Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Vietnam’s famous Halong Bay. This rugged island is mostly national park, but Cat Ba Town is a great place to base yourself to explore the island, as well as taking a cruise to the more remote parts of Halong Bay as well as the less crowded and equally beautiful Han La Bay.

Things to do on Cat Ba Island

Halong Bay and Han La Bay Cruise

View of Halong Bay from an island

If you want to cruise Halong Bay, I highly recommend doing so from Cat Ba Island. The cruises from here pass through the equally beautiful but less touched Han La Bay, before heading to some of the more remote parts of Halong Bay.

There are plenty of cruise options from day trips to three day cruises. Most include meals and kayaking.

We took a one day cruise of Han La Bay and Halong Bay with Cat Ba Ventures and I highly recommend them. The group was fairly small and our cruise was fantastic and included lunch and kayaking. The day trip cost $28 per person. They also have multiday and private cruise options.

Hospital Cave

The Hospital Cave on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, Cat Ba Island was used as a kind of hideaway for the leaders of North Vietnam. A huge cave on the island was used as a bomb proof secret hospital and safe house, and it is an amazing sight to see. You can take a motorbike here or visit it on your way to Cat Ba National Park. We were the only ones there when we visited the Hospital Cave and there was a guide to show us around and tell us about the cave.

Cat Ba National Park

View of Cat Ba National Park in Vietnam

Most of Cat Ba Island is protected as Cat Ba National Park, and it is home to the only population of Golden Headed Langurs – the world’s rarest primate. There are lots of hiking options here from a couple of kilometres to a full 18km hike through the park. We took a simple half day private tour with Cat Ba Ventures which included a hike to the top of the one of the mountains in the park, as well as a visit to the Hospital Cave along the way. The tour costs $15 by motorbike or $20 by car.


There are three beaches known as Cat Co 1,2 and 3, located about a kilometre or so from Cat Ba Town. Cat Co 2 is probably the best one to go to and you can rent a bicycle in town if you don’t want to walk or take a motorbike taxi.

Where to stay on Cat Ba Island

View from our hotel in Cat Ba Town on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

There is no shortage of hotels along the main street on Cat Ba Island, and you really only need to just pick one that suits you. We stayed at Tha Hu Hotel which cost $15 per night for a lovely sea view room with private bathroom and air con. The room was nice and clean and the view was excellent. The staff don’t speak very much English but it was easy enough to get by.

If you want to splurge, there are some remote island bungalows in the area as well which you can get to from Cat Ba Town.

Where to eat on Cat Ba Island

Again, the main street on the waterfront in Cat Ba Town has as many restaurants as it does hotels. Most places that we tried were cheap enough and the food was pretty good. Cat Ba Island is a great place to try some local seafood if you’re into that. Here are some of the places that we tried:

My Way

We ate here a couple of times and the food was nice. There were some good vegetarian options here, but the beer was a little expensive compared to other places.

Tasty food in Cat Ba Town, Vietnam

Family Bakery

We had breakfast here every morning as the food is cheap and delicious. Tasty baked croissants, pastries, bread and sweets, as well as Vietnamese Coffee. A great start to the day.

Phuong Nhung

This is more of a local restaurant and a good place for Vietnamese food. We had noodle soup here as well as spring rolls and cheap beer.

How to get to Cat Ba Island

By far the easiest way to get to Cat Ba Island is to buy a combined bus and boat ticket with Huong Long from Hanoi. The ticket costs 190,000Dong ($8.60) and leaves from the Loung Yen Bus Station in Hanoi (buy a ticket at the bus station) around four times per day (we left at 7.20am). The ticket includes a bus to Hai Phong, another bus to the pier, a boat to Cat Ba Island and then another bus that drops you in the centre of the hotel strip in Cat Ba Town. You could also take the trip from Hai Phong if you wanted to leave from there. The trip back is the same and leaves from the Huong Long office in Cat Ba Town.

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19 comments… add one
  • Frank Jun 26, 2013

    Great tips! Vietnam in my plans!
    Frank (bbqboy)
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  • Christy Jun 26, 2013

    Scott and I stayed on Cat Ba Island on a busy holiday weekend and hated it. It was so loud and crowded. We did enjoy the hike in the national park though. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we visited the town when it was less crowded.
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    • Dean Wickham Jun 27, 2013

      Hi Christy. I can imagine that it would be pretty horrible when busy, but when we were there it was actually pretty quiet and laid back. There weren’t a lot of people there.

  • Dan Jun 26, 2013

    Awesome guide
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  • That secret hospital cave is so cool!
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    • Dean Wickham Aug 21, 2013

      It is pretty cool! Well worth checking out if you’re on Cat Ba

  • Lisa Aug 28, 2014

    Well, we need to update some useful information. I spent more money for ticket and service. Boat and bus costs 18 Bucks for each way . We have to travel from the hotel to the Bus station and return. Hotel with sea view is 45 bucks. We ask the price 15 bucks but they said it was old price and do not offer the same rate. How ever it’s worth any way. For these inconveniences I think you should book through some agents in ” hanoi old quarter” no need to worrie how does that go.

    • Dean Wickham Sep 14, 2014

      Hi Lisa. Thanks for the update. I’m surprised that the prices have changed so much in such a short amount of time, but that’s Asia! Are you sure it was the same guesthouse? $45 seems a bit steep. I was only there a year ago and paid $15.

  • Greats!!!! i am preparing to go Vietnam

  • Cat ba venture Dec 18, 2014
    • Dean Wickham Jan 1, 2015

      Cheers! You have some great tours. I look forward to doing more when I get back to Cat Ba 😉

  • Sophie Dec 27, 2015

    Perfect advice, although the price for the journey has increased to 210,000 dong from the main office in the Bus Station, so I assume it’s more in other booking agents too!

  • Samuel Mozilo Oct 8, 2016

    This is so cool! We were considering going to Vietnam on our up and coming excursion and this post is simply great.

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