The Best Tips for Halong Bay & Cat Ba in Vietnam

Halong Bay is one of the most famous destinations in Vietnam, thanks to its stunning landscape. The rock formations in Halong Bay are nearly 500 million years old and consist of thousands of islands. They were once part of a massive coral reef even longer ago. Now, these are mostly tiny islands, some rising hundreds of feet from the sea. Hop on a cruise and sail through these gigantic rock formations, enjoying spectacular views and the beauty of Halong Bay. Here, you can find out what to do and get practical tips for visiting Halong Bay.

Halong Bay is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam, which means it can get quite crowded. In this article, you’ll learn how to visit Halong Bay while avoiding the crowds. You’ll also find tips for Cat Ba, a beautiful island and the main base for visiting Halong Bay. This way, you can make the most of your visit to Halong Bay and Cat Ba!

Cat Ba is the Base for Halong Bay

It’s essential to know that Halong Bay got its name because it’s located near the city of Halong. However, this is not a pleasant city to visit as a traveler, which is why almost everyone uses Cat Ba Island as the base for exploring Halong Bay. Cat Ba is the largest island in the bay. In the southern town, often called Cat Ba Town, you’ll find many good restaurants and lovely hostels and hotels. When you leave Cat Ba Town, you’ll be in Cat Ba National Park in no time. Here, you can hike to viewpoints and caves, as you’ll read later in this article.

How to Travel to Cat Ba, Halong Bay?

Most people travel to Cat Ba, Halong Bay from either Hanoi or Ninh Binh. Below, you’ll find information on how to travel to Cat Ba from these destinations. If you’re traveling from another location to Cat Ba, Halong Bay, check out various routes.

From Hanoi to Cat Ba, Halong Bay

By Bus: This journey takes about 3.5 hours. Check current departure times and book your seat in advance. Make sure to specify Cat Ba as your final destination.

From Ninh Binh to Cat Ba, Halong Bay

By Bus: There are many buses that can take you from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay in about 4 hours. Check current departure times and book your seat in advance. Make sure to specify Cat Ba as your final destination.

What to Do in Halong Bay and Cat Ba?

Below, you’ll find all the tips for visiting Halong Bay and the beautiful island of Cat Ba.

A Cruise through Halong Bay (Without the Crowds)

A cruise is the best way to explore the stunning landscape of Halong Bay. There are numerous tour companies offering cruises through Halong Bay, and often these boats visit the same places. This can lead to overcrowding in certain areas, which can diminish the charm. Therefore, I went on this cruise. This boat starts in Cat Ba and sails to places where most other boats don’t go. Your experience is so much better when you only have to share beautiful places with a few others! The boat has many comfortable seating areas, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery along the way. Additionally, the staff is super friendly, and the guide speaks good English.

During the cruise through Halong Bay, you’ll make several enjoyable stops, including a fishing village and some beautiful beaches. What’s unique about this cruise is that you’ll also go kayaking. You’ll paddle to beautiful caves and lagoons. Kayaking allows you to experience the Halong Bay landscape in a completely different way.

Tip: I chose the day cruise due to limited time, but it turns out that the two-day cruise by the same organization is the most beautiful option. You’ll stay overnight on the boat, and the advantage of this cruise is that it takes you to even quieter places, away from the crowds. This way, you’ll see even more of the beautiful Halong Bay. During the two-day cruise, you’ll visit many stunning caves and beaches, and all meals are included.

Rent a Scooter and Explore Cat Ba

Cat Ba is a very green island, and the most beautiful places are perfect for exploring by scooter. The roads are well-maintained, and traffic is calm, so even if you don’t have much experience riding a scooter, it’s doable. Most accommodations offer scooter rentals, but it’s often cheaper to rent directly from a rental company. You can find the Dũng Yến Motorbike shop in Cat Ba Town, which is a reliable rental company. In the following paragraphs, you’ll read about the most beautiful places to visit with your scooter. If you don’t want to or can’t ride a scooter, you can reach all these places by taxi as well.

