Of the 327 islands found in Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba is the largest. Cat Ba is often visited by tourists only as a stopover during a cruise in Ha Long Bay, limiting themselves mainly to the hotels and restaurants in the city centre. However, those who explore outside the city will find that Cat Ba has a lot to offer.
How do I get to Cat Ba?
Any trip to Vietnam starts with applying for a Vietnam visa. After the visa is approved, you can plan the rest of the trip. Although the Cat Bi International Airport in Hai Phong is relatively close to Cat Ba, by far most people travel to the island via Hanoi. In the past, the journey from Hanoi to Cat Ba took half a day as you had to take several ferries. Nowadays, with the construction of a bridge connecting Hai Phong with Cat Ba, the journey from Hanoi takes only three hours.
There are several ways to travel from Hanoi to Cat Ba. The easiest way is to take a direct bus from Hanoi. However, it is also possible to travel to Hai Phong first (by bus or train) and from there take the ferry to Cat Ba. You can also take a private bus from Hanoi, which is especially recommended when travelling with family or friends.
What does the island have to offer?
There is not much to do in the city centre of Cat Ba. It is mainly filled with hotels and restaurants. As mentioned earlier, this is due to the fact that Cat Ba is mainly used as a stopover for cruises in Ha Long Bay departing from Hanoi. However, this does not mean that Cat Ba has nothing to offer. On the contrary, the further away from the city centre, the more impressive the surroundings.
Pearly white beaches
Cat Ba has some of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, known as the Cat Co Beaches. There are three Cat Co Beaches, all excellent places to get a nice tan or take a dip to cool off. Be warned, though: the beaches of Cat Ba are very popular among the Vietnamese people. From around 4 oʼclock in the afternoon, the beaches fill up quickly.
Cruise through Lan Ha Bay
Everyone knows Ha Long Bay, and not without reason. The unique sights of Ha Long Bay are found almost nowhere else. However, this also means that Ha Long Bay is usually very busy. A good alternative is Lan Ha Bay, which is easily accessible from Cat Ba. There are special cruises that go through Lan Ha Bay, where you can also visit small floating fishing villages along the way.
Hospital Cave and Cannon Fort
Cat Ba was a strategic location during the Vietnam War. During the fighting, locals took shelter in the many caves found on the island. Many of these former shelters have since been opened to tourists. The most popular of these are Hospital Cave, a secret hospital that also served as a hideout for Vietcong leaders, and Cannon Fort, from which you have a beautiful view of Cat Ba.
Cat Ba National Park
Approximately 50% of the island of Cat Ba is Cat Ba National Park. From the city, you can take a bus to the park. You can also rent a scooter to drive to the park yourself. This has the advantage that you can also drive through the park by scooter and thus can cover much larger distances. The Cat Ba National Park is extremely diverse. The park is home to, among others, the White-faced Langur, a rare species of monkey that is threatened with extinction. The park is also excellent for physical activities such as hiking, cycling and mountain climbing. There are several routes you can take. Some are more difficult than others, so make sure you travel well prepared.
Vietnam visa application
As mentioned before, applying for a visa for Vietnam is mandatory for most European travellers. Without a visa, you cannot enter Vietnam. Fortunately, it is very easy to obtain a Vietnam visa online. To apply for the visa, first fill in the online application form. Then you pay the costs, after which the visa is granted within a few days.
However, the visa comes with certain requirements. The passport used to apply for the visa must be valid 30 days longer than the visa itself. There are a limited number of locations where you may enter the country, depending on how you travel (by air, land or sea). Carefully read the visa requirements for Vietnam to avoid surprises during your trip.