Halong Bay is the bejeweled highlight of Vietnam. When you visit Vietnam, do not miss visiting the Halong Bay. It is a bay of emerald waters and scattered limestones that have rainforests on them. Cruising through Halong Bay is by far one of the best experiences I have had in my life so far! Also, few scenes from the movie Kong: Skull Island were shot here :’).
Now, several tour operators and local agents offer day trips to Halong Bay from Hanoi. But I would recommend you to steer clear from those; the reason being, they are hurried trips and don’t really let you enjoy and soak the beauty of Halong Bay. What you can do instead is, stay at Cat Ba Island which is very close to Halong Bay and a 3.5 – 4 hour drive from Hanoi, and take a relaxed full day cruise the next day. This will let you stay on an island and explore the emerald waters of Halong Bay in the best way possible. In this post, I will tell you exactly, how to plan your trip to Halong Bay by staying at the Cat Ba island.
Day 1: Hanoi to Cat Ba + Overnight Stay at Cat Ba
When you arrive in Hanoi, take a bus to the Cat Ba Island and stay there overnight. One of the most reliable and trusted companies for transport from Hanoi to Cat Ba and vice-versa, is Good Morning Cat Ba. You will be picked up from your hotel/hostel in Hanoi Old Quarter, Hanoi Opera House, and their office at 9B Cho Gao, Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi and transferred to Cat Ba Island in a 3.5 – 4 hour journey by bus. Now, if you are arriving at the Airport in Hanoi and wish to be picked up from there, you can avail their taxi service (at an extra cost) or book a Grab taxi (please don’t take Airport taxis, they’re ridiculously expensive!) and reach their office in Hanoi (9B Cho Gao, Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi). From there you will be transferred to Cat Ba Island. One way ticket will cost about 14 USD (and yes, USD is widely accepted in Vietnam). You can even purchase a return ticket from the same operator and they will pick you up from your hotel/hostel in Cat Ba Island and transfer you to Hanoi.
How to Book:
There are only 3 departure times offered by Good Morning Cat Ba and most other travel operators, for transfer from Hanoi to Cat Ba:
|DEPART FROM HA NOI||ARRIVE IN CAT BA|
|07h30||11h00 – 11h30|
|10h30||14h00 – 14h30|
|14h00||17h00 – 17h30|
In case you wish to take the transfer after 14h00, then you can check out buses on Baolau.
Once you arrive in Cat Ba, take a casual stroll through the island to explore it. You will also need to book the Halong Bay Cruise tour for the next day. There are many local travel agents selling different packages for the Halong Bay Cruise and thus, online booking is not required. Enquire at a few places and try negotiating the price. I paid around 13 USD for a Full-Day Halong Bay Cruise which also included cruising through Lan Ha Bay, Kayaking, Snorkeling, visiting the Monkey Island, and a feast of sumptuous vegan food onboard (it’s either non-vegetarian or vegan in most of South-East Asia. No cheese, paneer, butter business!). There are many other packages such as half-day cruises to Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay as well. Pick what interests you and once you book the tour, you will either be picked up from your hotel/hostel or asked to assemble at a point, between 7:30 – 8:00 the next day.
Where to Stay: Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hotel
Day 2: Halong Bay Cruise + Overnight Stay at Cat Ba
Depending on the package you bought the previous day, this day is for you to cruise through the scenic beauty of Halong Bay! Keep your camera ready to take some insanely wonderful shots and pack your swimsuit to jump into the emerald waters of the bay. A full-day cruise starts at 9:00 AM and ends by 5:30 PM. Lunch will be provided on board and snacks/coffee/tea will be charged.
Once you arrive in Monkey Island, there’s a small hike that you can do to reach the top of the island and catch some scenic views. I have mixed opinions about this hike because it is extremely narrow and quite dangerous. You literally have to climb over steep rocks without much support and since the path is the same for climbing up/getting down, the hike becomes all the more unsafe. I hiked up till 90% to the top and gave up because of the extremely dangerous placement of the rocks. I even got bruises on my legs. If you don’t have much trekking experience or are scared of heights, just don’t do this trek. It’s not worth it.
Once you’re done with the cruise, stay at Cat Ba for the night. You can enquire at your hotel/hostels for return transfer to Hanoi the next day. If you have taken the half-day cruise, you can return to Hanoi on the same day itself.
Day 3: Cat Ba to Hanoi with Bay Memories!
Leave Cat Ba on day 3 of this little escapade, and head back to Hanoi. You can either book a return transfer with Good Morning Cat Ba or with any other local travel agent on the island. If you’re staying at a hotel/hostel, then they can help you book your transfer as well. A return ticket with Good Morning Cat Ba costs about $11USD and the departure times are as below:
|DEPART FROM CAT BA||ARRIVE IN HA NOI|
|09h00||12h00 – 12h30|
|12h30||16h00 – 16h30|
|16h00||19h00 – 19h30|
By choosing to stay at Cat Ba Island instead of taking a day trip from Hanoi, you not only explored the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay for one whole day, but also got a chance to explore another beautiful island!
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