Nestled on the periphery of Vietnam's fabulous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island is big -- over 350 square kilometres, but most tourists see but a sliver of it.
Put ashore during their various Ha Long Bay excursions, tourists spend most of their time in a small area on and around Cat Ba Harbour -- that's where just about all the accommodation is, and across the harbour road, there's a long promenade skirting the water -- in the evenings it becomes a make-shift beer garden, with dozens of places vying for customers to sit at plastic tables and tip a glass or two of bia hoi.
The bay provides a pleasant view, dotted with fishing boats and floating restaurants, and hosting it's share of smouldering sunsets on the western horizon. In addition to hotels and restaurants, the harbour road also features a handful of 'massage parlours' in front of which, would-be 'masseuses' hang out in the evenings, aggressively soliciting male customers as they pass by. A local has informed us that one of these places actually offers real massages. But we won't tell you which one.
An overnight on Cat Ba is de rigueur for many of the 3-day tours of Ha Long Bay, assuring a steady trickle of tourists, even in the off season. In the summer, it's a premier spot for Hanoians to take a quick summer vacation -- most people only get about three days off from work each year.
Even for the independent traveller, a trip to Cat Ba makes sense -- there are three beaches nearby -- hardly world class, but they'll do for a quick swim and some baking on the sand -- and there's a national park here -- again, nothing sensational, but a good place for a close-to-nature trek among the mangroves and fresh-water lakes.
Cat Ba is also a good launching point for kayaking trips to explore some of the nearby tunnel caves, and there's Hospital Cave on the main island which played it's part in the war with America, and is worth a peak, especially for war buffs.
Probably the best way to see the island is by motorbike -- there's a 100 km circuit running along the bay and into the interior, through incredibly beautiful country-side, and small villages where life in Cat Ba has gone on, largely untainted by the decade-long boom in tourism.
Ha Long Bay conclusions
Ha Long Bay for backpackers
Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
Lonely Planet Vietnam 9
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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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Cat Ba Island reviews
Backchat from the Travelfish community
jumped on to get some recommendations and to my surprise, no comments yet. Just arrived in the main travel/ tourist area here on Cat Ba. Not much to comment on other than my initial reaction.
its busy season, today is thursday and the streets are packed with families (natives) on rented bikes, enjoying the summer evening. Place has a great vibe, scenery is beautiful. Only a few whites, nice change from Old Quarter in Hanoi. The lights off the boats in the harbor reflecting off the water at night is really great.
200k a night (weekday, harbor view), sounds like the weekend will be 4-700k to stay on the main strip.
I got lucky and ended up putting my Honda on a ferry on Tuan Chau? island, 60k and an hour later to the port on cat ba. Was an easy ferry ride and first real look at all these rock islands or what ever they are called. Was Beaut.
Excited to explore this joint
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By dcl8405 (dabbler)
Written on 27th June, 2013 after a visit to Cat Ba Island in June, 2013
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