Cat Ba Island is a bit more than one of the resorts in Vietnam. It is also the only place in the world where you can find the rare golden-headed, or golden-maned, langur monkey, also known as the Cat Ba Island leaf monkey. Hunted nearly to extinction, these distinctive primates live in the island’s interior in Cat Ba National Park and on Monkey Island, which are both protected from development and quite remote. Other mammals in the park include civet cats and oriental giant squirrels. Almost all of the Cat Ba Island hotels will assist you in booking tours and excursions to this park.
Cat Ba National Park was established in 1986, and covers more than half of the island’s land area. It is the first national park in the country to include both marine and land environments, with the marine portion including inshore waters and lakes as well as some of the mangrove covered tidal zones of beautiful Halong Bay. The majority of the park is covered in tropical forest, and the protected coastline is characterized by coral reefs, mangrove forests, and willow swamps. The extraordinarily rich biodiversity found in the park is one of the reasons that all of Halong Bay is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cat Ba Island is a perfect example of the karst topography that is typical of Halong Bay as well as many other areas around the world, including places as far flung as the misty Li River around Guilin, China, the caves of Georgia in the United States, and the Anjajavy Forest in western Madagascar off the coast of Africa. The location is stunning, and this is an island paradise with beautiful secluded beaches and hidden lagoons that has only recently been discovered by Western tourists. Many vacations here also include visiting some of the 366 other islands that comprise the Cat Ba archipelago.
Some of the other Cat Ba tours include excellent sailing cruises (often on traditional junks) kayaking, and diving along the shoreline and offshore, which is dominated by jungle covered peaks rising almost vertically out of the sea. Other things to do on Cat Ba Island include exploring the caves and grottoes that are common in karst and limestone formations. There is also great rock climbing and hiking. The calm emerald waters are such an important part of the island landscape and lifestyle of Vietnam that some Cat Ba Island hotels are actually boats—as are some of the island’s dining spots. Even some of the fishing villages are floating islands where the people live out their lives aboard traditional boats.
Located offshore from Hai Phong (about 40 miles east of Hanoi), the largest island in Halong Bay and Cat Ba National Park draw thousands of tourists every year. There are several new Cat Ba Island hotels to serve these visitors, and more are being built at a very fast pace. It is possible to make your own arrangements to get there using public transportation and ferries, and then rent motorbikes to use during your stay. You can also book vacation packages in either Hanoi or Hai Phong, although these will cost you more.