Welcome to Cat Ba
Found off the eastern coast of Vietnam, just a three-hour drive from Hanoi, Cat Ba is one of the ideal places to go when you want to relax at the beach but also need some mountain time.
Cat Ba deserves a good two to four days depending on your schedule: two if you wish to go to the main attractions and four if you want to fully enjoy everything the place has to offer.
How do you get to Cat Ba?
If you are already in Hai Phong, your best bet would be to get the ship in Ben Binh Harbour, which lasts around 45m and costs between 200 and 250 thousand dongs.
If you are coming from Hanoi, we recommend you book a travel pack with Hoang Long Transportation Company. They will pick you up in Hanoi, take you to Hai Phong and from there on to Cat Ba island on their boat. The final leg of the trip will take you to Cat Ba Town on another bus; all this for 250 to 300 thousand dongs, not bad right?
Until now, the only way you could get to Cat Ba was by boat, either from Hai Phong or Ha Long, but on the 6th of June (with any luck), the longest cable car in the world will open, connecting Cat Ba to Cat Hai. According to the Hai Phong Facebook page, tickets will cost 150K for adults and 100k for children, not a bad price considering the experience and the pictures you’ll get out of it!
Accommodation in Cat Ba?
The first thing you have to worry about before arriving somewhere is accommodation, right? So where does one sleep in Cat Ba? The answer is it all depends on the company you keep. If you’re travelling with friends and are looking for a cheap, but cool, place to stay, the Pod Hostel is the place for you. Located on the seafront of Cat Ba Town, the Pod Hostel has, as its name suggests, rooms in which you can find up to 5 beds enclosed in cubicles. We stayed in a room like the one below, with three top beds which were slightly bigger than a single and two larger-than-doubles on the bottom. They also have a rooftop where they offer incredibly good cocktails (try their Old Fashioned) and views.
(And if you’re into videogames, they also have a PlayStation 4 if you feel like a spot of multiplayer PS4 gaming)
We paid 100k dong a night (around 3 euros), prices may rise but not much more than that. They also offer awesome tours…but more on that later.
We should also mention that they also have rooms for one or two people and more hotel-like rooms, but the prices would, of course, be higher. We recommend you check the above link for current prices.
What’s that? You don’t want to be a tourist but would rather stay somewhere where you can be in touch with nature? We have the place for you.
Woodstock Beach Camp is only a 15m drive away from Cat Ba Town and is bang on the beach. It is not a tourist resort but a place where the operative word is “chill”. You can choose to either sleep in one of the rooms in the main building or in one of the tents on the beach. It’s a good place to use as a base or to just lie around, sunbathe or participate in some of the several activities and workshops they organise; unfortunately, last we checked, the beach couldn’t be really be used to swim in.
Where to eat in Cat Ba town?
Hands down, Quiri Pub Cocktail and Restaurant. With a full 5 stars on Tripadvisor, we went to this place 2 days straight for nearly every meal (bar one or two cheeky banh mi). You can find it easily, just cross over the bridge by the fishing port and walk on for about 5 minutes. As mentioned, Quiri is the ideal place for any meal; they serve delicious breakfast, special mention to their mango or banana pancake, as well as western and local Cat Ba specialities.
If you’ve already tried every single local yummy dish and you miss your traditional tastes from home, we recommend Napoli Pizza. Now, there are two, one on the main street by the sea and one tucked away on another street; we recommend you go to the latter for a more relaxed and less crowded meal but to the first, if you fancy having a drink later on their terrace and watch the hustle and bustle of the night.
Their pizzas would probably make any Italian tourist weep of nostalgia for their homeland.
Where to go in Cat Ba?
As we mentioned before, Cat Ba is a place for all sorts. One of our favourite little nooks is what we called (drum roll) The Secret Beach! You will be able to find it here; you can either walk there or take the bike, although in that case, you’ll have to park the bike at the entrance of the path.
Now comes the fun bit, you’ll have a little adventure time to get down to the beach, a little exercise, but it will be worth it. The beach itself is great for a swim and a sunbathe, but remember to take a towel or something to lie down on as the beach itself is mostly made of stones and shells.
