Cat Ba Island
Want to spend some time on a beautiful island covered in dense tropical jungle, dotted with stunning karst mountains? Well then Cat Ba is your best choice. Being the largest island of Halong Bay it has the same beautiful scenery, but it isn't half as popular or pricey as Halong Bay. According to many the island's beauty is equal if not greater. More than half of the island and surrounding waters are a protected bio reserve. Heading out of ugly and overdeveloped Cat Ba Town is the only way to truly enjoy this wonderful place.
The few main roads wrap around most of the unprotected part, just cruising these roads is loads of fun. You can head up north to the port or to the west along the coast and mangroves. Making your way up to Fort Cannon, just outside Cat Ba Town, is a great way to get a real 360 view of the island and its surroundings. It's a steep slope so make sure your bike is up to the job. Even on foot this is a hike that is worthwhile. The views are incredible, when we were up there it was pretty cloudy and gloomy and even then it was very impressive.
Cat Ba has three main bays/beaches, two of which are owned by resorts and another, more popular beach, is public. You will find far more beautiful beaches and water elsewhere in Vietnam, but those karst island views are irreplaceable. If you want to experience the scenery on the water you can easily rent a kayak or even make sailing trips.
Cat Ba is popular with Vietnamese tourists visiting for the weekend, this is when prices soar and the karaoke doesn't stop blasting until the early hours. Avoid the weekends and head out as soon as you can and hopefully you will fall head over heels in love with this gem.