If you’re traveling to Northern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is likely at the top of your list of things to see. Known for its emerald waters and limestone islands (called karsts), the most popular way to visit Ha Long Bay is by overnight cruise on the bay. While this option sounds nice and relaxing, the price point for this can be over $200. The best Halong Bay cruise alternative is the cheaper and less-traveled Cat Ba Island. It’s very easy to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island, and there is so much to see and do!
Cát Bà Island is the largest island in Ha Long Bay, and is located in the southern portion of Ha Long Bay around the beautiful Lan Ha Bay. It’s the perfect place to unwind and relax after being in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, while still being around like-minded travelers with a sense of adventure.
Getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba: I recommend booking your transfer from Hanoi to Cát Bà Island through Good Morning Cat Ba. This was a super easy, efficient, and comfortable mode of transportation. They pick you up from your hotel in Old Quarter Hanoi around 7:30am on an air-conditioned bus to embark on your 3 hour journey from Hanoi to Cát Bà Island. The bus also has free WiFi and bottled water. The journey takes you 2 hours by bus to Haiphong, where you then get off and transfer to a high-speed ferry for a 7 minute boat ride to the island. Once you arrive to the island, you have a 40 minute van ride into Cát Bà town. All of this is included and only costs $18 per person!
Where to Stay in Cat Ba: We stayed in a private room at Central Backpackers Hostel. It was nice, however I wouldn’t say it was central . It’s a little over a mile outside of town, but they have motorbikes for rent which we took each day for a quick 10 min ride into town. I recommend staying at a hostel or hotel located in Cat Ba town to be more centrally located. We ate lunch at the rooftop of Mona hotel, which seemed like it would be a great place to stay!
Things to Do in Cat Ba Island:
1. Kayak Tour
Taking a kayak tour is the best way to get on the water and explore the beautiful bay and the limestone karsts! We booked our tour through Asia Outdoorsand loved it. For about $25 each, you have a full day of adventure. They take you out on a traditional Vietnamese Junk Boat to the middle of the bay, where they drop the kayaks in the water and you begin your tour. Your guide will bring you around a maze of limestone karsts, to a secluded beach, through caves and lagoons, and around the fishing villages. You break for lunch back on the boat, where they cook a delicious Vietnamese meal. There are beers for sale on the boat as well.
They also have rock climbing, stand-up paddleboarding, yoga, and hiking tours, as well as an overnight tour where you sleep on the boat.
2. Hitthe Beach
There are a few beaches in the area- Cat Co Beach 1, 2 & 3. Head to Cat Co Beach 3 and walk along the cliff-side trail to see a sweeping view of the bay and surrounding area. After walking the trail, head back down and grab a drink at the beach bar!
3. Check out the Cannon Fort
Take a motorbike up to the winding road to Cannon Fort to experience stunning views of Lan Ha Bay, and explore old trenches and replica cannons from the American War. There’s also a cafe at the top where you can enjoy coffee or have a drink with a view! Entrance fee to the park is about $2 USD.
4. Eat and Drink
The food in Cát Bà Island does not compare to Hanoi, but we were still able to find some decent places:
Crepe Cart: It’s funny- the food that stands out to me the most from our time in Cát Bà Island is the mango & banana crepe we had from a cart on the side of the street in town. So good!
Mona Restaurant: Go here for lunch toenjoy a beautiful view of the bay on this cute rooftop! This rooftop restaurant is on top of the Mona Homestay. We loved the vibe here, and if I were to go back I would definitely stay at Mona instead.
Yummy Restaurant: We ate here for dinner one night- the food is super cheap and pretty good. The staff was very nice- and even gave everyone in the restaurant free beers with their meal (it was New Year’s Eve).
Oasis Bar: They have pretty good food, and a huge menu consisting of both Western and Vietnamese food. It’s located on the main street in town, and they have outdoor patio seating which is nice.
This was also our favorite spot for going out at night! We went here for drinks on New Year’s Eve, and it was so much fun. They have a DJ, pool tables, and a fun crowd. Try the “balloons” to get the full experience.
Other Tips and Things to Know for Cat Ba Island:
Bring layers and extra clothes for the kayak tour. You will get wet! Also, wear sandals that you can get wet.
If you have more time, check out Cát Bà National Park
Rent a motorbike to go to the beach and cannon fort. It’s a far and steep walk to the fort.Driving the motorbike is easy, especially in Cat Ba Island since there is no traffic and not crowded! It’s a great place to get comfortable driving a motorbike.
Need a place to stay on Cat Ba Island? Check out the latest deals below:
This is an affiliate link, which means if you book your hotel through my link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Where to next? Check out my full 2-week Vietnam itinerary here.
Questions? Comments? Send me a message!