It doesn't matter where you go in life. It's who you have beside you that matters. For me, it's so true. I had been to Cat Bat twice before: the first one is with my family and the second one is with my friend. Last weekend, I came back to Cat Ba island and this time, it was with my colleagues.Even when I thought I had experienced all the best things there, Cat Ba still impressed me each time I came back. Among all of the islands in the north sea of Vietnam, Cat Ba, in my opinion, is the most magical and interesting. If you plan to visit this amazing island, just keep in mind these following things:
Even though Cat Ba is an island among 327 islands of Ha Long Bay, it, actually, belongs to Hai Phong city, not Quang Ninh Province. As the biggest island in the bay, with a surface area of 285 km2 and a half covered by a National Park, which leads to incredibly high rates of biodiversity. This island, as in the north of Vietnam, has four seasons a year but as it is East Sea, it has a higher temperature and more rain
From December to February next year. It's cold and normally 10-15 degree Celsius. It is off-season time with cloudy sky and cold water. As the sea is quite calm, it's a good time for kayaking but not swimming.
From February to April. It's quite warm but sometimes wet and humid with spring rains. March- April is the best time to come as It's getting sunnier and sea water is warm enough for swimming and play sea sports
From May to August. It's the peak time of domestic travel so try to avoid this time if you don't like crowds and higher travel costs. This time is the best time to play sea sports like kayaking, windsurfing, swimming...
From September to November. It is the rainy season so there will be a lot of tropical storms. Don't come to Cat Ba this time if you don't want to be kept in the island for 1-2 weeks due to tropical storms.
Not only the weather but you also need to pay attention on Vietnam public holidays and international vacation time to avoid the crowds and have the best moments in this island. Be aware of these following days:
To sum up, the best time to visit Cat Ba island is from March to April when the rain is gone, the weather is warmer and the sea is clean and clear without the invasion of tourists.
The nearest airport is Cat Bi Airport in Hai Phong, however, you can surely get to this lovely island from Hanoi. In the past, it often takes a half day from Hanoi to Cat Ba and people have to transfer to two ferries, thanks to the newly built bridge linking Hai Phong to Cat Hai Island, we only need 3 hours to get there. From Hanoi, there are several options for you to choose:
Cat Ba island is quite big so you can not go to all attractions by foot. Instead, you could choose:
- Bicycle: Renting a bike in Cat Ba is quite cheap and easy (only need 2 dollars per day) and just walk along the main roads there, you can choose a "buddy" right away. If you go with your loved one or in a group, tandems are the top choice. But be sure to check on your bike before renting as sometimes they are not in good condition. Besides, bring more water and food with you since some roads in Cat Ba are very steep and energy consuming.
- Motorbike: Another option for a longer expedition around Cat Ba is to rent a motorbike. Automatic motorbike is easier to use, however, if you want to explore the mountain-pass and the coastal road, you'd better choose semi-automatic one since it will save energy and safer to use. You should contact your hotel to rent a motorbike to make sure that if something wrong happens in the way, they will support you faster.
- Wooden Junk: Cat Ba island belongs to Lan Ha Bay and surrounded by some small islands, thus to reach them from Cat Ba, you have no choice but catch a wooden junk there. One small junk for 5 people costs 600,000 VND while a middle or big wooden junk (for maximum 40-50 people) costs you at least 1,3 million VND. The big wooden junk is a better choice as it moves faster, safer and offers more space to relax, have a party and for sightseeing.
There is a variety of accommodation types in Cat Ba from homestays, small hostels and guesthouses to beachfront resorts.
For a luxurious trip, Cat Ba Sunrise Resort comes as the best choice, while a few of other hotels are considerably good in quality such as Cat Ba Island Resort & Spa, Monkey Island Resort, Cat Ba Palace Hotel...
Boasting an outdoor swimming pool, this tropical getaway features an on-site restaurant and bar. You can relax on the beachfront sun loungers, take a stroll along the cliff-side walkway, or play billiards.
The resort owns 2 outdoor swimming pools, an on-site dining option and private beach area on Cat Co 1 beach. Elegantly furnished in light beige, all rooms have views of the ocean.
Nestled in Monkey island, a small island near Cat Ba, This property is 1 minute walk from the beach. With a private beachfront, Monkey Island Resort offers relaxing stays in wooden bungalows.
Cat Ba boasts three stunning beaches and some interesting attractions for anyone to explore. Check out some worth-visiting destinations and fantastic experiences there:
There is a rock-cliff route that connects Cat Co 1 beach to Cat Co 2 beach. This route is safe to stroll along and from there, you can catch the whole view of Lan Ha bay with colorful fishing boats from afar, some floating restaurants near the center and the creamy sand beaches right under. The best time to have a nice and pleasant stroll without disturbance from crowds is in the morning.
