Rock climbing, beautiful beaches and French colonial forts

Depiste there being various beautiful places to visit in Vietnam, is Cat Ba Island, North East Vietnam the place to be?

There are many beautiful places to visit in Vietnam, however the big six are Sa Pa, Hanoi, Mekong Delta, Halong Bay, Hoi An and Dalat. The rather large island of Cat Ba, forms part of the whole Halong Bay experience. Since it is situated just east of Halong city and right on the doorstep of Halong Bay itself, Cat Ba is definitely the ideal spot to base yourself whilst exploring this Peter-Pan-like world.

I am finding it very hard to put it into words, but Cat Ba and its surroundings, Halong Bay, is like something out of the Jurassic period. Once out on the water, your magical fantasies can come to life here. You almost expect a dinosaur such as the flying pterodactyl to shoot out from one of the Karst rocks that jut out around Halong Bay. The locals call this area Dragon Bay, so I am obviously not the first person to make this association.  After all, this is a very ancient place that was formed millions of years ago through changes in the geology along with climatic changes, creating a biodiversity that includes a tropical evergreen biosystem as well as an oceanic and seashore biosystem.  

Cat Ba island itself is made up mostly of a national park, three villages, and two fishing villages and one of which is completely on the water. The National park is definitely the biggest attraction here. There are various treks you can go on through the park to explore the local flora and fauna, go on rock climbing expeditions, and discover some hidden beaches. Though the beaches look awfully inviting, don’t be fooled, the water temperature can be pretty chilly. In the hot season, this is a good thing, but don’t expect tropical waters.

The villages are a great way to explore and integrate with the locals and catch a glimpse of the way of life here. If you’re looking for some of Vietnam’s best seafood then finding a small fishing village is the way to go.

From Cat Ba you can easily book yourself one of the different boat trips and overnight boat trips on offer. You will definitely save a few euros by organising everything from here rather than in Haiphong or Halong City. If you are on a budget, don’t worry, just get yourself a fishing boat, haggle for a better price and head out for the day around Halong Bay.

Rock climbing is also huge here with many free climbing activities available on the Karst rocks which will get your adrenaline pumping. If you’re worried about falling you need not. A fall will land you straight into the water, which is a refreshing break! Kayaking and other water sports are also available; however most power boat water sports are only available with a few operators since only a few have obtained the licence to carry out such activities here.

When it comes to accommodation in Cat Ba, you can stay in a Chinese-style resort, a very good resort for 4 star hotel prices, you can stay in a 3 star hotel for hostel prices or you can stay in a homestay which is a cultural experience. Accommodation here is plenty, so if you haven’t booked in advance do not worry unless you get here between July and September. Most accommodations here can arrange most trips for you and they can all arrange a scooter to hire. I would suggest getting a scooter to help explore the island faster and also fit more activities into the day.

For those history junkies, it’s not just the rock that is ancient around here. You can check out the remnants of French colonial rule. There’s a fort at the highest point of Cat Ba town, overlooking Halong Bay and the town - quite a cool spot to explore one of the first places that the Vietnamese revolutionaries took over from the French in a daring battle, have a caphe viet, which is a traditional Vietnamese coffee, and enjoy sunset.

With these advantages Cat Ba is definitely worth being a base for you to launch all your exploratory projects in Halong Bay. If you are going to be making the most of Halong Bay, then this would be the place to do it from.