Explore Cát Bà Town on a hike to a lake, Cannon Fort and viewpoints, the three beaches and a cliffside trail with more great views.
This walk starts from the pier on the main street of Cát Bà Town. If you need to get to Cát Bà from Hanoi, the easiest way is with a direct coach*, leaving three times per day. The journey takes about 3.5 hours.
Cát Bà Town, Beaches & Cannon Fort Trail Map
Cát Bà Town, Beaches & Cannon Fort Hiking Route
This walk is divided into three loops, which can be down either together (roughly 11 km) or separately. The first loop goes around the large lake, the second goes to Nui Ngoc Viewpoint and Cannon Fort, while the third loop heads along the cliffs and visits Cát Bà Beaches.
Cát Bà Town & Lake
From the main pier on the bayfront, head right, with the ocean on your left, along Cát Bà seafront promenade. You’ll soon reach a little lake and walking around this makes for a pleasant stroll. There are lots of restaurants and cafes here, as well as a couple of casinos and karaoke bars. It’s quite scenic with the limestone hills rising up behind the buildings on the edge of the lake.
*For a large, clean but super quiet beach, head onward to Tung Thu Beach, a few hundred metres along the main road at the end of the lake*.
Return to town along the lakefront, then take a left up the road heading inland. This road heads slightly uphill, and when it begins to bend right, take the road heading upwards to the left. Then take the second road to the right which leads upwards through the jungle. This road will lead you to the entrance of Cannon Fort.
Beautiful Views & Cannon Fort
After walking up the road you’ll reach an entrance gate to Cannon Fort. This gate has variable opening times. There are three situations you may come across 1) Gate closed, 2) Gate open and nobody about, 3) Gate open and there is a local man there charging VND 50,000 per person to enter.
If the gate is closed, you can visit a viewpoint up some steps to the left (see below). If it’s open and nobody is there, you can walk right through and explore the fort. If the man is there charging, you can either decide to pay and see the views from the fort or take the steps to the left for a different but free viewpoint.
Whatever option you choose, there’s also a lovely cafe called Hoang Son Quan, down the road to the left just before the Fort gate. As well as delicious Vietnamese coffee, there’s a cool terrace with great views over the jungle to the ocean.
Steps Viewpoint / Beautiful sunset
The viewpoint up the steps to a radio tower is free, and it’s beautiful at sunset. On Google Maps, you’ll see this viewpoint called Beautiful sunset. There are an additional two viewpoints slightly further on if you’re feeling adventurous.
To get to the free viewpoint first walk up towards the gate to Cannon Fort. Just before the gate you’ll see a large track on your left (the cafe is down here). Just to the left of that are some slightly overgrown brick steps leading up through the vegetation. Take these steps.
After about 5 minutes you’ll get to a radio tower and blue building at the top. Go on slightly beyond this, past the bunker, to a natural rocky area for a great panoramic view.
You’ll have 360-degree views over the area, with Cat Ba City on one side and the bay full of islands and boats on your right. It’s an amazing but slightly secret viewpoint so you may well be alone. It’s best at sunset, but also worthwhile at any time of the day.
If you want to get to additional viewpoints, then you can head east towards the ocean. Head right at the blue building and through an opening. The path is quite overgrown, and long trousers may be best to avoid scratches. You’ll reach a cement platform, the second viewpoint, and then the third viewpoint is about 50 meters further on to the north.
Cannon Fort Exploration
If you decide to walk around Cannon Fort, head through the gate up the road. It’s almost 1 km along the road before you get to the start of the Fort proper, with a few viewpoints along the way. It feels quite adventurous inside because it’s abandoned and there are few tourists here, but there are goats eating the vegetation.
Cannon Fort itself is dilapidated. It obviously used to be a good semi-outdoor museum, but for many years it has not been kept up. The cafe, which has glorious views, has also been closed for many years, though some pieces of furniture still lie about making it a bit eerie.
