The trip to Cat Ba was pretty simple since it had hotel-to-hotel pick up and drop off. I booked my ticket through Bookaway for $12USD ($16.90AUD) and I was supposed to be ready by 9:45 in order to leave by 10:30am. However, it was kind of pointless being there 45 minutes early because the bus didn’t show up until just after 10:30am. We spent the next hour driving around Hanoi to pick up the rest of the people until the bus was nearly full. At about 1pm, we arrived at the ferry terminal and had to wait for the ferry to arrive. We had to take all of our stuff off of the bus, sit for about 5-10 minutes, and were given tickets to get on the ferry. The ferry ride only took ten minutes, and went from the outskirts of Haiphong to the northern part of Cat Ba Island. Then we had to grab our stuff again, get on ANOTHER bus, and drive to Cat Ba Town, which took about 20 minutes. It was raining by the time we arrived and it continued to rain for the majority of my time in Cat Ba.
The great part about Cat Ba was that the private rooms cost just as much as a dorm, so basically everyone I met there had their own room.
I decided to stay at a place called Thanh Luan 2 hotel for 150000 dong per night ($9.06) so when I arrived, I put all of my stuff in my room and asked where I could go for lunch since it was already around 3pm. I went to a place called Yummy and ordered a Tom Yum soup and a coffee for 50000 dong/$2.95 (the restaurant had so many Thai dishes and they were WAY cheaper than any of the dishes that you’d actually get in Thailand). I then decided to do some walking around (even though it was raining and foggy) for the last two hours of daylight.
I walked to one of the public beaches and along the coast to one of the other beaches, but the beaches were both construction zones, as there were huge resorts being built right on the beach (actually, most of Cat Ba Town was a construction zone). When it started getting dark, I headed back to my hotel to dry off before meeting up with Mathijs (the Dutch guy who came with me from Hanoi) for dinner at a place called Quan Cat Ba. Cat Ba is supposed to have really good seafood so we each got prawns and squid with lemon dishes for 135000 dong ($7.97) – it was just alright, I think it was a tad over-cooked, but I’m very picky about my seafood!
After dinner, we walked around for a bit and then called it an early night because we were taking a tour the next morning.
On Monday morning, I got up and had an extremely quick breakfast at the hotel (which was just a baguette with a banana) and then had to be at Green Trail Travel by 7:25am for my one-day boat tour through Lan Ha Bay, Ha Long Bay, and Monkey Island. The tour cost $26.40USD ($37.18AUD), went from 7:30 until about 4pm, and it was completely worth it, despite some of the bad weather. There were 25 people in our group and our tour guide was called Thang, and he was absolutely great! We all had to get on a bus to get to the boat terminal and then we all loaded up on the boat. Mathijs and I sat at a table with two other girls: Julia from Brazil and Dana from Romania. We were explained a few houserules and then were allowed to go up to the top of the boat for basically the only hour of “clear” weather that we had.
There was a bit of fog, but it added a kind of mysticism to the surroundings so it looked really cool. We had an hour to take pictures and get used to being on the boat, and then Thang shared some stories about the fisherman villages that we were passing. These people spend their whole lives on the water, from birth until death, and they have their own fish farms to sustain themselves. Most houses also have dogs that live with them in order to scare off all of the hawks that try to take the fish. The parents boat their kids to the mainland each morning to go to school, and then pick them up at the end of the day.
After Thang finished all of his stories, it started misting down (and continued for the rest of the day) and then we arrived to a certain area of Lan Ha Bay. We all got off of the boat and were given an hour and a half to kayak around the bay and go through caves. It was absolutely beautiful! The only problem was that I just wanted to go slow and enjoy my surroundings, but Mathijs (and some of the other guys) kept wanting to race, so we kept speeding through everything.
After kayaking, we were soaking wet and had the option of changing into normal clothes or eating lunch in our swimsuits and going swimming after. I decided to switch into normal clothes before lunch, and the lunch was the best one I’ve ever had on a tour!
They literally had every type of food imaginable, and it was all delicious! It gave us a lot of time to get to know every person at the table, and I found out that I’d be going in the same direction as Julia and Dana to Ninh Binh, so we made plans to meet up while there. After lunch, Thang came in and told us that the driver couldn’t go through Ha Long Bay because it was completely white outside so it would be too dangerous to try to go through.
We had about an hour and a half of free time so the four of us played cards until we arrived at Monkey Island. The monkeys there weren’t as aggressive as the ones that I had seen in Thailand, but there were a few (stupid) people who kept trying to feed the monkeys and obviously continued getting attacked. The walk up to the viewpoint wasn’t the most enjoyable walk – let’s just say that I thought I was going to die at any moment. Especially in the rain, the smooth rocks were so slippery, and if you took a wrong step, you could fall onto the razor-sharp rocks below.
I think we were only doing the hike because we didn’t do Ha Long Bay and the company didn’t want to get bad reviews. I didn’t go up to the top viewpoint, only the second one, and then I made my way back down because I wanted to go slow and steady. I got back to the beach where I got to watch some of the monkeys play, and then we went back on the boat to head back to Cat Ba Town. We arrived back at around 4:30 and Mathijs, Julia, and I made plans to meet up again at 7pm for dinner. However, I was still cold even after showering and once I lied on my bed, I didn’t want to get back out, so we all decided to just stay in our rooms and relax. I knew I needed to eat at some point so I walked to Yummy and sat down to have dinner. Right after I ordered, two Dutch girls asked if I wanted to join them so I said yes. They were really nice and had come from the south of Vietnam (so were travelling in the opposite direction) so they gave me some tips about my next destination. I was originally planning to stay in Cat Ba for three nights, but after looking at the weather and realising it would be cold and rainy the next day as well, I decided to start heading further south in order to get to some warmer weather. I headed back to the hotel to hang up all of my damp clothing (which never dried) and called it an early night. Love always