Cat Ba Island sits just off the northeastern coast of Vietnam, 120km east of Hanoi. The island is a popular destination for tourists visiting the north of Vietnam. Cat Ba is a stunning island and the journey from Hanoi to Cat Ba by motorbike is actually quite straightforward. It is a pretty essential trip when you’re spending time in Hanoi.
Why Visit Cat Ba Island?
The island itself is the biggest of 367 islands that sprawl across the northeastern coast of Vietnam. It spans an impressive 260km2 and offers a wide variety of activities and views of stunning natural beauty for visitors. Sitting at the southeastern edge of Lan Ha Bay, which resembles the more commonly known and neighboring Ha Long Bay. The jagged edges of the limestone rocks appear to emerge from the seabed for miles surrounding Cat Ba Island.
In 1986 the Island was named a National Park in Vietnam in order to protect it’s thriving ecosystem and later in 2004 the park was announced a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve to further protect and monitor the parks flora and fauna.
The national park has an impressive 1561 recorded species of flora and an equally surprising 279 species of fauna. 23 of which are endangered or critically endangered. Work to protect these are visible in Cat Ba Island’s national park. Trees can be seen numbered and named throughout, evidencing ongoing work to record and protect the park’s natural environment.
Cat Ba town sits at the southern tip of the island, overlooking a thriving and functioning on water fishing village. Local Viet-Chinese fishermen inhabit the small floating houses.
Getting to Cat Ba Island
There are two main ferry terminals a similar distance from Hanoi where you are able to catch a ferry to Cat Ba Island. Both terminals are well connected to Hanoi and are both approximately 120km from the city. Driving to either ferry terminal by motorbike is straight forward. Each route takes you along flat main roads through Vietnam’s countryside and farmland.
It is important to note that you must follow the route that avoids the QL5B car only motorway from Hanoi.
Both routes take approximately 4-5 hours in total.
Bến Phà Gót Ferry Terminal
Bến Phà Gót Ferry Terminal is a pretty straightforward motorbike ride that takes approximately 3 hours from Hanoi. Ferries from the port run hourly and costs 12,000VND ($0.70) for the bike and 20,000VND ($1) for one person. The ferry takes 30 minutes to dock on Cat Ba Island. Following this, the drive from the docking point to the town is jaw-dropping from the very beginning!
The winding route has you driving through the island’s incredible mountainous scenery and along its stunning coastline for 45 minutes. At this point, you’ll begin to seriously appreciate choosing to travel by motorbike.
Bến Phà Tuần Châu Ferry Terminal
Bến Phà Tuần Châu Ferry Terminal is easily reachable from Hanoi by motorbike and the route is also simple to follow from Hanoi. This terminal is mainly associated with Ha Long Bay tours but also runs a ferry to Cat Ba Island. Ferries from here run 3 times a day in the low season and 5 times a day in the high season.
The ferry cost is slightly higher than option one at 70,000VND for one person ($4) and 20,000VND ($1) for the bike. The drive from the docking point on Cat Ba Island to the town takes around 30 minutes and too will have you winding through lush mountainous scenery.
It is important to check the ferry schedule in advance to ensure that you’re not caught short.
Recommended Motorbikes for Cat Ba Island
Hanoi to Cat Ba island’s drive is relatively straightforward and over mostly flat, developed roads. But it can get a little long and busy, especially for people new to Vietnam’s roads and while a semi-automatic bike can handle the journey from Hanoi to the ferry port, your backside might have other ideas. Once you arrive on Cat Ba, you’ll find plenty of lush green hills and accompanying roads to travel on. A touring bike is probably your best option with this in mind.
The Honda XR-150 is a perfect bike for anyone wanting a comfortable ride to the island and a bike that can take the inclines in it’s stride. The Honda FTR is another more high powered option than the XR-150. The FTR is a 230cc manual motorbike that would make any trip around Cat Ba a breeze.
Whilst a semi-automatic bike can handle the trip, you might find it slightly uncomfortable and encounter some issues on the island itself. If you aren’t comfortable with one of the touring bikes above, then the Honda Future 125cc would be the next best alternative.
The Future is a slightly bigger semi-automatic than others we have. Meaning you’ll be more comfortable taking two people and it’ll take on the few hills on the island with ease.
If you have any questions about motorbike rental in Vietnam or the kind of bike required for Cat Ba, we’d be happy to help offer any advice you need. We can also help with training courses on all types of motorbike ahead of your adventure. Just get in touch!