Fancy a climb?
One of the attractions in Cat Ba is the famed Green Ladder, also called Eltinks viewpoint on Maps. As the name states, it is a long, green emergency ladder which takes you to the top of an enormous rock with, admittedly, awesome views. Right now it is officially closed and it is forbidden to climb it, we must stress that there won’t be a man hanging around there and he will not ask for some money to show you the non-existent way to access it.
The ideal tour in Cat Ba
As we mentioned before, we went with the tour offered by the Pod Hostel, it included the boat trips, a visit to the floating village, a kayaking session with which you can visit some of the well-known caves (which…err…we kind of took a wrong turn and couldn’t find it before time ran out). Finally, the tour takes you to the renowned Monkey Island but I feel like we should take our time to talk about it.
What’s up with Monkey Island?
The problem with this island is that it is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a beautiful little island which, having climbed to the top, offers beautifully instagrammable vistas while also giving you a chance of observing wild monkeys in their habitat.
Unless you were “lucky” enough, like us, to get stuck in Vietnam during this current crisis and find the island empty, you will most probably find it full of people. The island has become a massified little island with monkeys who seem to have become professional thieves and scavengers
Aside from the fact that the climb to the viewpoint is literally a climb with no protection, it was kind of nerve-wracking when there was nobody there and just four of us climbing it, we dread to think what it is like when tourism is in full swing.
We also have to think about the animals themselves, which are constantly being sought and petted, fed unhealthy rubbish and generally harassed.
So, when you get down to it, Monkey island could be a great little stop on your trip, it really just depends on you.
Cat Ba National Park
Now here is, like the famed tenth magpie, a place you must not miss. Cat Ba National Park is huge, it covers 26,300 hectares over land and sea. For our little trekking experience, we just stuck to the main route, which took us from the park’s official entrance to one of its peaks; there are two paths up the mountain, one sees to be windier while the other one is steeper, they both take more or less the same time to traverse, around an hour, but believe me, if you get winded easily, you do not want to go up the steeper path.
Eine Kleine Hike
The entrance to the park itself will cost you 40K, which also includes the visit of some caves not too far away from the entrance, more on this later.
Before starting your wee little trek, we would recommend buying some cold water, either at the little bar by the entrance or at the one at the bottom of the mountain.
The trek itself will be hard-ish. If you have any luck, you might get to see the white-headed Langur, an extremely endangered monkey found solely on the island. The path will lead you to a two-storey structure which will offer awesome photos, some shade and a well-deserved rest…you will also curse it, as it will trick you into believing that it is the top; there is another leg to get to the true summit, which will offer even better vistas.
A note of caution, more than once we nearly walked into cobwebs with big spiders the size of our hand, although they are harmless, it is not exactly the best of experiences, so keep your eyes peeled; as a famous character said, “Constant Vigilance!”.
A cave of wonders…and bats, lots of bats.
The Trung Trang Cave is a five-minute drive away from the park’s entrance. The cave itself isn’t especially remarkable, but it is a nice little relaxed walk after the long hike; a 30-minute stroll through narrow tunnels and big caverns. It isn’t one of the highlights of Cat Ba but worth it as it is included in the price of the park’s ticket.
Now, you may have noticed by now that the best way to get around the island is by bike, the best option (unless you brought your own) is to rent one. We got some nice bikes for 70k a day plus whatever it cost you to fill up the tank (around 50k) in the shop next to the Pod Hotel, but you can find bike rental shops all over the place.
Cat Ba is the ideal place to learn how to ride, there is one main road which crosses the island, plus many other smaller ones, where you can glide along without much threat of traffic.
All in all, Vietnam is an incredible place to visit. The country itself covers more than 330,000 square kilometres and hs both chilly mountains and tropical beaches. If you are thinking of visiting it, we beg you to give the country enough days to be able to explore it all perfectly, this guide will help you along your way.
This has been the first entry of out Globelers adventure, stay tuned next week for more!