If you have more time and want to experience Halong Bay without the crowds, consider Cat Ba island. Here you’ll find operators who concentrate on Lan Ha Bay, which is less frequented, relatively untouched and has sublime sandy beaches. Cat Ba National Park, near Halong Bay, is a rugged island liberally shrouded in lush jungle. This park also includes the 300 or so limestone islands of Lan Ha Bay.
Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba, the largest island in Halong Bay, is emerging as Vietnam’s adventure sport and ecotourism hub. There’s an energetic roll-call of activities, including sailing, bird-watching, cycling, hiking and rock climbing.
Almost half of Cat Ba island (with a total area of 354 sq km) and 90 sq km of the adjacent waters were declared a national park in 1986 to protect the island’s diverse ecosystems: subtropical evergreen forests on the hills, freshwater swamp forests at the base of the hills, coastal mangrove forests, small freshwater lakes and coral reefs. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs, but there are some sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages hidden away in small coves. Lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot the spectacular limestone hills, the highest rising 331m above sea level. Lan Ha Bay, encompassing the southern seas off Cat Ba, is dotted with hundreds of jungle-topped limestone islands with many deserted beaches.
Cat Ba’s best weather is from late September to November, when air and water temperatures are mild and the skies are mostly clear. December to February is cooler but pleasant. From February to April is still good, but you can expect some rain. Summer (June to August) is hot and humid with occasional thunderstorms. This is also peak season and the island is packed with Vietnamese tourists.
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