Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994, is famous for its natural beauty. We chose to travel to a small island, Cat Ba, and use this as our base for exploring and seeing the hundreds of limestone islands that make the bay famous.
After our pretty basic homestay in Phong Nha over the previous days and a dreadful sleeper bus journey we were pretty pleased to find a nice looking hostel in Cat Ba that had only just opened and had a pool with an inflatable unicorn – perfect.
Our first task in Cat Ba was to arrange a boat cruise for the following day to see Ha Long Bay up close. We were recommended an overnight trip by some people we met in the hostel so opted for a 1 day, 1 night trip as we were excited about the prospect of night kayaking and staying on a luxury yacht. Once booked the rest of the day we were free to chill out at one of Cat Ba’s beaches which had inviting waters and opportunistic Vietnamese kids who stole our water whilst we were swimming (we asked their mum about this but she acted like she couldn’t speak English and pointed us in the direction of the shop).
The following day we were up early for our overnight boat trip. However, when we arrived at the pick up point our agent was a little flustered. He explained that a Typhoon was on its way and he advised us not to stay overnight as he wasn’t sure how the boat would hold up, but the choice was ours. Hmmmm. Think we will cancel the overnight stay then.
The day on the boat was excellent despite the incoming typhoon. Swimming, island spotting and kayaking though and under caves was brilliant! Ha Long Bay is beautiful so the weather couldn’t spoil it for us.
When we returned to Cat Ba we had to find another place to stay as our original hostel was fully booked that night. This led us to stay in a hostel in the centre of town which picks up our award for Worst Hostel Ever! The room was mouldy and soaking wet. Waking up in the night with a drenched neck and back from the mattress mildew isn’t pleasant.
Thankfully the next day we returned to our original hostel and the Typhoon had changed course so we extended our stay in Cat Ba to enjoy a day lying on the beach and mastering unicorn riding in the pool whilst in glorious sunshine. Just what we needed to dry out from our night in the wet hell hotel.
Sleep: We mainly stayed at Central Backpackers Cat Ba. This is part of the Central Backpackers chain and is an excellent hostel. It is a little far out from town (30 minute walk) but it’s worth it as all the hostels in town get bad reviews. Be careful when booking as a lot of the hostels in town have a similar name, this is the one with the shark logo. You will get to the island by boat and then a bus will take you to the main town – the bus goes right past this hostel so ask the driver if you can be dropped off as it will save you a taxi fare.
Eat: There are two Yummy restaurants (1 & 2) which offer cheap and good local food. We also loved Le Pont Club as it had great food at decent prices, an awesome view and cheapish drinks especially during happy hour.
- Boat Trip: We booked our trip with Vision Cat Ba and would definitely recommend them – we aren’t the only ones as we heard other people holding them in high regard too. One of our highlights of this tour was that we got to kayak to secret lagoons through tight caves which other companies don’t go to. We are glad we ended up only doing the day trip – staying the night is a lot more expensive and the luxury boat you sleep on didn’t look that much fun. For the day we paid $20/£15 each which included snorkeling, kayaking, lunch, tour of Ha Long Bay and floating village tour.
- Beaches: The beaches at Cat Ba are small but nice. Beaches 3 and 2 are quiet whilst 1 is busy and lively.