Cát Bà Island

5 Things To Do On Cát Bà Island

Cát Bà Island is the largest island in Ha Long Bay located in northeast Vietnam. The main town area of Cát Bà is defined by hotels, bars and restaurants, but take your motorbike for a ride out of the town and you’ll find that much of Cát Bà is pristine and untouched. In 1986 the island and much of the surrounding islands and waters became a national park and are therefore given protection.

Here is a list of 5 things to do on Cát Bà Island

1. Rent a bike and ride, ride, ride

Not an advisable motorbike riding technique

I lived in Vietnam for a year, and one weekend we decided to ride our bikes to Cát Bà Island from Tu Son, near Hanoi. So once on the island there wasn’t any need for us to rent. But if you’ve come by bus or train, I would highly recommend renting a bike on the island and exploring. When with the bike one of my favourite things to do is fill up the tank and just get lost, investigate all those hidden roads, take those precarious paths, and get my bearings. Cát Bà Island is a great place to just ride, it’s not so big so you really can’t get too lost and you’re bound to find some unexpected wonders along the way.

2. Hit the Beach

Matching shirt friends probably checking out the photos they just took from their shoot on the beach

Cát Bà’s beaches are helpfully called Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2 and Cat Co 3 beaches. You can ride your rented bike to Cat Co 1 beach and then park up and walk to the next two beaches. A perfect way to relax after a long bike ride to the island.

3. Explore Cát Bà National Park

The Cát Bà National Park is truly spectacular and much of it is located on Cát Bà Island. The National Park is 263 sq km in size meaning that the majority of the island is in the National Park. Beautiful valleys are covered in dense vegetation and much of the park is uninhabited and unexplored. There are apparently 1,500 plant species, 32 mammal species and 78 species of birds as well as the critically endangered white-headed langur.

4. Trung Trang Cave & Hospital Cave

Hospital Cave corridor

The Trung Trang cave is 300m long cave is set with a backdrop of incredible mountains and luscious vegetation.

Entry: 15,000VND (50p)

Opening Hours: usually open between 7Am and 5PM

Located just 3km from Trung Trang Cave and closer to the main Cát Bà harbour is the Hospital Cave (it’s well signposted). You can park your bike and pay for your ticket just across the road from the cave. Look out from the opening of the cave to classically Vietnamese views of fields and lumpy bumpy mountains.

The Hospital Cave was an actual working hospital during part of the Vietnam War between 1963-1965. The cave acted as an ideal place to avoid the bombs and treat the wounded soldiers. There was a total of 14 rooms, including operating rooms, waiting rooms, space for hospital beds and even an exercise room; this is all laid out over an impressive 3 stories inside the cave. The cave even had a well-equipped ventilation and freshwater system.

It was really impressive to see this cave and imagine what it would have been like to be inside during the war.

Entry: 40,000VND (£1.30)

5. Views from Cannon Fort

For views of the surrounding archipelago head up to Cannon Fort for spectacular scenery.  Cannon Fort is at the top of a 177m hill. The area is much more than just a viewpoint, it is also home to historic artillery guns and military tunnels built in the 20th century. Fort Cannon was an important strategic point during the Vietnam War. The observatory will provide you with unapparelled views of the surrounding islands and boats bobbing in the water.

Entry: 40,000VND (£1.30)

How to get to Cát Bà Island

I lived in Vietnam for a year from 2017-2018. I was based just outside of Hanoi so had a motorbike and often explored with the bike. A couple of friends and I decided to ride in convoy one weekend all the way from Tu Son (just outside of Hanoi) to Cát Bà Island.

This is the route we took.

Route taken from Tu Son to Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal

Of course, it took longer than 2h45m because we were on motorbikes, and it started raining near the end of our journey. I’m not too sure of how long but I’d say it took us around 4-5 hours.

We arrived at the Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal and purchased a ticket to Gia Luan Harbour this cost 90,000VND (£2.90). This was a one way ticket for one passenger with a motorbike. The ferry departs at 7.30AM, 9AM, 11.30AM, 1.30PM and 3PM. For the return journey the ferry departs at 9AM, 11.30AM, 1.30PM, 3PM and 4PM.

There are other ways to get to Cát Bà including via the Bến Gót terminal, which is much shorter but far less spectacular. Just look back at the map at Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal, Cát Bà island is directly south, and you get to go through the archipelago.

Where to stay?

The Central Backpackers Hostel hiding in the mountains and trees right next to the water

We stayed at the Central Backpackers Hostel which is located just a 20 minute walk from the main town area. For me this was the perfect location because it didn’t have the loud noise and beeping horn sounds of the town. The hostel was a vibrant and lively place though. With options for shared rooms or outdoor rented cabins right next to an idyllic swimming pool. A 12 bed mixed dorm is just £4.19 a night!

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