Cat Ba

Travel Guide Asia Vietnam Halong Bay Cat Ba

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Introduction

Cat Ba is an island in the Cat Ba Archipelago of Vietnam's Ha Long Bay. Cat Ba is the largest island in the bay and approximately half of its area is covered by a national park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba langur. This golden-headed langur is rarely seen, as fewer than 100 specimens are thought to survive in the wild, although it is the subject of a well-organised conservation programme. The park covers both land and marine areas and has a high biodiversity, although it is at risk from too rapid an increase in tourism. Other mammals in the park include civet cats and oriental giant squirrels. Although there is much beauty to explore on the island, Cat Ba town itself is rather crummy: construction, massage parlours, blaring music, touts and drunk tourists.

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Sights and Activities

  • Beaches - (Southwest side of the island, accessible from the road). Don't expect surfable waves, though! Free.

Caves - There are a lot of caves around the island, though none of them are particularly impressive. Some cost money and may have optional guides. You can find them using the map or signs on the island.

  • Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay - Organised 2 or 3-day trips into Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bay for kayaking, caving, swimming and diving. Book via the honest and fair Mr. Lu at the post office. Prices US$45 per person for 2 day/1 night trip (assuming 4 people in group). Cook Bien spoke basic English and cooked delicious food, Captain Phi friendly and offered us rice wine, and night spent in quiet part of bay was magic.
  • Monkey Island - Several boats run day trips to nearby Monkey Island either in isolation or as part of a larger tour. The island apparently has monkeys, but only a few around the accommodation were in evidence. Be aware that these animals are used to getting their food from either the guests or the bins, and therefore are not afraid of humans, so they might cause a problem. There is some accommodation on the island, which consists of eight small, but cosy, bamboo huts just behind a secluded beach. The food was nice, the drinks cheap, and the scenery was spectacular. There's some kayaking available, and a trail for walking, but that's about all. Be warned that the staff like to fire up the generator during the day to listen to their music quite loudly, so you might want to take a kayak trip at that point. Still, a good place to get away from it all. US$40 per night.
  • National Park - (Enter eastward on the main north/south road). The domain of the endangered Cat Ba Langur, of which there are supposed to be only around 100 left. Things on offer include a walk to a peak viewing tower (1.5-2 hour round trip; slippery and muddy if it's rained recently), a frog pond (probably better in the off (wet) season), a short nature walk near the frog pond, more stuff which you can probably find online. 15,000 dong entry, various guided tours.
  • Take a walk around the market at the northwestern edge of town. The seafood section should give you a reasonable idea of the less exotic, locally consumed varieties of seafood caught locally.
  • Rock Climbing -if seeing the beautiful limestone karsts isn't enough for you, try scaling them. Slo Pony/Asia outdoors on the 2nd floor of Noble House are the organisation responsible for all of the climbing development on Cat Ba (and the bulk of it out in Lan Ha Bay as well) so are best placed to provide advice for experienced climbers, and run guided climbing trips for beginners.
  • Go kayaking from Ben Beo wharf, a short walk from Cat Ba town. 12 US$ for a day. A good way to explore the floating village and go further afield if you're game.

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Getting There and Around

The vast majority of people take a pre-booked tour from Hanoi on a tourist boat, though this is probably the slowest, least flexible, and most expensive way to visit Cat Ba and should be avoided at all costs unless you specifically want to be locked on a tourist boat for five hours while being given the hard sell and overcharged for the most minimal of refreshments.

It's cheaper and more flexible to come either on a non-tourist boat at Halong City or via Haiphong. If coming from Hanoi, you can also take a direct, combined bus/boat trip from Nuoc Ngam Bus Station at 05:20, 07:20, 11:20 and 13:20 which takes 4.5 hours (compare: 5 hours for a slow tourist boat just to get from Halong City to Cat Ba's northern port!) and costs 220,000-280,000 dong depending on the season. The route involves switching buses in Haiphong and is not optimal.

From Haiphong: there is a speedboat making the trip several times a day (the last one around 16:00) from Phà Binh harbor. It costs 150,000 dong. The price is written on the ticket but some people sell false tickets printed with 180,000 dong and they say the price was 150,000 dong last year or last month! If the boat arrives in Phù Long, they can also say that 180,000 dong includes the bus from Phù Long to Cat Ba. In reality, it's included in the 150,000 dong ticket. Boat and bus can't be divided as it's the same company.