Tip: When renting a scooter, it’s a good idea to make a clear video of the scooter before taking off to document any existing damage. This can help avoid disputes when returning the scooter.

Hike through Cat Ba National Park

More than half of Cat Ba Island is covered by the pristine Cat Ba National Park. This biosphere reserve is home to about 1,500 different plant species and many animals, including civet cats, macaques, and deer. In the national park, you can go on several beautiful hikes of varying lengths. All the trails lead to the stunning Ding Ngu Lam Viewpoint. From this viewpoint, you’ll have a fantastic view of the jungle and the numerous peaks of Cat Ba. At the entrance of Cat Ba National Park, you’ll receive information about the different routes and starting points. Along the way, you’ll find signs with route directions. Be sure to download the map on so you can navigate offline. includes all hiking trails.

You can easily reach the entrance of Cat Ba National Park with your scooter, just a little over a 25-minute drive from Cat Ba Town. The route itself is beautiful! You can also take a taxi if you prefer not to ride a scooter. At the entrance of the national park, you can purchase an entrance ticket and choose to explore the park on your own or hire a guide. A guide can provide more information about the flora and fauna of Cat Ba National Park. If you want an English-speaking guide, be sure to request one explicitly.

Visit the Hospital Cave

There are many caves on Cat Ba Island, but none are as remarkable as the Hospital Cave. During the war, this cave served as a secret hospital and shelter. The Hospital Cave was built in 1963 by Vietnamese soldiers and was used until 1975. The cave had various rooms, including operating rooms, treatment rooms, a pharmacy, and even a dental practice. Today, there is a small but interesting exhibition inside. At the entrance, you’ll find guides who offer to give you a tour of the Hospital Cave. If you’re interested in this, be sure to agree on a price.

Tip: Three kilometers (1.9 miles) away, you’ll find Trung Trang Cave. This is also a beautiful cave with a vast network of tunnels and huge stalactites. You can walk through it in about half an hour.

Best Restaurants in Cat Ba (Halong Bay)

Even though Cat Ba is a small town, there are certainly some excellent restaurants to be found. I’ve searched for the best restaurants, and these are my favorites:

Like Coffee – This is a popular spot on the main street in Cat Ba Town. It’s a small, colorful restaurant with a cozy outdoor terrace, and the menu is extensive. Breakfast and lunch are especially delicious, with items like smoothie bowls, pancakes, sandwiches, and excellent coffee.
My Way Pizza – If you’re in the mood for some comfort food, My Way Pizza serves tasty pizzas and burgers.
The Little Leaf – This small establishment is certainly one of the most popular restaurants in Cat Ba Town. They serve both Asian and Western dishes, and they have a vegetarian menu as well.
Casa Bonita – At Casa Bonita, not only is the food excellent, but the ambiance is also very cozy. The terrace is like a greenhouse with lots of plants.
Quiri Pub Cocktail & Restaurant – This is the place to go for a fun evening. The food is very tasty, the cocktails even better, and the staff creates a great atmosphere.
Yummy Restaurant – The name of this restaurant says it all; the Vietnamese food here is yummy!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Cat Ba (Halong Bay)

Sadhu Garden Inn is a lovely place in Cat Ba Town. It’s located on the outskirts of the village, offering a beautiful and central location in relation to restaurants in Cat Ba. There’s a nice swimming pool with sunbeds, a great atmosphere, a delicious breakfast in the morning, and the staff is incredibly friendly. You can choose from beautiful bungalows or dormitories if you’re traveling on a tight budget. If you prefer staying in a small hotel, Quiri Hotel is a top choice. The rooms are beautifully decorated, and most of them offer fantastic views of the water. Plus, you can always find a cozy atmosphere at the hotel’s restaurant! For a unique stay, check out JoyStay where you can stay in an idyllic thatched-roof bungalow with large windows. The bungalows are air-conditioned and surrounded by a beautiful garden. It’s a bit further from the town, perfect if you’re looking for some peace and quiet. The accommodation rents scooters for a few euros a day, so you can easily get to Cat Ba Town in no time.