One of my favorite destinations on my SEA trip is Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is one of the biggest islands in Halong Bay located east of Vietnam. This island is perfect for all outdoor activities such as climbing, swimming, hiking, and simply adventuring.
For an outdoor enthusiast back at home, I absolutely fell in love with Cat Ba. It was our last destination on our trip and I am so glad, to this day, that we chose to visit Cat ba last. We spent about a week here discovering it’s peaks, hidden beaches, and best eats. I don’t know how other travelers are able to spend a couple nights here. This island is jam-packed with activities to do.
Places to stay
You can use the Hostelworld app to search for hostels and hotels. I explain more about this app in another post. Cat Ba is not as touristy as the other places I visited. I didn’t see too many accommodations listed on Hostelworld. Google Maps seems to give a better list of places to stay.
My boyfriend and I stayed at Mr. Zoom backpacker hostel. I read about this hostel while researching about the climbing on the island. They offer both private rooms and dorms. Our private room was big, clean, and airy. Perfect for hanging all our climbing equipment!
It costs $3 a night to stay in the dorms and $6 for a private room. We paid around 60$ at the end of our week stay. It’s astonishing how cheap it is here. A week stay in my hometown will cost you close to $1,000. I wish I could just pack up my bags and move to Asia.
Mr. Zoom also offers climbing gear rentals, tourist information, and climbing passes to the valley. We booked a deep-water-soloing trip with him and enjoyed it to the max.
Things to do
Rent a motorbike
Many of the sights and touristic destinations are not walking distance. The best way to get around Cat Ba island is by renting a motorbike. If you do not know how to ride one, no worries, you can also hire a driver. That are a bunch of rentals located along the main road. Don’t rush to the first shop you see, they all offer different prices. The one we rented from is between Asia Outdoors and the night market. It costs 90,000 Dong ($4 US).
Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba has a beautiful protected national park. The park is filled with lush jungle greenery. After entering the park, you walk down a dirt path for ten minutes to the start of the trail. Along the way, you meet vibrant colored butterflies flying around – the park’s butterfly farm.
It costs about costs about 30,000 Dong to enter the park (less than $2 American). There are short 30-minute hikes that lead to a picturesque view. You can either hike the trail on your own or with an organized tour. Asia Outdoors and Cat Ba Ventures offers overnight hikes.
My boyfriend and I didn’t bother with an organized tour. We hike a lot back at home. The trail was marked well and took us 30 minutes to hike up one way. Remember to wear proper hiking footwear and bring a supply of water.
Left over from the Vietnam war is the Hospital Cave. As Lonely Planet puts it, “served both as a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the American War and as a safe house for VC leaders.” This is a neat cave to check out.
Park the scooter by a neighboring house and walk up a flight of stairs to the entrance of the Hospital Cave. There, a guide tells a little history about the cave. Most of the rooms were used for medical purpose. There are 18 rooms. Back in the 60’s, 200 people lived in the cave for 8 years. The cave had no windows and only one bathroom to share with.
Cat Co 1, 2 , and 3
A 10-minute walk from Cat Ba town nest three beautiful little beaches. Cat cove 2 is my favorite among the three. it’s a little more hidden and quieter than the other two. A walking trail along the cliff side connects all three beaches. Cat co 1 and 2 rent also rents out kayaks.
The climbing at Cat Ba is phenomenal, even for a first timer. There are two companies on the island that offer climbing tours: Mr.Zoom and Asia Outdoors. Both are great. We only used Mr.Zoom and he gave us an amazing experience (and better deal). If you plan to climb without a guide, you will have to do a belay and lead test for both companies. They both “own” different climbing valleys. It’s just land that belongs to farmers who have given people permission to climb. These tests are mandatory to prove proficiency in tieing knots and your harness correctly.
Mr.Zoom offers a hard copy booklet of all the climbs. The climbing grade they use in Asia is different from the Yosemite Decimal System. Grades go from 5a’s to challenging 8d’s. Mr. Zoom has a diagram back at the hostel comparing each of the grades. He also includes a rating system for climbers to rate each route he has created. Mr. Zoom love’s hearing feedback, it’s adorable.
The two pictures I have posted at from Butterfly Valley which “belongs” to Asia Outdoors. This crag was pretty sweet. Every climb finished with a beautiful view of open fields and cows munching on grass.
Places to eat
There are many restaurants along the bay. Ir took us a few days to find our favorites. your time finding your through the menus It took us a few days to
- Green Mango – Great dinner spot. Their dishes are creative and satisfying. I love their Pad Thai and Passion Fruit smoothie.
- Like Coffee – Best breakfast place for pancakes, ice coffee, and smoothies.
- Family Bakery Restaurant – You’ll find you classic western sandwich here along with other pastries. Best baguette and ingredients in town. We always bought something here for our climbing
- Markets – markets are scattered all over town. Some supply fresh fruit like mango and pineapple. They are happy to cut it for you on the spot.