There are still a few bunkers, passageways, and cannons, but the real reason to visit is for the views of Lan Ha Bay. Make sure you visit the far west (rocky viewpoint with benches) and east (old cafe) of the complex, as these places have the best views.
Once you’ve walked around the fort, return back down the road and through the gate. Head back towards town and take a left on the circular road around the vegetated hill. You’ll soon be back at the beachfront promenade.
Cát Bà Beaches & Cliffs Walk
There are three main beaches in Cat Ba, called Cat Co Beach 1, 2 and 3. They are all public, so free to access, but all have hotels directly behind them. This walk leads first to Cat Co Beach 3, then around a lovely cliff path to Cat Co Beaches 1 and 2. My favourite was Cat Co Beach 3 as the hotel didn’t impose quite so directly and the beach felt more natural and less crowded. However, on beautiful weekends in holiday season all the beaches can get very crowded.
To get to the beaches of Cát Bà and a lovely cliff walk, head left along the seafront promenade. You’ll see many boats in the bay and limestone hills in the distance. At the far end of town, continue around the headland following the water. When you reach the small roundabout, head straight over to cut across the short bit of land to Public Beach Cat Co 3.
Cat Co Beach 3
This beach is relatively small, especially at high tide, but it’s in a lovely cove with great views. There’s a bar right on the beach, Coco Bar, that serves food and drink. However, it’s very expensive and the food is mediocre. If you need the toilet, you have to pay 5000VND. Note that you can only swim until 5:30pm, then you’ll be asked to leave. If you do want to stay in a fancy hotel right by one of the beaches, the hotel here, the Hôtel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba*, is the one I’d recommend.
Leave the beach via the small path leading upwards at the far end. This is a great trail halfway up the cliffs that leads you to Cat Co Beach 1. There are super views and it’s easy walking. When you round the corner, you’ll already see the next beach.
Cat Co Beach 1
This beach is backed by a large hotel, which dominates all the services on the beach such as renting deckchairs. It’s very popular here, especially on nice afternoons, so arrive early if you want any peace and quiet. It does also tend to be a little dirty from all the trash that people leave here, but the views into the bay are nice.
Cat Co Beach 2
The next beach is fairly close by, but it’s just an out-and-back walk so there’s no need to visit unless you want to see the beach. It’s quite similar to Beach 1, again dominated by the hotel behind, and the beach is slightly smaller.
Once you’ve seen all you want to of the beaches, return to Cat Ba town via the road opposite Cat Co Beach 1. It’s a short distance back over to the other side, where you’ll come out at the southern end of the seafront promenade.
For a more adventurous hike nearby, check out the Cát Bà National Park hike.
Best Places to Stay in Cat Ba Town
There are many hotels, homestays and B&Bs in Cat Ba Town, ranging from super cheap to quite expensive. The best hotels are listed below, ordered from budget to luxury.
- Cat Ba Mountain View*: A great value hotel with a super cool pool and simple but fun rooms. Motorbike hire is available. The main disadvantage is it’s slightly far out of town if you don’t have your own transport.
- Cat Ba Green Hotel*: A good, clean hotel right in the centre of Cat Ba town, with the price including a superb breakfast. The staff are also super helpful.
- Hôtel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba*: The best of the fancy beachfront hotels in Cat Ba. It’s next to the least crowded beach and feels much more refined than the other nearby options.
Novels to read while in Vietnam
Guidebooks to explore more of Vietnam
Useful things for a holiday in Vietnam
- Travel Insurance: we use SafetyWing*, it’s simple to buy online and they have a downloadable letter proving you have travel insurance which includes Covid-related issues
- Travel Debit Card: we have Wise Cards* which allow you to cheaply convert most currencies into Vietnamese Dong. You can then pay by card within the country for no extra fees, or withdraw cash from an ATM.
- We booked train travel in Vietnam through 12GoAsia*. They charge a few extra dollars in commission, but to book directly on the official website you must have a Vietnamese credit card.
Check out our Vietnam Page for more hikes, cycles and city walking tours in Vietnam.