It takes almost half a day to reach the island from Hanoi, as one has to take two hours’ bus drive to Hai Phong city and a ferry or motorized boat trip to the island. Tourists’ patience will, however, be rewarded by the fresh air and a 30 minutes traveling up and down the mountain road to get into the Cat Ba town. The town is the center of the island and the largest of 366 primitive islets and islands making up Cat Ba Archipelago. If you take your tour to Cat Ba during summer weekends, try to book a hotel before departure to avoid having to stay in locals’ houses as all 93 hotels and guest houses in the town are all often full these days.
In normal days, it costs between VND 150,000 (over US $9) to VND 200,000 for a room for two a day but the price can rocket almost ten times during weekends of the peak season, from July to September. Cat Ba Water Park Resort, overlooking the Cat Co 1 beach and the nearby Cat Ba Sunrise Resort in Cat Co 3 beach are now the two most luxurious places to stay with price ranging from US $80 to US $250 per day.
Cat Ba Water Park Resort, with a total investment of over VND 100 billion, opened for tourists two months ago and has a modern design with two swimming pools and a tennis court. If you go with a group of friends, it’s a nice and worthwhile destination.
However, if you want to take a more quiet and private venue to get away with stress or enjoy the romantic feeling with your partner, Cat Ba Sunrise Resort is a better choice. And if you stay here, don’t forget to spend a little time chatting with the owner of the resort, who used to be the commander of Hai Phong City’s Navy Force. This over 60-year old man, who still looks very strong in his sunburn skin and smiling eyes, will be very open to tell you many interesting stories.
Local authorities say Cat Ba has received more than 250,000 tourists in the first half of this year and expects the same number for the rest of the year. That’s why the town and the beach are always crowed during the day, especially in early morning and late afternoon.
Usually, tourists come here not only for swimming but also for discovering the Cat Ba National Park and hundreds of beautiful surrounding islands. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, or UNESCO, has recognised Cat Ba Island as the world’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Reserve area in 2004. The MAB area covers over 26,000 hectares and is the habitat for 2,320 fauna and flora species, including more than 60 rare species listed in Vietnam’s Red Book.
As services are still undeveloped here, taxi has yet to be available in town and motorbike taxi (xe om) is the popular means of traveling. It’s better to bargain in advance. If you want to take a discovering tour into the forest for a few days try to invite friends to join your group as many as possible.
Local people are still talking about a “Cat Ba Love Legend” when a foreigner was victimized in an accident and got lost in the forest, only to be saved by a local woman, who then became his wife. They are now still living in town, running a bar and have a 7-year-old son. But not everyone is so lucky. That’s why you need to be well prepared and…enjoy your trip!