Alternative Travel to Cat Ba Island
Catching the bus to Cat Ba Island is also a viable option and can be organized by most tour operators in Hanoi. Buses can cost anywhere between $10-20 and take around 4-5 hours.
Getting a taxi to the island is affordable if there is a large group of you. Bare in mind that you may have to arrange for an additional taxi to pick you up from the ferry port on Cat Ba Island.
If you would like to take your motorbike with you but you do not want to do the motorbike drive from Hanoi to Cat Ba, simply pop it on the train and enjoy the views with a different type of transport. You will take the train from Hanoi to Hai Phong, then catch an easy ferry from there to Cat Ba. Vietnam Coracle has all the information you need about putting your motorbike on the train.
What To Do On Cat Ba Island
Once on the island, you will find yourself overwhelmed by its stunning natural beauty. The rolling jungle-covered mountains spread across the entire island, only dropping off where they meet the sea. There is an illusion that the island just appears from nowhere, surrounded by hundreds of small mini islands that too just crop up from the ocean. It is truly one of the most magnificent sights to behold in Vietnam.
Hiking in Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba is home to a UNESCO protected national park is best explored by foot and has various well mapped out hiking trails to explore. The entrance to the park can be found in the very centre of the island, approximately 40 minutes by motorbike from the town centre. Cat Ba island has few roads, so finding the park from Cat Ba town is relatively easy.
The park entrance is on the main road that leads directly through the middle of the island. It is signposted from the roadside and is hard to miss. The cost of entry to the park is 30,000VND ($1.5). The park staff will direct you on either the 4-hour hike or the 2-hour hike to the viewpoint. Hikes in the park are relatively easy, well walked and can be completed by most.
At the very end of the two-hour hike, you find yourself stood on what appears to be the highest peak on the island. From this peak, you have a full 360 view of Cat Ba. Looking out from this point is truly one of those pinch-yourself moments. The lush green jungle sprawls across the rolling mountains for as far as the eye can see.
You can set aside 1 day of your trip to explore the national park and all that it has to offer.
Trung Trang Cave
There are a surprising 150 caves on the island, Trung Trang is one of the biggest and the most impressive. Hidden within the Trung Trang valley, this cave goes to depths of 300 metres and it offers a cooling experience for visitors.
Over millions of years, stalactites and stalagmites have formed into some strange and uncanny shapes. Visitors are left to use their own imagination to form these shapes into objects. The cave sits just off the road that joins to the national park. Exploring the cave will take about an hour and can be done before or after hiking in the national park.
Rock Climbing on Cat Ba Island
Known for its jagged limestone mountains and vertical cliff faces, Northern Vietnam has some of the best rock climbing destinations in the world. And Cat Ba Island has some of the best rock climbing destinations in the region.
Butterfly Valley (Liên Minh)
Liên Minh, also known as Butterfly Valley is just a 10km drive from Cat Ba town and is accessible by bike. Liên Minh is one of the oldest villages on the island and is a peaceful escape from the busy nearby Cat Ba town.
The stunning valley is made up of huge limestone cliff faces that have an impressive 65 mapped climbing routes. All routes range from intermediate to advanced. It is possible for experienced climbers to access the area with their own equipment and set up for a day of intense climbing. For those who don’t have access to their own equipment or are new to the climbing scene, it is worth considering contacting a tour agency.
Rock Climbing at Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha bay is made up of limestone islands that have their very own hidden beaches and exposed limestone walls, which are ideal for rock climbing. If outdoor adventures are your thing, then the Bay is the ideal destination for you.
At the very southern part of Lan Ha Bay, you will find the well inhabited Tiger Beach. The beach that sits at the base of one of the bays larger limestone islands is home to two of the most climbed walls in the bay. Tiger beach itself is used by Hanoi Backpacker Hostel for overnight stays in the bay.
The two walls are the first to be explored and used for sports climbing. Offhiemers Creation and Slow Pony wall both have a number of well-mapped routes that have been climbed for a few years.
Here you will find routes for both beginners, intermediate and advanced climbers. Making it the ideal location for outdoor adventurers visiting the bay. Both walls have various different climbing features, such as wombs and dihedrals that make climbing here a diverse experience.
