Frequently listed as one of Vietnam’s most famous national parks, Cát Bà should be on the itinerary of any traveler visiting Ha Long Bay. The park is an important biosphere in Northern Vietnam, and it has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in an effort to further protect Cát Bà Island’s unique plants and wildlife.
Since the 1990s, Cát Bà National Park has been a frequent destination for nationals and Chinese tourists. Today, with the influx of international tourists, the park has seen its popularity boom as visitors rush to explore Vietnam’s biodiversity in Ha Long Bay.
Cát Bà National Park is an incredibly unique destination due to its location in Lan Ha Bay, which is close to the more popular Ha Long Bay. The park lies in the heart of the 100 square mile Cát Bà Island.
On the shores of the island is Cát Bà Town, which has become a major tourist destination. With waterfront restaurants, hotels, and shops, the town has become an anchor for visitors who want to experience both sides of Vietnam.
Officially, Cát Bà Island is 90 miles (145 kilometers) away from Hanoi, spanning both land and sea, the journey will take about 5 hours. The close proximity to the capital city allows travelers to take a day trip to the national park or spend a few days exploring the island and surrounding bay.
Thousands of years before Cát Bà became a thriving tourist destination and national park, it was home to the Cai Beo people. First inhabited over 6,000 years ago, the island has seen its population grow and develop over the centuries.
During the Tran Dynasty, the island’s name was Cac Ba. Translated as “Women’s Island”, historical accounts state that the bodies of three women washed up on the shores of Cát Bà Island where they were found by the local fishermen. Three temples were constructed, one for each of the women, and the name was changed to Cát Bà.
During the French and American Wars, the island’s strategic location made it a target. Inhabited by Viet-Chinese fishermen, remains from the war include the Hospital Cave and Cannon Fort. Both attractions have been opened to the public and are just a short distance away from Cát Bà Town.
By 1986, the importance of the island’s biodiversity was recognized and protected. Cát Bà was declared a national park and took over space that was once used for timber. In 2004, the national park gained further protection from UNESCO after it was named a World Heritage Site. The last modifications occurred in 2006, which is when it was resized to protect more land and water space.
What to Do
Ha Long Bay has become Vietnam’s famed tourist hotspot where guests can cruise past the islands, relax at the resort, or venture through the jungle. Endless adventure awaits visitors to Ha Long and Cát Bà National Park happens to be one of the most popular attractions in the area.
Consisting of mostly tropical rainforest and in-shore tide pools, Cát Bà National Park is a refuge for a diverse array of plants and animals. Spread across rainforests, and caves, and harbored in tide pools, the chances of seeing one of the park’s rare inhabitants are high. Visitors can take a cruise, hike, or swim in the park as they visit Ngu Lam Mountain, Trung Trang Cave, or Frog Lake.
Solo Adventure or Guided Tour
While trails are clearly marked and the park can be navigated without hiring a guide, depending on your needs, you might want to consider one. For guests who want to explore more than just the national park, going solo might be the best choice to maintain a flexible schedule. Travelers can rent a motorbike in Cát Bà Town to travel to the park’s main entrance.
Those interested in visiting remote areas or wanting to partake in a homestay in the Viet Hai fishing village would be better off hiring a guide. A few of the hikes in Cát Bà, including the trails to the Viet Hai Village, are quite strenuous and a guide would be able to assist trekkers, ensuring that they stay on the correct path. Guides can be hired in town or at the park’s main headquarters.
The best activity for visitors who want to get an intimate view of Cát Bà is to take a hike. The park covers a little less than half of Cát Bà Island and that leaves hundreds of miles of Vietnam’s jungle to explore. One of the most popular hikes is the short climb to the summit of Ngu Lam Mountain. Ideal for solo travelers, this short hike takes less than an hour for most people.
Longer hikes to more remote areas of the park are better than a guided tour. The hike to the Viet Hai fishing villages is the park’s longest trail at 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) and will take the better part of one day to complete.
The hikes to Viet Hai and Ngu Lam are the most popular trails in the park, but they aren’t the only options. There are dozens of clearly marked paths that range in length and difficulty. though guests should take caution if they choose to hike after a rainstorm. Some of the harder trails can be near impossible to pass if there has recently been a heavy rainstorm.
Ideally, travelers will avoid having to visit a hospital while on vacation, but the Hospital Cave in Cát Bà is one destination that visitors might find interesting. No longer functioning and minutes away from Cát Bà Town, this three-story hospital was built underground and features a cinema and swimming pool.
