From Sapa, I booked a local night bus to Halong Bay for 400.000 Dong. The lady at the Mountain View Hostel has been so helpful and she also offered the best price for a bus ticket. I arrived at 6 in the morning on Christmas Day in a foggy city! It is very easy to travel to Cát Bà and Halong Bay from any major town. From Hà Nội for example, there are daily buses to the islands.
A little luxury over the Christmas holidays!
I stayed a couple of night at the La Paz Resort on the island of Đảo Tuần Châu. The island is a weird little place and they are building a lot! Hotels, resorts and even theme parks (with dolphins….) I am pretty sure this place will be completely transformed in the next few years! But, there was a lovely beach and it was the perfect location to chill over the Christmas holidays.
A boat tour passed the karst formations
From the harbour, I took a tour through Halong Bay the following day for $30. Nature here is outstanding! Unfortunately, the weather isn’t so great in December but I was lucky and the fog and clouds disappeared as soon as I set foot on the boat. The plus side of travelling during this time is that it is the low season. There were still a lot of people, but I can only imagine how busy it can be here! Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and as soon as we come close to the limestone mountains that stick out of the water I can see why. The contrast with the emerald water and the green trees is just stunning! The bay is famous for the karst topography and lies in the Gulf of Tangkia.
If one day is not enough, you can take a beautiful 2 or 3-day cruise. You will be able to see a lot more and stop at some beautiful locations! I am not a cruise person so 1 day was perfect for me.
Travelling to Cát Bà
The following day I set foot on another boat. I took the ferry from Đảo Tuần Châu to the largest island in the region, Cát Bà. I paid 80.000 Dong for the ferry ticket and again the boat floats by the beautiful karst formations. If you’re travelling on a super tight budget, this ferry ride is worth every cent and the views are mesmerising. It will be the cheapest option to get a glimpse of the bay. The journey takes around 1 hour and you’ll arrive at the ferry port on the island.
From the harbour Bến tàu Du lịch Đảo Cát Bà you can take a bus to Cát Bà town for 30.000 Dong. The busses are timed so there will be one when you arrive. There will be taxis waiting for you as well but just know you will be scammed… Grab doesn’t work on the island and the drivers will try to charge you between 100.000 and 200.000 Dong per person. So the easiest and the cheapest way is by bus!
What to do on Cát Bà
In the town of Cát Bà, I spent 2 nights in a no-frills hostel with a private room. The Trang Ahn hostel was just perfect for me and it was located near to the many restaurants along the boulevard. The best coffee and breakfast in Cát Bà was definitely at Like Coffee! They have an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu with many healthy options. The price-quality was just amazing and the place was perfect to get some work done as well.
On Cát Bà, you have a wide range of boat tours that will do similar trips to the ones in Halong Bay. But as I just spent 2 days on the water, I decided to do something else.
So first I headed to the Cannon Fort. The entrance price was 30.000 Dong and it’s a pretty long walk up. You can take the motorbike all the way up if you have one! The views from the top were amazing! But the museum itself has very limited information about the use of the fort and it could do with a lick of paint, to be honest. When you come here later in the afternoon you can enjoy a beautiful sunset!
The following day I rented a motorbike for the day. There are tons of places where you can rent them and will cost you between $3 and $4. The great thing about Cát Bà is that it’s impossible to get lost. There are two main roads so you don’t have to check on maps to see where you are! I just drove around for a while and enjoyed some beautiful viewpoints.
One of the nicest hikes you can do is in the Cát Bà National Park. There will be signs on the road and there are different trails to choose from. You can walk through the Kim Giao forest and climb the Ngu Lam Peak for example. There are also several caves you can visit.
I decided to visit the Hospital Cave as it seemed like an interesting place to learn more about the role of the island during the Vietnam War. But as with the Cannon Fort, there isn’t much information and I was in and out of the cave in 5 or 10 minutes max… The entrance to the cave is 40.000 Dong. Up to you if you think it’s worth it!
If you drive to the Bến Bèo port you can also visit Monkey Island for a fraction of the tour price. Of course, the day tours will visit a lot more places, but it is possible to just create your itinerary during your stay on the island. This option is especially helpful if you’ve spent a lot of time on boats already. Also, the full-day tours offer swimming and snorkelling which isn’t the warmest in December! I was interested to visit a fishing village but I was quoted 400.000 Dong for 1 hour and decided not to.
From Cát Bà, I wanted to travel to Ninh Bình. So this time I took a different ferry and this one departed from the Bến tàu Cao tốc Pier. The high-speed ferry will bring you across in a few minutes where the busses will pick you up to continue your travels. I paid 245.000 Dong for my ticket to Ninh Bình which included the bus to the pier the ferry ticket and the bus to Ninh Bình.
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