Hidden well within the depths of Lan Ha Bay you will find the peaceful and uninhabited Moody Beach. The tiny beach sits at the base of a small island and is secluded by jagged limestone outcrops. This hidden beach offers a sense of tranquility and calms among the well-traveled and explored bay. Tours use the beach as a climbing destination for beginners.
Two walls on the island have been mapped with a range of climbing routes. And alike Tiger Beach, there are routes for all abilities.
Deep Water Soloing
Depending on how brave you are feeling, deep water soloing is an experience that you won’t forget. There are various walls hidden amongst the bays many islands that can be climbed WITHOUT any equipment and offer a safe landing in the sea.
This completely safe, yet terrifying activity is one that attracts climbers from all over to Lan Ha bay. Climbers advance up walls that hang over the sea, only to stop when their bodies can physically no longer grip the wall. At this point, they fall from whatever height into the deep blue ocean.
Warning: Although DWS is relatively safe, MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE TIDE TIMES, so that you go out at high tide !!
All the above destinations are accessible from Cat Ba Island. And are not adventures you often find yourself with the opportunity to embark on!
Langur’s Adventures: Cat Ba Island Tours
If making the most of Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay’s many outdoor adventures is something you’d like to embrace, then Langur’s Adventures can be your guides! The company offers various different tours that include paddle boarding, canoeing, rock climbing, deep water soloing and the overnight boat stays.
Langur’s Adventures are made up of experienced and qualified adventurers who offer tours from Cat Ba Town to various destinations both on the island and in the bay. Their shop can be found on the seafront and tours are run daily.
Contacting them before your arrival is advised to secure places on your preferred tours.
Cat Co and Storland Beaches
At the very southern tip of the island, just a 20-minute walk from the main town, you can find the beaches of Cat Co and Storland. The small bays are completely secluded by cliffs, making ideal places to rest and enjoy some time by the beach.
The seas in the coves are generally calm and are ideal for swimming. From the shoreline you can see some of Lan Ha Bay’s islands peeking out from the sea, protecting these little coves even further.
Cat Ba Town
The island’s town is surprisingly large and is home to a large majority of the island’s inhabitants. A long stretch of the town faces the shoreline, overlooking the Viet-Chinese fishing villages. The seafront bars, cafes, and hotels offer a wide range of places to eat, sleep and drink. In the evenings the town is alive with tourists, creating a real buzz.
Off the shoreline, there are various floating restaurants where you can enjoy some of the freshest seafood there is. You can even watch fishermen return to their floating homes from their long day out at sea. A fantastic place to watch the sunset on the horizon.
Along the seafront, there are a few travel agents who run various different boat tours from the town. Tours will last for half or a full day and are definitely worth adding to your itinerary. You will leave Cat Ba in the early morning and will set sail around the beautiful Lan Ha and Ha Long Bay’s.
Tours will stop at a few points to allow you to explore some of the smaller islands hidden beaches and viewpoints. You are also able to experience the smaller fishing villages that float above the sea. Often hidden by the various different islands.
Exploring the 366 islands that cover the ocean surrounding Cat Ba by boat is something that should not be missed.
Where to Stay?
Cat Ba Island has thousands of tourists visiting every year. There is now an endless number of hotels, hostels, and homestays to choose from. When arriving by motorbike you may wish to consider staying in one of the homestays or hotels outside of the town centre. Having access to your motorbike to explore, there will be less of a need to be close to the hustle and bustle of the town.
Cat Ba Mountain View
Cat Ba Mountain View is a bed and breakfast just a 15-minute ride from the town centre. The bed and breakfast have small bungalows and rooms at the very top of a mountain that looks out over the island. Mountain View serves food and drinks at the very top of the mountain, where you can enjoy the view as the sunsets over the coastline.
The Noble House Hotel
Right in the heart of the town, The Noble House Hotel has basic rooms and a restaurant for those wanting to be part of the island’s lively atmosphere. Offering a place to rest and grab a cold beer, the hotel is all you’ll need when staying the town.
Why Is Cat Ba Island One of Northern Vietnam’s Most Popular Destinations?
Northern Vietnam is known for its jaw-dropping mountainous scenery, vast jungle and winding mountain roads and Cat Ba Island offers all of these with the added bonus of the coast and that island feel.
It is easy to spend a full 3 days on the island absorbing its sheer natural beauty. Delve into its tasty fresh seafood. Immerse yourself in the local fishing culture and overall make the most of being in Vietnam.