Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba, the largest island in Halong Bay, has experienced a tourism surge in recent years. The central hub of Cat Ba Town is now framed by a chain of low-rise concrete hotels along its once-lovely bay, but the rest of the island is largely untouched and as wild as ever. With idyllic Lan Ha Bay just offshore you’ll soon overlook Cat Ba Town’s overdevelopment.
Cat Ba is a pretty laid-back place most of the year and for climbers, kayakers and hikers it’s the launching pad for a swag of sweat-inducing activities. Between June and early August (and particularly on summer weekends) the energy level gets dialled up significantly as Cat Ba Town transforms into a roaring resort, filled with vacationing Vietnamese. This is peak season and hotel prices during this period can rocket.
Almost half of Cat Ba Island (with a total area of 354 sq km) and 90 sq km of the adjacent waters were declared a national park in 1986 to protect the island’s diverse ecosystems. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs, but there are some sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages hidden away in small coves.
What to see
Lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot the spectacular limestone hills, the highest rising 331m above sea level. The island’s largest body of water is Ech Lake (3 hectares). Almost all of the surface streams are seasonal. Most of the island’s rainwater flows into caves and follows underground streams to the sea, creating a shortage of fresh water during the dry season.
Ho Chi Minh paid a visit to Cat Ba Island on 1 April 1951 and there is an annual festival to commemorate the event. During this time, expect lots of waterfront karaoke and techno beats from 8am to midnight.