Travel Cat Ba Island On A Budget

 Cat Ba island in Northern Vietnam is a great budget backpacker destination for at least two reasons: Cat Ba is the cheapest way to visit the famous Halong Bay and it offers a perfect island getaway with still affordable Vietnamese prices. We spent one week on CatBa, mainly relaxing, eating, driving scooters and doing a boat tour. It really felt like a holiday from a holiday which was very welcome after 4 months of traveling. Probably all the long-term travelers know this feeling…

We visited the island during the low season in February (the high season on Cat Ba starts in April) so the place was very calm and not too crowded with tourists. From our opinion, the prices on Cat Ba were not much higher than on the mainland, provided that you stay away from the worst tourist trap restaurants in the main street and take some time to compare the prices. We cannot really say how much the atmosphere and prices change in the high season but what we read from some reviews it get’s quite busy.

catba Halong bay

Cat Ba is the biggest island in Halong Bay that is one of the most popular and beautiful places to visit in Vietnam. The weather in February is not very hot but we were lucky to have around 25 degrees and sunny almost every day. Cat Ba town is quite small and most of the things happen in the main beach boulevard or around it.

Cat Ba restaurants and activities gathered on a map.

How To Get To Cat Ba

We took a ferry from Hai Phong to Cat Ba. We simply walked to Ben Binh harbor which is very close to the city center and bought the ferry tickets at one of the ticket stands. The price from Hai Phong to Cat Ba, including a speed ferry and a bus ride to Cat Ba town, was 130.000 dong per person. There are ferries departing every one or two hours. When we arrived in the harbor area, there was one stand that tried to sell us tickets for 150.000 dong. We walked 20 meters further to double check the prices and found the other stand with a lower price. Make sure not to pay too much for the tickets!

You can also buy a combined bus and ferry ticket from Hanoi to Cat Ba. We traveled to Hanoi from Cat Ba and paid 200.000 dong per person. We bought the tickets from our hotel but the journey was operated by Hoang Long company. This company apparently has the cheapest tickets also from Hanoi to Cat Ba (click here to read a blog post about how to get tickets in Hanoi). The ride took us around six hours. For some reason, we had to change the bus in Hai Phong but otherwise the trip was fine.

Things To Do on Cat Ba

Cat Ba is a good destination for both a relaxing island getaway and an active sports holiday. The island has lots of nature as there is a national park in there.

Beaches. The beaches on Cat Ba are not big but they are pretty and in a walking distance from the town where most of the hotels and hostels are. The beaches have bars, restaurants and sun chairs. The main beaches are Cat Ba 1, 2 and 3. We noticed that the beaches number 1 and 2 have a bit coarse sand with small rocks but Cat Ba 3 has fine sand. You can walk to Cat Ba 3 from Cat Ba 1 beach. There are stairs going up on the right side and the path leads you around the cliff to the other side. On the way we saw cute mountain goats standing on the vertical cliffs on the island that is close to the trail!

Catba beach

Halong Bay boat trip. The cheapest way to visit Halong Bay is to book a full-day boat trip from Cat Ba. We paid 370.000 dong each for the trip that lasts from 8am to 5pm and we were very satisfied with the tour. When we saw the Halong Bay tour prices later in Hanoi, we were even happier that we chose this option. The cheapest trip that we saw in Hanoi was at least 50 USD and most of them closer or over 100 USD. We booked our tour on the previous day in Cat Ba Tours, next to Green Mango restaurant. There are several tour companies offering similar tours so we recommend comparing the prices.

The boat tour included the boat ride and sightseeing in Halong Bay, 1,5 hours of kayaking in pretty bays with caves, a good and filling lunch, 1 hour of snorkeling and eventually a visit to Monkey island. The highlights of our day were a huuuge jellyfish that we saw while kayaking (it was at least the size of two basketballs) and a mountain goat family that was struggling to climb the cliffs on Monkey island. There were around 30 backpackers on the boat so we also got to know some nice people that we ran across later in Hanoi and spent more time with.

Monkey island halong bay 6
halong bay boat trip 2
Halong bay kayaking
Halong bay jellyfish

Monkey island halong bay 3View from the top of Monkey island.

Monkey island halong bay 4
A mountain goat family!

Monkey island halong bay 5

Rent a scooter. You can rent a scooter basically anywhere on Cat Ba. Most hotels and other places offer rental. We rented our scooters in the place next to My Ngoc Hotel in the main boulevard and paid 80.000 dong for one day which is a very reasonable price.

Catba motorbike trip 2

Hiking and rock climbing. We didn’t finally make it to hiking even though we wanted (we were too concentrated on relaxing, or just lazy…) but the national park is a very good place for trekking. You can either go by yourself and pay a small fee at the national park entrance or you can hire a tour guide. Cat Ba is also well known for rock climbing and it is easy to find rock climbing tours in hotels and agencies.

