Things to do on Cat Ba Island

There is sometimes the tendency to assume that Cat Ba Island is nothing more than a stop-off point for tourists on the way to Lan Ha Bay. The natural beauty and history that reach most corners of the Gulf of Tonkin’s largest island beg to differ, even enough for UNESCO to declare Cat Ba Island a ‘Man and Biosphere Reserve Area’ for its importance in the lives of humans, animals, and plants throughout its ancient history.

There is no shortage of things to do on Cat Ba Island, but picking just a handful of activities before heading out to Lan Ha Bay can be tricky if you’re short on time. At Incredible Asia Journeys, we’ve found 5 of Cat Ba Island’s top attractions and present them to you here so that you can make the most of your trip to the stunning archipelago of 367 limestone outcrops.

Cat Ba Island

1. Cat Ba National Park

The 161 km2 medley of green foliage and grey rock that makes up the heart of Cat Ba Island is Cat Ba National Park, situated right in the middle of the main island. The area is perfect for trekking and has several different tracks suitable for every ability level between beginner and experienced. There are opportunities for short, easy treks to the peaks of hills offering views over the bumpy sea of verdant greenery, and a tough, 6-hour return trek around 18km of bushland that leads to the shoreline and a picturesque fishing village.

The potential for seeing Cat Ba langur monkeys is one of Cat Ba Island’s big attractions, though sightings are very rare because of the tiny numbers of langurs left. Just around 65 individuals remain in the only place in the world where they are found, living under the constant threat of poaching which the Vietnamese government is going to huge lengths to stop in a bid to save the critically endangered population.

Hiking in Cat Ba National Park

2. How to get to Cat Ba National Park

The main road connecting the north and the south of Cat Ba Island cut through the national park, making it impossible to miss. You can park your motorbike for cheap or you can opt for the public bus (25,000 VND - $1.20) that runs from Cat Ba Town's harbor at 7 am, 11 am, and 3 pm every day.

2.1. Hospital Cave

A great stop-off on the way to Cat Ba National Park, Hospital Cave comprises another of the historical things to see on Cat Ba Island. An incredibly cheap 15,000 VND ($0.65 USD) will cover the cost of a private tour of this disused military hospital built right into the limestone mountain. Signs, roads, and a staircase now highlight the existence of the once-hidden hospital, but the infirmary went unnoticed during the American War and was eventually abandoned in 1975 when the Americans had been vanquished. During its 12 years, it treated many wounded Viet Cong fighters, along with providing a safe house for its leaders who enjoyed a somewhat leisurely hiding with the use of a swimming pool and cinema room on the second floor.

Discover Hospital Cave

How to get to the Hospital Cave

On the drive to Cat Ba National Park, about 10 km northwest of Cat Ba Town, you will see a green sign indicating the path that leads to the Hospital Cave. It is really only accessible by self-driven motorbike or a motorbike taxi from Cat Ba Town.

2.2.Cannon Fort

One of the best things to do on Cat Ba for historians and non-historians alike, Cannon Fort stands just outside the main town and has magnificent views over the UNESCO-nominated archipelago. Three cannons were built atop the 177m high hill; pulled up the mountain with no mechanical assistance and sat facing the sea to repel naval invaders. Ironically, it was the invading French who ordered their construction, followed by their sabotage upon fleeing, so that the uprising Vietnamese couldn’t use them. However, the Vietnamese fixed them and used them to great effect during the first and second Indochina wars, and now two remain as a testament to the Vietnamese fighting spirit.

While the bunker, small military airport, and groups of mannequin soldiers appeal to those interested in history, those who aren’t can climb the hill for the stunning views over Lan Ha Bay. This is truly the best place to take in the majesty of the rolling karst mountains stretching to the horizon, with hidden beaches sitting in alcoves and solo fishing boats sliding silently through the calm waters below.

How to get to Cannon Fort

Just a 10-minute walk from Cat Ba Town will take you to the entrance gate of Cannon Fort, where you will pay 50,000 VND ($2.20) for entry and proceed an extra 20 minutes up the path to the lookout above. If incline walking isn’t your thing, you can pay an extra 50,000 VND for an electric car service that will take you to the top.

Cannon Fort in Cat Ba

2.3. Viet Hai Village

The slow development of Viet Hai Village over its many hundreds of years of history gives it a charming, rustic aura. It was earmarked to become a big tourism project in 2011, and the years in between have seen it develop into one of Cat Ba Island’s top attractions in Halong Bay cruise tour. Residents live in charismatic houses with bamboo frames and thatched roofs, while the streets of the village are shared by pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and farmyard animals like buffaloes and goats. Viet Hai is set in the foreground of a beautiful range of forested hills, which eventually turn into rainforests available for exploration by foot. Here can you find Frog Lake, a small but rich body of water flanked by tree-topped limestone.

How to get to Viet Hai Village? 

This is only easily accessible to Lan Ha Bay cruises, a great selection of which you can see here. It usually comprises the morning of the second day of a 3-day itinerary, so all transport to and around Viet Hai will be arranged for you. You can reach Viet Hai on a long trek through Cat Ba National Park and catch the nearby ferry back to Cat Ba Town, but information on this is scant, so you should ask your accommodation for the details.

Cycling in Viet Hai Fishing Village

Click here to get information about the best cruises to discover Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island!

2.4. Tung Thu Beach

The proximity of the famous Cat Co beaches to Cat Ba Town has eventually become their downfall. Throngs of tourists flock to the beach triangle of Cat Co 1, 2 and 3, connected by a wooden walkway that affords good views of the bay but also the constant push and shove of people determined to get the perfect selfie. Overdevelopment has seen a search for an alternative beach escape amongst visitors, and some, but not many, find it at Tung Thu Beach, on the opposite side of Cat Ba Town from Cat Co.

For relaxing, there’s no better thing to do on Cat Ba Island than lying on the golden, and most importantly, untouched sands of Tung Thu Beach. This beach was once the site of much development and was destined for the same fate as the Cat Co beaches, but progress seemed to stall due to meager transportation links, so tourists headed to the more accessible Cat Co instead. What’s left at Tung Thu Beach are the shells of resort buildings and just small groups of locals swimming in the waters and lying on the golden sands of what they refer to as ‘Cat Co 4’.

Tung Thu Beach

How to get to Tung Thu Beach

Utilizing the services of a motorbike to stop at Tung Thu Beach on the way to the Hospital Cave and Cat Ba National Park will give you a fantastic itinerary for a full-day trip around Cat Ba Island. If it’s an entire day of relaxing you’re after, then you can get a motorbike taxi (xe om) from Cat Ba town, or just walk the 1.2 km northeast until you reach an arch on the road signaling the entrance to the beach.

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