Intro

Cat Ba Island is located in northeastern Vietnam, just a few miles from Ha Long Bay. That’s why this place is touted as the cheaper and quieter alternative to Ha Long. At the beginning of this year I spend lot of time on deciding which of the two places I would like to put on my route. It should not be both of them, because they offer almost the same for their visitors. So if you feel comfortable in crowded places and are more interested in action, you can opt for the city of Ha Long. But I was willing to give the island of Cat Ba a chance to discover its secrets.


Facts

Inhabitants: 13,000.
Best time to travel: September – April.
Recommended stay: 2 days.


Review

Cat Ba Island and the associated Cat Ba Town were chosen by me because of the many fables and the many pictures on the Internet to my absolute favorite destination. I have been looking forward to visiting this island for months. I have imagined in my mind many scenes and impressions, what I may see and experience on the island. And maybe that’s why, maybe because I set my expectations so high, they could not be fulfilled.

I’ve spended only 10 hours in the bus traveling from Sapa to Cat Ba. It was still short trip, because on my travels through Vietnam I sometimes spent up to 20 hours at a time in a bus. The ride lasted the entire night, allowing enough time in the so-called Sleeping Bus to take a dose of sleep. Arriving at dawn, I was dropped off at the Oasis Bar, in the middle of Cat Ba Town. Finally I was able to stretch my legs, enjoy the first coffee of the day and gather the first impressions of the island.

And those impressions were anything but not exactly what I had imagined in my mind weeks ago. On the island there are contructions everywhere. Noise and dirt dominate the cityscape. From the green panoramic view and from the town idyll far and wide nothing in sight. The beaches are either dirty or blocked, because the next hotel giant is already under construction. At every turn, you notices that tourism has long arrived and that the island now prepares for the next tourism masses.

Arrived at the hotel, I picked my notebook was researching for an alternative plan. Although Cat Bat Town is the island’s figurehead and first stop for visitors, but the city does not reflect the potential of the whole island. And in the end, I was happy that I have decided to go for Cat Ba.


Canon Fort

Opening Hours: Daily from 07:00 to 18:30.
Admission Charge: 40.000 VND (1,54€).
Parking: 5.000 VND (0,19€).
Recommended Stay: 2 hours.

Cannon Fort is one of the attractions on Cat Ba Island. It was built in 1942 during World War II. Later in the American War, the fortress became a strategic point. Just because of the wide view, the opponent military could be recognized early.

Today this facility is accessible to tourists. In my opinion the scenery was placed successful and conveys the drama at that time very well. It’s also helpful that a route has been prepared for the visitors. This not only ensures that no one get lost, but guides you through the entire area. Follow the route and you will see everything.

At the end of the tour you will find a cafe with a fabulous view of the Lan Ha bay. It is best to be there around 5 pm and enjoy the sunset (if the weather cooperates).


Hospital Cave

Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00 to 17:00.
Admission Charge: 40.000 VND (1,54€).
Parking: 5.000 VND (0,19€).
Recommended Stay: 2 hours.

The hospital cave really impressed me. As the name implies, the Vietnamese have built a whole hospital in the middle of a natural cave, which serves as a bomb shelter for the people.

The hospital was built during the American War between 1963 and 1965 and was still in operation until 1975. Today, the cave is open to visitors and hides their secrets behind 17 rooms, just waiting to be discovered.

At the entrance of the cave a guide is waiting for you. He only speaks a few words of English, but it was fun and I learned a lot from him about the history of the hospital.


National Park

Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00 to 17:00.
Admission Charge: 80.000 VND (3,07€).
Parking: Free of charge.
Recommended Stay: 4 – 8 hours.

The National Park in Cat Ba was founded in 1986 and covers about 280 km². This one should be the most beautiful in the country, which I can confirm. You can hardly find so much nature and so much green elsewhere in Vietnam. The park blew my mind and is one of my favorite places in whole Vietnam.

The park is perfect for a hiking trip and offers a total of 4 routes to choose from. Depending on the available time and fitness level, there will be at least one route for everyone.

I chose one of the shorter routes, which leads to the Ngu Lam summit. From there you have a fantastic panoramic view over the entire national park. It would have been nice if I were able to hike a second route, but I did not had the time.


How do I get to Cat Ba

As always, there are many ways to get to Cat Ba. For my travel planning, I often use the platforms baolau.com and 12go.asia. These offer almost all transport options, from private buses to airplanes.

I can additionally recommend everyone allways to ask at the reception in your hotel. The staff usually have contacts with regional travel companies that are not listed on the search engines listed above. So I could find a bus connection, which brought me directly from Sapa to Cat Ba Island.

From Hanoi to Cat Ba Island*
From Sapa to Cat Ba Island*

Eat & Drink

Oasis Bar II

Yes, there is also an Oasis Bar I, but this is more of a pub and the ambience a bit louder. The Oasis Bar II offers a western-inspired menu. Very good prices and perfect for the first meal of the day. Burgers, pancakes and coffee, everything is delicious here.
(Maps)

Like Coffee

The hipster location in Cat Ba Town. Modern ambience with clinker and lot of wood. You can get here really cool smoothies and pancakes. Prices are fair and the cafe makes a clean and inviting impression. Here you like to stay and watch the bustle on the street.
(Maps)


Hotel Recommendations

Hoi Lake Farmstay*

My TOP recommendation to you. The hotel is located in the middle of the national park and offers several bungalows, which are placed around a lake. Unbeatable in terms of location and view. Unfortunately, the lake was not quite finished at the time of my visit, but the owner promised me to be ready in the summer of this year.


Conclusion

How is the conclusion now? Positive or rather negative? One thing is for sure, Cat Ba does not have a nice town with bars and cafes. Cat Ba is not as idyllic as hoped. Cat Ba was only a construction site at the time of my visit. But apart from that, the island also has its beautiful sides. You just have to be ready to go looking for it and will eventually find it.


Impressions

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