Ha Long Bay should be high on your MUST VISIT list when heading to Vietnam as the beauty of this natural wonder is simply breathtaking. We took the less known path of seeing Ha Long Bay from Cat Ba Island. We were not interested in going to Ha Long Bay if it was going to be overcrowded and expensive which is why we chose to approach our trip via Cat Ba Island and we were not disappointed.
Cat Ba Island is very easy to access from Hanoi and you will need to allow between 4-5hours each way. We booked our bus ride and boat trip while we were in Hanoi, two days before we wanted to travel. We chose to book with Daiichi Travel Group. We stumbled across their travel agency in Hanoi and booked and we were not disappointed. The bus ride takes about 4-5 hours and involves a bus ride with a stop half way to visit a very clean and large toilet facility with a few shops. Then the bus goes onto a barge and the ferry takes 20 min then another 45min once on Cat Ba to arrive at your hotel. The bus will drop you and pick you up at your chosen hotel. The bus trip cost us $9 each person each way. We returned to Hanoi on the morning bus and the trip is the same but in reverse.
We stayed at An Tram hotel which was very cheap at $18 a night for a large room that fit all five of us in and had a bar fridge and included a wonderful breakfast – the pancakes are wow! This hotel is walking distance to restaurants and the centre of the very small town of Cat Ba. There are many hotel choices from expensive to hostels and all in between. We were happy with where we stayed.
In the morning we were picked up in the bus and taken to the cruise boat terminal. Our boat was large and had plenty of room for the 20 other people on the boat. We paid $18 each for the day which included all the activities and lunch. We started off cruising in the bay and heading to the kayaking area. It took about an hour to arrive at the kayaking area and along the way we saw beautiful bays and limestone cliffs. There were only 2 other junk boats completing the same tour we were doing so it was very quiet and not crowded at all. Kayaking was beautiful and we were given an hour to head out and explore. Polly and Cooper were together in a kayak and they managed very well. Since it was winter time we took a change of clothes to kayak in so we didn’t sit in wet clothes all day.
After kayaking we stayed moored at the docks and were fed a huge lunch with delicious food. Soft drink and beer was available to purchase, we took our own bottled water.
After lunch we headed into the outer areas of Ha Long Bay where we anchored the boat and we were given an hour for swimming. We went in December and the water was a warm temperature. The kids had a ball jumping off the boat and swimming to the island. Pack your swimmers for this, towels were provided as were plastic bags for wet swimmers.
Next was Monkey Island where we had another hour to explore. The walk to the top of the cliff is quite difficult and the kids found part of it hard. I am not comfortable around monkeys so I stayed near the water. The monkeys were a little aggressive towards people with food and water. The kids stayed right out of their way, many people were approached by the monkeys. By staying near the water edge I was not near any monkeys. The water at this island is very swimmable and could be an option if you wanted to avoid the monkeys.
We then headed back in to Cat Ba and watched the sunset from the boat. It really was a perfect day.
We did the cruise in December (winter) and we were very cold at the beginning of the day, we took the following on the boat:
- Change of clothes for kayaking
- Snacks and water
Places to Eat on Cat Ba Island
We had a few meals on Cat Ba that were ok but the most delicious meal and was up there on our Top 5 meals in Vietnam was at Yummy Restaurant. This restaurant was busy, cheap and full of amazing flavours. We found that restaurants off the main stretch were more authentic and much better value. There are many places to buy cut up fruit and desserts. There is also a large local fresh food market in town.
Other Activities to Do on Cat Ba Island
We didn’t have time to complete any other activities but there is lots to do on Cat Ba Island. There is a walk to the fort, a visit to the Hospital Caves and lots of hikes to complete in the National Park which is a World Heritage Site.
Overall we felt we had an amazing view of Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay without the crowds or the expensive. We spent less than $300 over the 3 days and 2 nights that we were in Cat Ba, including all our meals, accommodation and boat cruise. We were able to swim in Ha Long Bay waters and feel we were the only people there. A must do when in Vietnam not matter what the season.
To read about our other Vietnam adventures
- – select here to read about our stay on the Mekong River in Can Tho
- Read about our Ho Chi Minh City adventures here
- And to plan your Vietnam adventures select here