During the Vietnam War, the Hospital Cave was essential for treating wounded soldiers. The concrete structure isn’t the most cheerful place to be, but, for many, the historical significance of the hospital is enough to warrant a visit. Visitors can self-tour the hospital after purchasing their entrance ticket or hire a guide if they want to learn more about the structure’s history.
Trung Trang Cave
In addition to the Hospital Cave, Trung Trang Cave has become a prominent attraction amongst the island’s guests. Massive stalactite formations, endless caverns, and cave-dwelling species make Trung Trang Cave ideal for visitors who have a limited amount of time in Cát Bà. The cave is easy to access and with well-maintained paths, it is easy to navigate.
A grandiose entrance leads visitors through small chambers, narrow passageways, and roomy caverns. The walk from the beginning to the end is about 984 feet (300 meters). Before entering the cave, visitors will have to traverse an elevated bridge and climb numerous stairs. The bridge provides the easiest path to the cave entrance without having to navigate through overgrown vegetation.
Homestays in Viet Hai
Accessible only by trekking or boat, the remote village of Viet Hai has opened its arms to international tourists. Once fairly isolated from the outside world, Viet Hai’s traditional way of life and remote beauty became a magnet for adventure travelers. Most homes in the village are made from bamboo, leaves, and soil, with villagers earning an income by fishing and farming.
Homestays are popular here and villagers are very open to tourists exploring their homes. Guests can arrange for a homestay and complete the hike with a local guide. If you don’t feel fit enough for the strenuous journey, the only other way to access Viet Hai is by boat. Many of the homes in Viet Hai are situated on the water and boat travel is essential for getting around the village.
On the Water
Hiking, cave exploring, and visiting Viet Hai are just a few of the many adventures in Cát Bà National Park. Alongside the on-land excursions, there are a plethora of water-based activities too. Visitors can take a cruise through the bay or get up close and personal with the island’s shores by renting a kayak.
Snorkeling and swimming are also on the menu and a great choice for visitors who want to relax.
Cát Bà has three beaches respectively named 1, 2, and 3. All three beaches feature resorts and guests can purchase a day pass to access the sand. Beach 1 is the largest of the three, while Beach 2 is the best spot for swimming. Beach 3 is smaller and great for taking a stroll along the sand.
Plants and Wildlife
The most famous wildlife residents in Cát Bà National Park are the langurs, called the Cát Bà or the white-headed langur. The rarest primate in the world as well as the most endangered, the langur, once numbering in the thousands, has declined by over 80% in only three generations. Scientists estimate that there are less than 70 left, meaning your chance of seeing one in the park is slim to none.
This park is also home to 282 animals and 1,500 plant species, 160 of which are used for traditional medicine. Furthermore, the 118 types of trees, that were once used for logging, have regrown and are an essential part of the ecosystem.
How to Get There
Due to the ongoing and rising popularity of Cát Bà National Park, there are multiple ways to access the park. Travelers from Hanoi can take the 4.5-hour drive to the coast or book a flight from the capital or HCMC to Hai Phong.
From Hai Phong City, travelers can take a bus or taxi to get to Binh Pier. Speedboats and hydrofoils are docked can be chartered to transport guests over to Cát Bà Island.
The journey will take about an hour from Binh Pier, while travelers coming from Ha Long Bay will usually arrive by cruise as the park is often included in tour packages that highlight the area. Once in Cát Bà Town, public buses and taxis can take you into the park. Additionally, visitors can rent a motorbike or hire a private car, while large groups can arrange a bus rental in town.
When to Visit
Similar to most of Northern Vietnam, there are two seasons in Cát Bà National Park. From May to October, the monsoon season brings heat, humidity, and rain to the park. This is the most popular time for the park with many families visiting for vacation. The dry season lasts from November to April and has the best weather for hiking.
With cooler weather and less rain, those who are looking to trek to Viet Hai Village should plan to visit during the dry months. While tourists flock to the area for the end-of-year festivities, the dry season is usually quieter than the wet season. For travelers wanting to avoid crowds, the dry months would be a prime time to visit Cát Bà.
Bliss in the Archipelago
Cát Bà is the largest of the archipelago’s 367 islands and its immaculate landscape has made it the top must-see destination in Vietnam. Boasting both urban and primal areas, Cát Bà National Park suits families, adventure travelers, and luxury vacations. The park’s close proximity to Ha Long Bay only adds to the adventure.
Boredom is not an option and with the ability to visit the park as well as surrounding bays and cities, it won’t be difficult for visitors to spend the day or week exploring Cát Bà.
Address: Đường xuyên đảo Cát Bà, Trân Châu, Cát Hải, Hải Phòng, Vietnam
Phone: +84 225 3688 981
Season: Year-Round | 8 AM – 5 PM | Best during the dry season