Cat Ba and Halong Bay

We visited here twice on this trip…the first one was planned as Jill claims that last time we said that we should spend the night on a boat on Halong Bay rather than just do a day trip. And the other was that Dim was here and you couldn’t come to Vietnam and not see Halong Bay. So this post will cover off on both options that most tourists would do when visiting the famous Halong Bay.

While wandering through the war museum in Hanoi we ran into an met a lovely Italian lady (Chiara) who had ridden out the COVID waves in Melbourne. We all chatted and had lunch (at my favourite Indian joint) and told her we were off to CatBa island and she chose to join in. A quick trip to the bus company and an extra hotel room and we were all set. So four of us set off on our journey.

I re-read the previous post for Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay and everything that I wrote the first time holds true today with one exception. The transit was really easy now, no nightmares just a smooth and efficient transfer. Once on the island, the place is fantastic. The planned developments have partially gone ahead, however COVID slowed the rate of development and also dried up (for now) the influx of Chinese tourists. So at the moment, it is still absolutely lovely.

For decades, Cát Bà has been the launching point for Ha Long Bay and now this has been extended to include Lan Ha Bay. They are basically the inner and outer bays surrounding the island. Lan Ha Bay is made up of around 300 karst islands and limestone sea rocks and is southeast of Cat Ba Island. Lan Ha Bay is equally as beautiful although it is less visited, less inhabited and therefore has the extra appeal of being a more peaceful place.

There is much more here in terms of accommodation, resorts and restaurants than our first trip, but not so much to be silly. Our accommodation was amazing, we had a queen room with a private en suite for the princely sum of $15 a night and it included breakfast. Add to this that the lady on the front desk would bend over backwards to help despite being heavily pregnant. She was a machine.

On our arrival after hte bus trip and ferry ride, we hired scooters for 100,000 dong a day (about $6.50) and after a scooter lesson, given by me, Chiara was up and running with zero fear. This terrified Dim and I, as we knew what could go wrong. But she was fearless and two days later she was even riding with a pillion (a British women she met on the day trip).

We organised a day trip and the next morning took off on the traditional Cat Ba day trip. This included a boat trip around the bay, kayaking, beach time, swimming, a huge lunch and capped off by a fish massage at a local fishing village. This is basically exactly what we had done a decade earlier (with the exception of the feet eating fish). There is a similar day trip option leaving from Hanoi every morning and getting back the same night. I do not recommend this as you are adding 3-4 hours of driving on top of what is an already full day and you will be missing out on most of the activities.

After a full day on the water we headed to the bridge (where Jill and I had eaten and drank so many years earlier) and the four of us had a meal by the bridge (including beers) for 510,000 (about $35). All in all a great way to spend a day. And most importantly we capped it off with a street stall pancake like the ones in Thailand.

Nadim, Jill and I were on the bus back to Hanoi while Chiara chose to stay on and explore the island some more (on the motorbike with the British girl she met on the boat). We did meet up again briefly in Hanoi before she headed back to Italy then we headed to the next point in the journey.

After a bit more time in Hanoi, Dim went home and we headed to our pre-arranged tour and cruise on Halong Bay. This one was a bit flasher than the Cat Ba Trip (certainly a lot more expensive). This was a 2 day cruise of Halong bay, leaving from Hanoi and sleeping overnight on the water. It was lovely, the meals were magnificent and the rooms were amazing, especially given where we were.

While the cruise boat was much nicer, you still got on one of the dodgy boats for all of the daytime activities. And all of the activities were identical, which was fine but we had done it all a week earlier.

Having done Halong Bay in 2 of the 3 main ways available I must say that option 1 of the day trip from Hanoi is a bust and I really discourage this as there is too much to see in one day and it would have been exhausting and unsatisfying. The 2 day trip was much better. You are not pushed for time, you have a night on the water and the tours are all included. But it is seriously expensive.

My choice would be the Cat Ba Island option. Having spoken to Jill about the overall costings the price we paid for our 2 day cruise was about 5 times more than our Cat Ba trip, and the only difference was that we slept on the water. For the amount we spent on the 2 day cruise we could have spent a week on Cat Ba (including accommodation) and had different tours and trips every day (all within the same budget).

Sunworld (if you remember from back in the Danang Post)is in the process of establishing itself on Cat Ba island. The cable car is already in place and the resort is currently being built, along with what will likely be another Disneyland-type development. When it is finished, the entire Cát Bà cable car system will be 21.9 km long with 5 stations spanning the sea to link the towns including Cát Bà national park. When finished, this cable car will have the longest cable line in the world.

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