Cat Ba Island is a great place to kick back and relax in Halong Bay especially if you are on a tigher budget but still want to see the bay without booking a tour on a cruise boat. There are plenty of places to sleep and eat right on the water front in Cat Ba City. They all vary in price and depending on the time of year it is possible to pay considerably more for a room during high season. There are also a lot of activities to do in Halong Bay and most can be booked in Cat Ba City if not right in your hotel. The Good Bar in the middle of town is a popular spot among backpackers and foreigners to book activities but their prices are pretty steep. Most people that come to Halong Bay to climb end up going through the Good Bar to book their trip. They seem to have the most experienced guides and were originally established by foreigners who knew what the backpacker crowd wanted. As a result it is also a popular spot to grab a meal or get a drink or laughing gas after the sun goes down.
A good alternative to escape the crowds and “cattle boat” tours is to rent a kayak through Blue Swimmer Adventures in Ben Beo Harbor just a short walk from Cat Ba City. They had the best kayaks we could find in Halong Bay and provided quality dry bags and spray skirts. The kayaks even came equipped with rudders that worked and dry storage compartments. Anyone with basic kayaking experience would find this alternative much more satisfying than going on a big tour. Just outside of Ben Beo is the floating village of Cai Beo which is a thriving fishing village protected among the limestone karsts of Halong Bay. It is possible to find remote and secluded beaches, kayak through sea caves at low tide, and paddle around the karsts at your own pace.
There are also a lot of great restaurants in Cat Ba City serving fresh seafood from local fishermen. It’s even possible to eat on one of the floating restaurants moored in Cat Ba Harbor but make sure you pay your water taxi driver once you get back to the island or you might find yourself stranded on a floating restaurant. There are also several bars worth checking out as well. The Rose Bar was a low key place about a block away from the water front that would let patrons play music off the computer.
Jungle hikes in Cat Ba National Park are also a popular activity but don’t expect to see the Cat Ba Langur, one of the most endangered primates in the world. It is possible, however, to spot other wildlife in the park including one of the worlds largest species of squirrel. Trail signs are difficult to decipher but the trails are well beaten. If you see a sign that says 3km away you might see another one 30 minutes later that says the same thing. Bring lots of water and snacks to eat if you plan on spending the day hiking.