's nowhere quite like this idyllic paradise. As for snorkeling and kayaking, they were a real treat! There are abundant luxury hotels all over the island, but you can easily find quiet spots that are just as spectacular.
I also took a short walk near an electrical pylon installation, which was easy to get to, leading to an incredible view over the boats in the sea. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to go to the Cat Ba Nature Reserve.
We had no difficulty getting tickets for a boat trip on the waters of Halong Bay, and the tourist information office helped us with transportation issues.