Nestled on the periphery of Vietnam's fabulous Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island is big -- more than 350 square kilometres -- but most tourists see but a sliver of it. Put ashore as part of a three-day tour of Ha Long Bay, time is spent on organised treks or bike rides in the national park and tours of Monkey Island, or eating at one of the many seafood places around the harbour.
But independent travellers shouldn't rule out a stay. Three beaches are located near the harbour town -- hardly world class, but they'll do for a quick swim and some baking on the sand. The national park is a good place for a close-to-nature trek among the mangroves and freshwater lakes and it's a good launching point for tours of Ha Long Bay and kayaking trips.
You can also explore Hospital Cave on the main island, which played its part in the war with America, enjoy the views from Cannon Fort or just cruise the island on a motorbike. A 100 kilometre circuit runs along the bay and into the interior, through incredibly beautiful countryside, and small villages where life in Cat Ba has gone on, largely untainted by the decades-long boom in tourism.
If you have the time, allow at least a couple of days to explore -- longer if you plan to use it as a base to take boat trips out into Ha Long Bay, relax on the beaches or engage in activities such as rock climbing. And, of course, you'll want to leave enough time to enjoy the fresh seafood, relax with a beer overlooking the bay or stroll along the promenade, which provides a pleasant view, dotted with fishing boats and floating restaurants. Make sure you catch at least one of the smouldering sunsets.
Accommodation on Cat Ba isn't particularly inspiring but there are some good options in all price ranges. If you want some luxury you'll need to go to the beach. With so many hotels it's unlikely you'll have problems finding a room – we went on a weekend in August and only a few places were full.
Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Cat Ba Island or check hotel reviews on Agoda and Booking . Hungry? Read up on where to eat on Cat Ba Island. Want to know what to do once you're there? Check out our listings of things to do in and around Cat Ba Island. If you're still figuring out how to get there, you need to read up on how to get to Cat Ba Island, or book your transport online with Baolau.
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