Local ferries to Cat Ba island provide very cheap travel from different locations. These local ferries may be especially convenient if you travel through the country by motorbike (as you can easily take your motorbike along with you on the ferry). You can either choose to take a ferry from Halong or a ferry from Haiphong.

From Halong: If you depart from Halong, you need to take the ferry from Ben pha Tuan Chau. This ferry station provides hourly services to Cat Ba island and is located 12 kilometres from the centre of the city. Fixed prices are 70.000 dong for a person without and 90.000 dong for a person with motorbike (so bringing your motorbike with you to the island will only cost you 20.000 dong extra). The ferry takes around one hour and along the way you can enjoy the scenic view of the bay. You will arrive at the Ben tau Du lich Dao pier at Cat Ba Island.

From Haiphong: If you travel from Haiphong, you will need two short ferries (25 and 45 minutes) instead of one long one. The first ferry will take you from Pha Dinh Vu pier (Haiphong) to Ben pha Ninh Tiep pier (the western harbour of Cat Hai island). The price for this ferry is 8.000 for a person without and 28.000 for a person with motorbike. When you arrive at Cat Hai you will need to take a 7-kilometre drive to the eastern harbour of the island to take the local ferry to Cat Ba from Ben Pha Got pier. This second ferry will cost you 6.000 for a person and 26.000 for a person with motorbike. You will arrive at the Ben pha cai vieng pier on Cat Ba island. Both ferries operate hourly but be aware that most ferries will only go until 5 pm and do not depart during the night. Taking the Haiphong ferry is the cheaper and more adventurous option, but most parts of the journey are far from scenic in any kind of way: industrial areas, abandoned ships, unfinished bridges etc. Although this second option might seem slightly complicated, it is easily doable when you have a motorbike. When driving from this pier to Cat Ba town make sure you don't stay on the TL356 road unless you own a dirt bike. Just take the road that connects to the other mainroad instead. You just need to go straight at the first mayor intersection. When you want to discover the best of both worlds, take one out of two options on your way to Cat Ba and the other option on your way back.

You can easily rent a motorbike from any hotel for USD5 (standard) per day or less if you look around or visit in the low season. Don't pay more than 50,000 dong for a 1.5 L bottle of petrol, which can be bought in some of the small towns as well as near the port area near the end of the town. Anyone you hire a bike from should give you a photocopied map of the island which will help you with planning.

Local buses across the island leave from the western edge of Cat Ba town, on the water near the market intersection.

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Eat

  • Mr. Zoom Hotel and Restaurant (Cat Ba island), 25 1/4 Nui Ngoc St, ☎ +84 1649444024. Mostly good meals, but if he offers you an enormous (2 kg) round-looking crab creature thing.
  • Phuong Phuong Restaurant, 232 1 - 4 St (Near Nam Dương Hotel), ☎ +84 1687283786, e-mail: phuongphuongcoltd@gmail.com. 18:00-24:00. The restaurant has views of the sea, serves Vietnamese food and European food. Airy space, at an affordable price. Be wary of very long wait.
  • Tropicana Cat Ba (Tien Thang hotel and restaurant), 238 street 1/4, ☎ +84 983416699, e-mail: tropicanacatba@gmail.com. 7:30amm to 22:00pm.

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Drink

  • Noble House offers 2 for 1 cocktails and free pool.
  • The Flightless Bird is the original bar on the island, run by a New Zealander and going strong for 15 years. The drinks menu includes reasonably priced imported bottles of wine from various parts of the world as well as a straight to the point cheap drinks section. Darts upstairs.

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Sleep

There are loads of hotels along the waterfront with little to distinguish them, though a couple have elevators if you are less mobile or are travelling with elders. A few hotels have more recently sprung up down side streets away from the water. These should be cheaper. When looking at rooms, you may pay more for a water view. Free Wi-Fi is standard. Avoid anywhere that tries to "include" breakfast, which costs almost nothing and is probably of questionable quality anyway. Similarly, avoid anywhere that prices in dollars; ask for the price in dong. In off season, everywhere is empty so will compete heavily on price; a huge room for two cost 125,000 dong (USD6) on the water.

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This is version 11. Last edited at 22:00 on Dec 23, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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