Cheap restaurants on Cat Ba

The main beach boulevard is scattered with restaurants and most tourists spend their time in these places. As usually, we were comparing the restaurants and checking the prices carefully as we wanted to avoid the worst tourist traps (it doesn’t make sense to pay 4 times more for basic food, even though Vietnam is a cheap country). Some places offer food for around 100.000 dong or even more but we never paid more than 50.000 dong for one portion. Luckily there are also affordable and more authentic places even in the main street.

catba beach boulevard 2

The cheapest food is normally pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. We wouldn’t pay more than 35.000 dong for it. The local pho stands are easy to spot. Fried rice and noodles are also a popular dish offered in every restaurant. In the first evening we stopped in a touristic restaurant and paid 50.000 dong for plain and tasteless food but next day we found tasty fried noodles for 35.000 dong.

Here are some cheap restaurants on Cat Ba that we liked.

Bakery Family. This is where we ended up having breakfast almost every morning. Located on the main boulevard, it is the only bakery we saw in the town and a very good one! They offer delicious and big filled baguettes with vegetables, egg, ham, cheese, bacon or chicken. We had chicken baguettes with coffee every time. The baguette cost 45.000 dong which is not super cheap but worth it! Also the sweet pastries, cakes and donuts are fresh and look tasty.

bakery family catba 2
Bakery family Catba

Quan Cat Ba Family. This place right next to Bakery Family has delicious pho for 30.000 dong. One morning we decided to skip the baguettes and had soup instead.

Buddha Belly (Buddha Garden). We read about this place before going to Cat Ba but couldn’t find it first (apparently they have changed location). Another day we found it accidentally when we were driving scooters. And we are very happy we did! Buddha Belly is a vegetarian restaurant and offers generously sized and tasty portions for 30.000 or 50.000 dong (small or big portion). The place is a bit outside of the main street. It has a very relaxed and ambient atmosphere. Buddha Belly is beautifully decorated and has a feeling of a yoga retreat. They also offer some meditation classes. Even though the portions were big, the waitress came to pour more vegetables and tofu on our plates while we ate!

buddha belly catba 2
Buddha belly catba

Yummy Restaurant. The restaurant is located one block from the main street but seemed to be crowded every night. This was the reason why we stopped to have dinner there the first time. The second time we returned because of the cheap food and friendly service. Yummy was a very pleasant surprise because it offers very cheap and good Vietnamese and Thai food.  Don’t get confused because of the garage-like look of the place. The atmosphere is quite nice and the waitress is super friendly! Give a try for the bbq pork for only 40.000 dong and spicy Thai soup for 30.000 dong.

Yummy restaurant catba

yummy restaurant catba 2
Thai soup.

yummy bun cha
BBQ pork.

Song Changl. We were very pleased with the fried noodles here. Unlike most places, this restaurant offers a big portion for only 35.000 dong! And still the taste and quality were good.

catba fried noodle

Where To Go Out

The main boulevard is obviously where all the people gather in the evening. Most restaurants and cafes have beer for 15.000-20.000 dong so you can sit basically anywhere outside and enjoy the night. We were in a kind of grandpa mood and went to sleep before midnight so we didn’t really party. Maybe the hangover after two months in Korea finally hit us…

One of the most popular spots seemed to be Oasis bar though. We also ended up having a few beers here because they have draft beer for 10.000 dong until 10 PM. The terrace is very nice and inside you can play pool and foosball. On the weekend the place changed to a disco and it seemed like the whole town gathered to party in Oasis.

oasis bar catba

Where To Stay On Cat Ba

During the low season, the accommodation prices are very cheap and there is lots of free space. We stayed in Mr. Zoom Backpackers Hostel and paid only 6 USD per night for a private, spacy room with a balcony and private bathroom. The family owning the hostel was very friendly and fixed all the issues we had. One night our key broke and we couldn’t enter our room. The owner opened the door for us and ordered a repairman for next day.

You can check the cheapest accommodation deals here*. We booked the room for only one night in advance and extended the stay night by night. This might be a bit risky in the high season though.

We hope you enjoyed our Cat Ba budget tips! 🙂 In short, Cat Ba is a very nice place to visit and it is possible to find cheap restaurants and activities on the island.


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4 thoughts on “Travel Cat Ba Island On A Budget

  1. Great blog with all necessary details:). It will be very helpful for my trip in december.
    initially, i was planning for the halong bay cruize tour from hanoi, but after reading your amazing trip, i will be going for Hanoi- Cat Ba- Hanoi, this seems much more intereting to me.
    Could you please tell me what time boats/ferry start from hanoi to cat Ba and from Cat Ba to hanoi.

    I will land Hanoi on 22nd dec at 2:40 PM (local time) and have return flight on 25th dec 5:20 PM(local time) from Hanoi.

    1. Thank you, we are happy that it was helpful! All the timetables we found say that the buses leave Hanoi early afternoon so it might be that you need to spend the first night in Hanoi. Here is one website where you can book the combination ticket from Hanoi to Catba in advance If you have so little time, it basically means that you would have one full day in Catba and you need to leave back very early in the morning to catch your flight.

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