How long to stay on Cat Ba Island

In recent years, the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Halong Bay has been extended to the beautiful archipelago of Cat Ba, consisting of 366 islands and islets all built upon a limestone base, soaring into an untainted sky. The forested beauty of the undulating Cat Ba Island and its surrounding landmasses is irrefutable, but tourism here still lags far behind Halong Bay. This is by no means a bad thing, as it has resulted in a much quieter atmosphere on Cat Ba Island, one that leaves its roads unclogged and many of its gorgeous beaches all but deserted.

Due to this, it can be hard to find information on Cat Ba Island and how long to stay there. At Incredible Asia Journeys, we have listed the top things to do on Cat Ba Island as well as provide a workable itinerary through which you can get the most out of your independent Vietnam beach holiday or city break from Hanoi.

Lan Ha Bay

How Long to Spend on Cat Ba Island?

To answer this question How Long To Spend on Cat Ba Island, we’ll have a look at some of the factors that draw tourists to Cat Ba:

• Jungle – Cat Ba Island is coated in a thick layer of jungle, rising from the floor or clinging to the sides of towering mountains. The lush greenery spreads for miles, creating a beautiful and thick jungle consisting of numerous types of palm tree, with the island’s inland road cutting through the most verdant section of it.

• Beaches – One of Hanoi’s closest beach escapes offers many options to weekend visitors and those looking to stay on Cat Ba for a while. It has three popular beaches on its southeastern tip, along with two quieter beaches along its southern shore and a wealth of wild beaches across the archipelago as a whole.

• Seascape – The common reason as to why people stay long on Cat Ba Island is because of its gorgeous seascape, spanning for miles around and dotted with the most beautiful limestone towers rising directly out of the emerald sea. This is the location of Lan Ha Bay, the much quieter equivalent to Halong Bay and a favourite for those looking for similar scenery with enhanced tranquility.

• History – Like the rest of Vietnam, Cat Ba Island has had its fair share of war troubles, and two of Cat Ba’s best things to do capture the essence of its turbulent history wonderfully.

All of the above comprises Cat Ba’s top attractions, all of which can be visited between 2 and 5 days. How long to spend on Cat Ba depends on which ones of these interest you the most, along with how quickly you can see all of the sights with your given time.

Cat Ba Island in 2 Days

We’ll begin with the shortest recommended time to spend on Cat Ba Island. Two days is enough to get a feel for the island but without delving into some of its most beautiful attractions. If you take one of the earlier buses from Hanoi to Cat Ba, you can reach there by about midday, meaning that your first afternoon can be spent soaking up the completely disparate atmosphere to the capital.

Day 1


Arriving at midday gives you plenty of time to dive straight into the attractions of the island, the first of which will probably be the beach. It’s easy to while away the hours on Cat Ba’s wonderful beaches, but it can be quite a bit harder trying to find space on its most popular ones. The trio of Cat Co beaches are comprised of Cat Co 1, 2 and 3, all facing southeast into a sea dotted with limestone towers and connected by a short cliff-top walkway. All three of these belong to resorts and are mostly manufactured to be the hub of activity for their respective guests. 

Though Cat Co 3 is worth a look, you should avoid the other two and instead head to Tung Thu beach, which lies just to the west of Cat Ba Town. The beach here is about the size of all Cat Co beaches combined and a fraction as busy, with much of the white sand going completely untouched for the day. Similarly, about 9km out of the town lies Woodstock beach, a gloriously underrated strip that serves the campers at the Woodstock Beach Camp with hammocks, a bar and a row of beachfront tents. The hippie atmosphere encapsulated here means that all visitors are welcome, not just those staying at the accommodation over the road.

Cat Co Beach

Day 2


There is much more to Cat Ba Island than its fringes, though most of its visitors tend to stick to soaking up the sunshine from the soft golden sands. Heading inland is a great way to see the thick and beautiful jungle that takes up much of the island, and spending many days on Cat Ba becomes easier once you find the gorgeous tropical vegetation that carpets the archipelago. By either renting a motorbike in the town or jumping on the regular shuttle bus that takes passengers around the island, you can experience a luxuriant wonderland of the deepest greens and the light brown and silver colouring of spiralling limestone peaks.

Along the main inland road, visitors should stop off at the Hospital Cave, one of the two attractions that offer an insight into Cat Ba’s history. This cave was converted into a working hospital for the North Vietnamese Army and the local residents, concealed by thick jungle and never found by the Americans. Now, just 40,000 VND ($1.80 USD) can grant you access to the cave and a brief introduction to its existence from a guide. After that, you’re free to explore some of the basic and fairly gruesome rooms where soldiers were treated, along with meeting rooms, storage rooms, a swimming pool and even a cinema, all of which are occupied by manikins there to display the more grizzly aspects of the Vietnam War.

Proceeding along the inland road, visitors will come to Cat Ba National Park, which takes up a large chunk of Cat Ba Island. Despite the fact that the information boards list 8 treks, the staff here will fervently tell you that there’s only one, the trek to Ngu Lam Peak. This trek is fairly simple, taking about 2.5 to 3 hours overall and providing an excellent view from the top of a rolling sea of forested limestone peaks. Along the way, keep an eye out for the iconic Cat Ba Langur, an incredibly rare species that is endemic to the island, as well as a wealth of birds including hornbills, hawks, and the magnificent sea eagle.

