The aptly named Cat Ba Town is the main settlement on the island with around 8,000 inhabitants or on boats moored in Cai Beo bay, about 2km away from the town itself. It features 3 beaches and a parade of restaurants and hotels along the seafront and reminded me a little of small coastal towns back home in the UK. It also features some nightclubs and bars - one that we went to called the Flightless Bird Bar. Unfortunately, we arrived in the town quite late and so didn't have any time to really explore it.
Part of my tour involved a bit of paddling in canoes - the first time I'd been in one since I was in the Cub Scouts! We transferred into canoes and made our way into a small lagoon that you entered under a natural stone bridge where we heard the rustling of trees by monkeys that we couldn't see. We then paddled past floating fishing communities complete with barking dogs back to the boat and then set off for Cat Ba Town and our overnight stay at the Princes Hotel.
During our trek on Cat Ba Island we visited some old style wooden buildings that looked like temples but were in fact a community centre that some French guy had brought over from the mainland and built here. However, they weren't finished because the government had created the National Park whilst they were being built and so didn't give him permission to finish building them!
We came to Cat Ba Island on our second day to do some trekking and canoeing and to stay on the island overnight. We reached the island and walked to a village called Viet Hai which featured old wooden houses alongside piles of modern bricks that were ready to build new houses. We stopped by a family who were making square 'cakes' for Tet (the Vietnamese lunar New Year celebration) which included pork, rice and egg shaped into a square and wrapped in banana leaves. Anyway, we visited some old style wooden buildings that looked like temples but were in fact a community centre that some French guy had brought over from the mainland and built here. However, they weren't finished because the government had created the National Park whilst they were being built and so didn't give him permission to finish building them! We then had lunch served to us by a 70-year old woman in the village and headed back to the boat in order to do our canoeing. After this we came back to Cat Ba Town (the main settlement on the island) for our overnight stay at the Princes Hotel (see my accommodation tip). We had a nice dinner here and then hit some nightlife in the form of a nightclub before winding down at the Flightless Bird Bar.
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay and is commonly used as an overnight hotel stop if you decide to do a 3 day/2 night trip like I did. Half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur and other mammals such as civet cats and oriental giant squirrels. The Park covers both land and marine areas and has a high biodiversity, although it is at risk from too rapid an increase in tourism. We came to Cat Ba Island on our second day to do some trekking and canoeing and to stay on the island overnight (see my next tip).
A moderately challenging 8 hour hike through temperate rain forest and over 4 hills, or a simple 1 hill and back hike. The long hike involves a lot of scrambling over slippery smooth and muddy rock. I needed my guide to walk me through it but my wife went past like a mountain goat. Pleasant village at the end where you can have lunch, then a boat back to Cat Ba town. You really need a guide but any of the places on the waterfront in Cat Ba town that organize tours can set it up. We used Mr Tuan of TuanSailing, and the guide he gave us was very helpful.
Well, Halong Bay is a UNESCO site and the reason that there are any tourists on Cat Ba at all.
The usual trip has been to go to Halong City and take a boat from there, but the descriptions we'd read of Halong City all sounded rather seedy, and Cat Ba sounded pleasant enough on its own, having a national park and all, so we went there instead.
It's easy to get a boat tour of the bay but some of the people we met were on fairly crappy tours. A lot of these tours are organized in Hanoi, and if something goes wrong along the way, the whole tour can be spoiled. But most people seemed to have competently run tours.
We took a tour from Mr Tuan at Tuan Sailing. He's been organizing these things for 10 years and he's worked in tourism in Switzerland, so he knows what he's about. We booked a tour with him where we had one day on a boat and one full day hiking in Cat Ba Natl Park, plus 2 nights in his hotel, for $105/person. It was more than we were planning on spending but the 2 of us had our guide and our boat all to ourselves! Am sure you can do this for less money esp if you don't mind other people.
Cruise from Cat Ba island to Monkey island. It is one of many islands where you can stop and swim, although there is an entrance fee to the island. There is an uphill path for monkey viewing, which we did not take (my friend and I are not really into monkeys).
We arrived at the beach rather late, and most of the tourists had gone. The cleaners were cleaning up the beach, and no one really bothered us. Dead corals are scattered over the beach and watching the sun set behing the nearby range of islets as we swam was wonderful. On board, keep still and you can see fish through the clear water.
There is great rock climbing on Cat Ba Island. Check out SloPony Adventures - I booked with them and had a great time!
We saw these ugly chickens at Cat Co beach....Of course hearing about the Sars we avoided the birds.