Famed for its wild landscape, stunning National Park, and outdoor adventure potential, Cat Ba is one more of North Vietnam’s travel destinations that adventure-loving tourists just can’t get enough of.
It wasn’t long ago that the residents of Cat Ba were going about their day-to-day life without electricity and surviving purely on their takings from the local fishing community. At the time, most of the 367 islands were completely uninhabited, and vastly unexplored.
Things have changed quite dramatically in today’s Cat Ba.
The main island has undergone massive development. New roads and ports have been built to support the growing demand from the tourism industry, transforming the once isolated Cat Ba town into a hub of activity.
Today, Cat Ba Island is one of the few inhabited islands in all of Halong Bay- but the local residents are not the only souls in this wild chain of islands. Cat Ba is growing in popularity among adventurous travelers who are keen to spend some time out in nature and venture down the path-less-traveled.
Cat Ba’s landscape is indeed something worth making the journey for. Miles and miles of dramatic landscape, unexplored jungle, national park, and craggy coastline make Cat Ba the ultimate destination for outdoor adventurers and active travelers.
But Cat Ba’s spectacular scenery is only the beginning. Perhaps its real value leis in its precious ecosystem.
Cat Ba is home to thousands of species of animals, birds, and marine creatures whose homes are spread among the region’s rare coral reefs, mangrove forests, caves, mountains, and willow swamps- places where human intervention is near non-existent, so the animal kingdom is left to hive.
On top of that, the numerous limestone towers that stand tall across all corners of this chain of islands are a stunning example of mature karts topography in sub-tropical conditions. Apart from the towers themselves, countless caves and arches contribute to the impressive landscape here, all of which were formed through centuries of coastal erosion.
Today, having been recognized for its spectacular beauty and ecological importance, the entire Cat Ba archipelago falls under UNESCO protection.
All things considered, it’s no surprise that Cat Ba is gaining momentum as one of North Vietnam’s most coveted travel destinations.
Hai Phong’s Travel Potential
Just like Cat Ba itself, the wider province of Hai Phong is changing rapidly.
Hai Phong was formerly an industrial city- one of the most famous of its kind in Vietnam- but now the province is quickly becoming the latest tourism destination that travelers in North Vietnam can’t get enough of.
Having recently updated their massive port, Hai Phong is already moving to rival the long-established sea port that sits just an hour and a half to the south, Halong Bay.
Recent years have seen Halong Bay explode in popularity among world travelers, so for those looking to beat the crowds and explore off-the-beaten-track, Hai Phong offers a good alternative.
History & Culture of Cat Ba Archipelago
Cat Ba is easily one of Hai Phong’s biggest draws, but it’s not just the trend of modern tourism that has brought people here.
Archaeologists suggest that people have lived in Cat Ba for nearly 6,000 years. They believe the ancient community that lived here, the Cat Beo, may be a link between ourselves and the Neolithic period.
Having once been the adopted home of the Viet-Chinese fishermen, then having experienced the dramatic effects of both the French and U.S. wars, life in Cat Ba has been influenced by many outside forces and cultures.
Yet today’s Cat Ba boasts its own very distinct culture. There are now nearly 17,000 residents in Cat Ba Island- about 75% of whom live on land, while the rest live out on the waters in the iconic floating villages.
Must-Do in Cat Ba
For those planning to visit Cat Ba, there are a few sights and activities you should definitely include if you’re keen to capture the best of what the region:
Cat Ba Island is the perfect base from which to explore the outlying Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha Bay boasts its own spectacular collection of limestone karts, much like that of its famous neighbor, Halong Bay.
However, despite the fact that it lacks nothing in terms of scenic beauty, it’s far less crowded than Halong Bay. In fact, if you were to head out on your own sail boat (which you can rent in Cat Ba town), it wouldn’t be hard to find yourself completely alone out on the water.
The best things in Cat Ba are found in the great outdoors. There’s endless opportunity to explore the National Parks, jungles, mountains, and beaches. For active travelers, take the chance to get involved in some of the outdoor activities in Cat Ba, like trekking and hiking, cycling, rock climbing, kayaking, or snorkeling.
How to Get There
Cat Ba sits 180 kilometers west of Hanoi. Thanks to the new AH14 Highway and the connecting Tan Vu – Lach Huyen Bridge, getting to Cat Ba is easier than ever.
It takes approximately 2 and a half hours to reach the jetty from Hanoi. Once there, you’ll have two choices:
Either need to take the fast route, which is just a 10 minute ride in a speed boat to Cai Vieng Jetty, or the scenic route, which involves a 25 minute ferry ride plus a 40 minute drive along the rocky coast and rugged jungle until you reach Cat Ba Town.
There are plenty of companies offering transport from Cat Ba Town. You can easily find private cars (both basic and luxury), minivans, and modern buses running from 5.50 am until 5 pm. High-end tourist bus tickets from Hanoi Old Quarter to Cat Ba Town cost between 200,000-230,000 VND each way (including the ferry cost).
Though it is steadily growing in popularity, the vast majority of Cat Ba remains wild and free. It’s the perfect destination for active travelers, nature lovers, and outdoor adventurers who are keen to explore off-the-beaten-track.