Halong Bay is the quintessential destination in Vietnam. Yes, there is a lot to do in the Vietnamese country, such as getting lost in the urban chaos of Hanoi, soak in its culture and walk around the beautiful hiking trails in Sa Pa, or learn the history of the country in Saigon; however, the unique landscape in Halong Bay is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about taking a trip around Vietnam.
Halong Bay is featured in all Vietnamese tours, but what we bring you today in Travel and Exchange is an exclusive look into what no one has told you about Halong Bay and Cat Ba: how to get there on your own. If you are feeling like a true adventurer and you want to step outside the norm, here we give you some recommendations on how to visit the bay of the two thousand limestone karts, resorting to travel agencies as little as possible, and live an unforgettable experience in Halong Bay, Lan Ha and Cat Ba island.
Halong Bay features over 2,000 karst islets, which were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, dotted around its 120-km coastline. Our goal is to arrive at Cat Ba island, opposite Hai Phong and the city of Halong, in the middle of Halong Bay, in the gulf of Tonkin. But don’t get lost, have a look at this map from Google Maps.
Tours around Halong Bay usually take a couple of days and they are usually hired with travel agencies in Hanoi. However, to meet our goal of reaching Cat Ba island, we can just hire the first day of the tour at a very reasonable price. Like that, on our way to the island, we will experience the beauty of the landscape in Halong Bay, cruising between islets that appear to be floating over completely calm waters. A day-tour like this includes food, entry to the Park, a visit to a cave, such as Thien Cung cave, and a fish farm, and 30 minutes of kayaking. It is important being precautious when participating in these activities since thefts are quite frequent if luggage is left in the boat unattended.
The bus to Halong city leaves Hanoi in the morning. From there, the boat casts off to Halong Bay. The day ends with the arrival to Cat Ba island and the bus journey to Cat Ba city.
Even though you can hire just the transport with Hanoi agencies, without the activities, it is worth going on this one-day tour. Another two options to arrive to Cat Ba are hiring the combination bus+ferry, or speedboat+bus, at Hai Phong port, but you’ll miss the tour around Halong Bay.
Once we arrive in Cat Ba, there are plenty of activities you can participate in:
- Kayaking around Lan Ha Bay.
- Cat Ba beaches.
- Cat Ba viewpoint.
- Sunset the port of Cat Ba.
Kayaking around Lan Ha Bay
You can contact with an agency in Cat Ba and hire a cruise around the island that will take you to some areas incredibly good for kayaking and snorkelling, or you can arrange it on your own. If you do not want agencies to intervene, then walk for twenty minutes to Ben Beo port, and rent a kayak with any of the companies devoted to that.
It’s interesting to kayak across Ben Beo port, which is packed with traditional boats and fishermen houseboats only to arrive, about forty five minutes later, to the impressive Lan Ha Bay, rowing between kart mountains that stand above the water, in an environment that is very similar to Halong Bay, but with much cleaner waters. You are free to row to any tiny beach you like, rest there, swim in its crystal-clear waters and lie down to gather your energy. Then, you can always keep going until the next beach, or go back to Ben Beo.
You must be very careful though, because despite the waters in Halong and La Han Bay being usually very calm, there have been times when caves have swallowed entire kayaks due to tide changes; so you better not get too close.
Cat Ba beaches
Cat Ba beaches are excellent for resting after a day of kayaking, especially if it is low season, when they are usually empty. There are three: Cat Co 1, 2 and 3. The best one is Cat Co 2, where you’ll find a resort of stone-and-thatch bungalows. These beaches are 15 minutes away from Cat Ba city.
So that you can appreciate even more the place you are stepping on, we recommend that you drop by another two spots. On the one hand, there is the viewpoint in mountain Cao Von, the highest point in the island. An on the other, the beautiful sunset from the port of Cat Ba, where you’ll be able to see witness how the last rays of sun disappear behind the fishermen boats.
The main avenue in Cat Ba, the promenade, is filled with tons of restaurants serving delicious fish dishes at very affordable prices. Regarding accommodation, because many hotels book their rooms with the amount of tourists arriving on package tours, you will have to find other options with more availability and negotiate a good price.
Last but not least, remember that the legal tender in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, and that you can exchange it with Global Exchange.
Where can I change money for my trip?
Global Exchange is one of the three leading companies worldwide in the foreign exchange industry. We are at the main international airports of 21 countries.
And remember that regardless of the destination you choose, you’ll need a currency different to yours. Exchange it with Global Exchange before starting your adventure.