Cat Ba's beautiful national park is designated by World Heritage Site as a biosphere reserve in northern Vietnam. The park contained 109 km² of land area and an additional 52 km² of inshore waters and mangrove-covered tidal zones. This park is home to some hiking trails so you can easily find suitable one, maybe short or long, that depends. To explore the whole area, it takes at least one day for experienced trekkers and even two days for inexperienced one. If you just want to get immersed in a lush green forest and want to have a relaxing trek with lovely animals, just need to spend about a half day there.
Lan Ha Bay is a germ in Cat Ba as it is not as crowded as Ha Long Bay and still captures the authentic beauty of some small islands within. To visit Lan Ha bay, the best way is to rent a wooden junk and take a cruise trip for 3-4 hours.
This cruise will take you around the bay, visit a fishing village where people live in floating houses and raise fish and other sea creatures for a living. You can even buy seafood there, ask them to cook for you and enjoy fresh meals right on your junk.
Besides fishing village, the cruise will take you to some small islands inside the bay like Monkey Island, Van Boi island, Nam Cat island and so on. The most famous island is Monkey island which is an ideal shelter of wild monkeys. You can climb to the top of the mountain in Monkey island to take an overview of Lan Ha Bay and the green forest under. Don't forget to bring a swimsuit as the water and beaches in small islands are quite convenient and clean to get wet. But be aware as in dry season, there are more stones on the beach that may hurt your foot.
Recommendation: you should rent a kayak and sail around Lan Ha Bay to explore its beauty on your own. It is much more interesting than just sticking to the junk.
There is a new road that connects Cai Vieng port with the town center without stopping by the National Park. This is called coastal road in Cat Ba as it is bounded by the rock-cliffs on one side and the blue sea on another. Riding a motorbike through the mountain pass there, crossing the winding road and flying beside the magical sea water and mangrove forest will turn your wildest dream into reality.
Far more than a historical site, this Cannon Fort owns the most stunning panoramic view of Cat Ba island especially when the sunrise. Try to get up early, rent a motorbike or try "xe ôm" to reach the top of Cannon Fort then you will be surely amazed by the view you will get.
Cat Ba island has three of the most beautiful beaches in Northern Vietnam with crystal blue water, creamy sand beaches and karst limestone rock cliff above. While Cat Co 1 and 2 are long time used and draw a lot of visitors, let's explore Cat Co 3 which is quite far but more beautiful and quieter than other two. Come here from the end of March to the end of May to get a suntan, join sea sports like beach footballs or volleyballs there without being disturbed by the crowds of domestic tourists.
Inside the area of Cat Ba national park, there are several karst caves like Hospital cave, Trung Trang cave, ... each of them has its own beauty and even history inside. The most famous one is Hospical cave which is used to be a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the Vietnam- American War and as a safe house for VC leaders. Built between 1963 and 1965 (with assistance from China), this incredibly well-constructed three-storey feat of engineering was in constant use until 1975.
Seafood is a must-eat food in Cat Ba island but not all of the seafood is the best in Cat Ba island. Check the list below and make a food tour to eat them all:
It is a pacific clam that lives near the shore of Cat Ba Island. It tastes moist, soft and the most delicious when grilled with onion and oil. As it is hard to catch geoduck, its price is much higher than other seafood but still worth trying.
It is a kind of crab with a little tail and a soft cover. In Cat Ba, there are 7 dishes made from horseshoe crab like crab soup, summer roll with fresh crab inside, crab stirfried with chili pepper and lemon grass, glass noodle with crab, crab porridge, grilled crab and steamed crab.
Ha Long bay is well-known for its squid with high quality. Thus Cat Ba squid also has good taste. Both dried and fresh squid here are tasty. You can eat steamed fresh squid or deep fried one as well as buy dried squid as gifts for your friends or family.
Its names reveals two important ingredients of this dish- rice noodle (bun) and shrimp. Besides, they often make it with fish cake and la lot roll and served with broth that is made from bones of fish and pig and several herbs. The broth is the soul of this dish.
To have a perfect Cat Ba trip, keep some tips in mind:
- Avoid Vietnam public holiday and you had better come in April or May. Winter is not a bad choice as there will be no crowds and you will get complete tranquility. Besides, you may save a lot as in the off season, the price is only one half or even one third compared with the peak season.
- Book your tour to Cat Ba to save your time of transportation, make use of local guides and you will have much time yourself instead of planning around and searching around.
- To choose a good restaurant in Cat Ba, pay attention to the number of local guests of this restaurant. The best one will attract the most local people instead of tourists.
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