Though it lies right on the northern tip of the island, a trip to Gia Luan Dock rounds off an eventful morning and rewards those who make the effort with some beautiful views of Halong Bay. The dock itself is rarely used and features a quiet, languid atmosphere amongst very peaceful surrounds. There isn’t much to do here except sitting back and taking it all in, but the gorgeous scenery ensures plenty of reason to be here.

Floating Village


After an eventful morning, it is worth taking some more afternoon time to relax. How long to spend on Cat Ba’s beaches obviously depends on you, but some serious time should be devoted to visiting them because of the beautiful and remote atmosphere that they exude. Two more beaches, Cat Dua 1 and Cat Dua 2, can be found on Monkey Island, accessible by a boat service from the Ben Beo Ferry Terminal. Swimming and kayaking here are wonderful experiences because of the untainted water surrounding the island, which receives much fewer visits than the water around the Cat Co beaches. If you’re still feeling active after the morning’s excursions, you can engage in another small hike to the top of one of Monkey Island’s mountains, which gives a great view of the archipelago as well as the colourful Cai Beo Fishing Village.

After a few hours on Monkey Island, visitors can return to Cat Ba Island and head to the Cannon Fort, the second of Cat Ba’s two historical attractions, offering the perfect place to watch the sunset. A quick drive and short climb up some stairs takes you to the Cannon Fort’s complex, where replica cannons and full-scale manikins show visitors how Vietnam utilised the French-built artillery to repel both the French and the Americans during the 20th century. The entire fort sits atop a mountain, providing excellent panoramic views of the waters below and the limestone mountains that comprise Lan Ha Bay.

Cat Ba Island in 3 Days

If factoring in the itinerary of the previous two days, it’s very possible to spend one extra day in this slice of northern Vietnamese paradise. In fact, 3 days is the ideal time to spend on Cat Ba Island if you want to experience most of its attractions, as an additional daytrip to Lan Ha Bay opens up much more of the archipelago for exploration.

Day 3

Full day tours around the archipelago’s most pristine seascape are certainly one of Cat Ba’s top attractions. Many people come to the island just for transferring to Lan Ha Bay, a highly beautiful and, importantly, quiet section of Halong Bay that is drawing more and more tourists every year. Prices for the full day are around a very reasonable 500,000 VND ($23 USD) per person, which includes the set-menu activities of cruising, a fishing village visit, kayaking, swimming, a visit to a cave and time spent at a beach. Tours are fairly rushed and there isn’t too much time for relaxing on the boat, but if you’re looking for an engaging tour with plenty to do, Lan Ha Bay day trips are ideal.

Cruise in Lan Ha Bay

Cat Ba Island in 4 Days

This is a fantastic number of days to spend on Cat Ba Island if looking for supreme relaxation. Day trips to Lan Ha Bay give a good introduction to the Cat Ba archipelago, but an overnight cruise around any part of the Gulf of Tonkin is usually one of the highlights of a northern Vietnam tour.

Day 4

From about 6,600,000 VND ($260 USD) per cabin, you can spend 2 days and 1 night on a Lan Ha Bay cruise. Compared to the day boats, these cruise ships are fitted with very modern amenities and even the oldest have launched in the water as recently as 2016. They feature contemporary cabins with comfortable furnishings, a dining room and gorgeous sundeck as a minimum, accommodating passengers beneath the billowing sails of a traditional junk boat. These modern-day cruisers glide silently through some very quiet parts of the bay, giving you the chance to enjoy pure serenity while on board. The itineraries don’t differ too much from that of the day trips, but crucially they contain much more space in the itinerary, giving you the chance to enjoy a more tranquil time with fewer breaks. Cruising overnight also gives you the opportunity to enjoy onboard activities such as a cooking class, squid fishing and a tai chi session, all while viewing an unforgettable sunrise and sunset between the limestone peaks.


Cruise in Lan Ha Bay

Cat Ba Island in 5 Days

The most decadent answer to the question of how long to stay on Cat Ba Island is 5 days, as this gives you one extra day to enjoy a 3-day, 2-night itinerary on a Lan Ha Bay cruise. The extended itinerary of these cruises gives you extra time to enjoy the quieter delights of an already very quiet bay, one which may be on display just for you and a few other passengers.

Day 5

After your first tai chi session and breakfast on the 3-day, 2-night cruise, you will be shipped onto a smaller day boat and ferried through those Lan Ha Bay waterways lying further afield. Here, you will have an entire day spent in the utmost serenity, with a loose itinerary focused around kayaking, caving, swimming and relaxing on the beach. Typically, far fewer people choose this option, and it is not uncommon for just one or two couples to be enjoying the majesty of Lan Ha Bay’s undisturbed delights from the deck of the day boat. Prices start at around 10,500,000 VND ($450 USD) per cabin for these real once-in-a-lifetime experiences and are very rarely considered anything other than money well spent.

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