There are times when a whole experience can be expressed in just one word, a sudden trip to Cat Ba Island- the largest Island in Ha long bay. Cat Ba is one of the major weekend getaway for the locals and is often overlooked by the tourists who plan to go on a day trip to Ha long Bay. Another reason could be the exuberant high rates of the tour operators which range anywhere from $200-$400, believe me you can do a 2 night 3 day trip to this beautiful island in under $60.
The day I arrived at Hanoi I had 7 days to go with absolutely no plan, a number of backpackers (going from north to south) suggested going to Sapa and Ha long bay one can easily spend 2 nights at both these places. After 2 days of exploring the city me and two other backpackers (who I had met in Phong Nha) decided to go to Cat Ba Island by ourselves.
Reaching the Island:
Reaching Cat Ba requires changing modes of transport a couple of times and there are 2 major routes by which one can reach Cat Ba from Hanoi- via Ha long city, via Haiphong city – but you have to be very sure of the timings of all the modes of transport that you would require because the last thing you want to do on a vacation is wait until the next day to get on the connecting transport. Hence, the easiest and the most convenient way is to simply purchase a ticket (220000 VND) from Luong Yen bus station (Hanoi) this include a bus ride till Haiphong city (approx. 3 hours) another transfer till the port (approx. 1 hour) ferry till the island (45 minutes) and the final bus till the harbor (45 minutes)
Where to stay:
The largely untouched scenery of the island was swarmed by a number hotels in the recent past, leaving you with lots of options to choose from. After arriving at the harbor we sat down at a café (with WiFi) to look for a place to stay, the whole stretch of the harbor is dotted with hotels apart from the many hotels on the island otherwise. They are easy to locate on any of the booking platforms else just walk-in and book.
A budget room for a night on double occupancy can cost you anywhere between $6 to $10, we stayed at the Cat Ba Backpackers Hostel – 3 people in a room for $3/person. For a mid-ranged stay you can find options between $15 to$40, if there are no budget constraints then you can choose from a beach resort in $50 to a private junk in about $400. Less expensive junks are available, but be ready to have some unwanted guests (read rodents and bugs) along with you and bad services.
What to do:
- Go hiking in the National Park and spot the critically endangered golden headed langoor, with just about 60 left they may be hard to find. Entrance fee to the park is 15000 VND, you can explore the park on your own or take one of the guided tours.
- Take a cruise through Ha long bay– UNESCO world heritage site- you should not miss it.
- Be awed by the Hospital cave, as the name suggests the cave served as an underground hospital during the war. Even if you have had too much of caves while in Vietnam, you must visit this because of the historical importance it holds. Ticket price is 15000 VND.
- Kayak your way through the floating village, rest at one of the tiny islands in the middle of nowhere, reach the Lan Ha Bay and click loads of pictures! We rented a kayak on our own as that gives one much more freedom to explore (and adds a pinch of adventure). Renting a 2 person kayak for the whole day would cost you $6 and for half a day would cost you $5.
- Watching the numerous limestone karsts around there would come a point when your ingtrepid heart would be tempted to climb one! Rock climbing can be done through any of the operators around the area.
- An island life is incomplete without its beaches and after all the tiring activities nothing beats a quick dip in the ocean or the endless stare at the horizon. Beaches are accessible by a motorbike.
- Indulge in some seafood and tiger beer at one of the many restaurants at the harbor, the food is fairly priced with every other restaurant running discounts (and happy hours) post 5:00 pm.
There is so much more that can be done at the Cat Ba Island and one can easily spend 2 nights and 3 days here, if you are planning to visit the place for just 1 night I would suggest you to rethink as that would result in missing out on a number of things in the mad rush.
The one word that can describe my experience here is- trouvaille (a lucky find) it is not really an extra ordinary island and Vietnam sure has places equally breath-taking, but there was something about the experience; may be the impromptu plan with two travelers I had just met a day earlier taught me to trust well or the fact that I learned something new (Kayaking) or it could be the moment when I thought the kayak will crash into one of the karst but I managed my way out or yet it may be that flash at the bay when realization struck that I was actually at a place which I had only seen in movies and magazines. Whatever it may be, the island was a lucky find- one of many.