Vietnam

Cat Ba: A great way to see Halong Bay for cheap!

Cat Ba is the largest island (in the Cat Ba archipelago of 367 islands) and is located in the southeastern part of Halong Bay, Vietnam. Half of the island is covered by a national park and is the launch pad for many budget travelers looking to visit Halong Bay for cheap and experience a far less touristy option. On the island there were many tour companies running tours of the bay. We found Cat Ba Ventures to be the best among them.

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Reasons to cruise Lan Ha and Halong Bay from Cat Ba

When we visited in January, 2017, we found that tourism in Cat Ba was still developing, with lots of construction going on. As development continues, in a couple of years, Cat Ba may not be as attractive an alternative as it is today. Visiting Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay from Cat Ba was gorgeous and picturesque. Here are the reasons to visit the island:

  1. Less Touristy: Halong Bay is a UNESCO heritage site and a magnet for tourists. If getting away from the tourist herd is important to you and you are willing to give up on luxury cruises then, touring the bay from Cat Ba is a much better bet.
  2. More Genuine: Given that the region is visited by so many tourists, there are many company’s offering cruises to visit the bay at various prices and combinations. Unless you book a cruise with a company that is well reputed (often expensive and hard to come by), you don’t know if you are getting your money’s worth. We heard and read of many horror stories of travelers scammed off their money with promises of a great experience only to visit Halong bay in dingy and shoddy boats with terrible food and service.
  3. Cheaper: Visiting Halong Bay from Cat Ba really comes down to price. Instead of spending the $100 to $300 per night on a luxurious Halong Bay cruise you can spend a third of the amount if you did it from Cat Ba.

How to get to Cat Ba from Hanoi

We booked a ticket through our hotel in Hanoi for $16 per person to get us to our hotel in Cat Ba. This included the bus to Hai Phong port, the ferry ride to Cat Ba island and then another a bus ride to the hotel. The service was provided by Good Morning Cat Ba and outside of the bus ride to the ferry being a little tight all other transportation was comfortable and safe.

Where to stay?

In Cat Ba, we stayed at the Phu Thanh hotel. It was cheap, great value for money, comfortable with excellent views of Lan Ha bay (you can upgrade your room to face the bay). We were in a private room on the 9th floor with two double beds and a partial view of the bay for only $11/night and one level away from the roof top. The panoramic views of the bay from the roof top is the reason we didn’t opt for an upgrade. Overall, the accommodation was great, however, there were very basic facilities at the hotel. They have a restaurant but with not many vegetarian options.

Day Cruise with Cat Ba Ventures (Lan Ha and Halong Bay)

Our boat docked at the fishing village

Cat Ba Ventures has a bevy of options to tour the bay. We booked a day tour with them for $28 and highly recommend it. It is more expensive than the other tours offered on the island, however, they do take you deeper into Halong Bay, a route not included by others. The tour included the bus ride to the ferry, the boat cruise, kayaking, lunch, a big bottle of water, and the bus ride back to the office. You have the option to buy drinks and snacks on the boat (25,000 VND for a beer, and 20,000 for everything else.) TIP: you can also bring your own beverages and snacks.

Kayaking

The day started at 8 AM from their office where we boarded the bus and headed straight to the ferry. We spent about 1.5 hours on the ferry before our first stop … kayaking. We kayaked through 4 different caves (of different sizes, the longest and darkest of which was 200 m). There was enough time to also just sit in our kayaks and just enjoy the scenery. Note to the not so adventurous – kayaking in the bay was not at all scary, unsafe or strenuous so there is no need to panic! After kayaking, we came back and rode through more parts of Lan Ha bay. The scenery is absolutely breath taking!

Getting in line to get into the cave
Kayaking through the dark cave… one of the highlights!
Beets Selfie
Enjoying the views from the deck!

Swimming and Lunch

Around noon, we anchored in our own private part of the bay (there were no other boats around) and got to jump off the boat and swim. It was a tad bit cold this time of the year, but still worth it. Lunch was delectable with a wide variety of vegetarian options.

After lunch we cruised further through the limestone formations in Halong Bay (a route, we were told, only Cat Ba Ventures is allowed to go on from the island). The scenery kept getting better. At one point, the boat stopped close to a beach for more swimming. Some of the more adventurous group members even made it all the way to the beach. We opted not to do this, primarily because of the temperature. It would have been very refreshing on a hot day.

Floating Fish Farm

Our last stop for the day was a floating fish farm in the bay. It was interesting to see the exotic fish and was pretty amazing to think that the “farmers” lived on this floating village all year round. The farm reminded us of the movie “Waterworld”. It is not fiction folks! As we headed back, we got to take in the sunset from the deck. The towering limestone rocks with the water made for a fantastic sunset and was a great end to the trip.

Fishing Farm
Halong Bay Sunset

Total Cost

Transportation to Cat Ba from Hanoi (bus, ferry, bus): $34
Transportation to Hai Phong airport from Cat Ba (bus, ferry, bus, taxi): $18
Accommodation for 3 nights: $33
Day Cruise to Lan Ha and Halong Bay: $56
Food (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for 3 days): $36

Total for 2 = $177 for 3 days and 3 nights (If you are only coming for the cruise, you can stay for 2 days and 2 nights).

Average for 1 person per day = $29.5 per day!!!

Hope you find this post useful as you plan your trip to Vietnam and Halong Bay. If you have any questions or comments, do let us know!

Some of our other travel resources for Vietnam:

  • Vegetarian Food Guide: Vietnam
  • Travel Guide: Vietnam
  • An adventure of a lifetime: Hiking to Hang En, the 3rd largest cave in the world

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