Kayaking Cát Bà
Weekend Guide to Cat Ba
Dates Visited: March 2019
If you're looking for a cheaper and less crowded alternative to Halong Bay, then we would recommend checking out Cat Ba island. This island straddles both Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay featuring limestone mountains that seem to burst out of the water. Cat Ba is certainly less developed than Halong, however there was tons construction going on during our visit so it might not stay this way for long.
Taking a day trip to Cat Ba from Hanoi is do-able, however, it will take roughly 4.5-5 hours to reach. To make it worth your while we would recommend 2 nights, which is why we made a weekend guide to Cat Ba.
There are plenty of budget friendly things to do on Cat Ba since it's a cheaper alternative to the insta-famous Halong. However, Halong Bay is still easy and inexpensive to reach from here. Read more below about some great budget friendly things to do on Cat Ba, how to get there, and where to stay.
How to get to Cat Ba
Like we mentioned, Cat Ba takes a bit of traveling to get to, so we would recommend staying longer than one day. From Hanoi it's a 3 hour bus ride to Hai Phong. From there the ferry takes roughly 45 minutes to reach Cat Ba island, then it's another 45 minutes by bus to the main waterfront around where most hostels/hotels are located.
After buying our tickets from Hanoi to Cat Ba we found out that we overpaid (again). However, it was partially our fault because we didn't shop around and booked them last minute. When we bought tickets to Ninh Binh on Cat Ba, (which is the same trip length) we paid 70,000 VND ($2.75 USD) less. Even though we doubt transportation from Hanoi costs more, that's just the way of the road sometimes.
- Cost (One Way): 320,000 VND/person ($13.75 USD)
- Trip Includes:
- 3 hour bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong
- 45 minute ferry to Cat Ba
- 45 minute bus ride to Lan Ha Bay
From Ninh Binh
- Cost (One Way): 250,000 VND/person ($11 USD)
- Trip Includes:
- 3 hour bus from Ninh Binh to Hai Phong
- 45 minute ferry to Cat Ba
- 45 minute bus ride to Lan Ha Bay
Budget Friendly things to do on Cat Ba
There are plenty of great budget friendly things on Cat Ba that cost little to no money. However, to be completely honest it wasn't our favorite place in Vietnam. We are glad we went, but wouldn't recommend more than 2 nights. With that being said, we are definitely glad we came here instead of going to Halong, which is essentially the same thing but pricier and packed with tourists.
1. Go Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay
Want to go kayaking around Cat Ba? Check out Lan Ha Bay! Half day tours can be found from almost any tour operator on the island. We did one from 12:00PM-4:00PM for $15 USD/person through the tour operator, Catbaview. Coincidently the tour operator is right next door to our favorite place to eat on Cat Ba, Oasis Bar & Restaurant.
The trip started by getting on a small boat to a floating dock in the middle of Lan Ha Bay where we boarded on our kayaks. We then had 2 hours to ourselves to go kayaking around Cat Ba and the surrounding islands. We ended up spending some time hanging out on the beach of Van Boi, a tiny island in the bay.
When we returned to the dock, Molly fell through one of the boards! Luckily a nice Vietnamese woman who worked there had some antiseptic to put on the wound so it didn't get infected.
Afterwards we got on the boat and headed to Monkey Island for about half an hour before returning back to the main dock. As it turns out, Monkey Island isn't as cool as it sounds. It's basically just an island where people have dumped a handful of monkeys. Then tour operators bring tourists there to buy over priced food and drink. If your kayaking tour includes this placas a stop we suggest just passing on by it, there's really nothing worth seeing there.
2. Walk around the Waterfront
The horizon Lan Ha Bay is gorgeous around sunset, so walking by the waterfront another one of the great budget friendly things to do on Cat Ba. At night all the floating restaurants light up and look pretty cool, however we would advise against going to these places for a meal. We heard (and read google reviews) that they charge insanely high prices for meals and essentially hold you hostage until you pay.
3. Ride to Cannon Fort
Going to Cannon Fort is one of the better budget friendly things to do on Cat Ba; from there you can get a good view overlooking Han La Bay. In order to get you can either or walk or rent a scooter, which can be done for 60,000 VND/day ($2.50 USD). Unfortunately the air quality in Vietnam isn't very great, which also includes the islands. The view from the top of Cannon fort makes that quite apparent.
4. Visit Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park makes up a significant portion of the island. The park is made up of lush, forested limestone mountains, as well as part of Halong Bay. It's also home to the world's most endangered primate, the golden-headed langur.
To get to the National Park you can rent a scooter for about $2 USD in town or take a shuttle which is roughly 25,000 VND/person ($1.10 USD). The entrance fee to the park is only 40,000 VND/person ($1.75 USD) which makes it a great budget friendly thing to do on Cat Ba.
5. Watch the Sunset from Top Coffee
After walking along the waterfront we came across Top Coffee, a café on the top floor of the Lang Chai Hotel. Though it's most certainly not the best place to eat on Cat Ba, the views are pretty remarkable. The service is okay, but don't expect a coffee shop attendant to be there most of the time.
The one time a worker came up we ordered a couple coffees, then worked on our laptops and enjoyed the sunset. We were the only ones up there which was nice and peaceful, until it became pitch black since the staff didn't leave any lights on. You might want to bring a flashlight if you decide to stay after sunset 😉
6. Take a trip to Halong Bay
Cat Ba island lies in between both Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay. Like we mentioned, coming to this place definitely makes it cheaper to see Halong Bay if your heart really desires. Plenty of tour operators offer full day trips to Halong and Lan Ha Bay. We were quoted $26 USD/person to do a full day (8:00AM-5:00PM) trip to both bays. The full day trip includes kayaking in Halong for an hour and taking a boat tour through Lan Ha bay. However, we decided against it because the cheaper tour gave 2 hours for kayaking in Lan Ha Bay.
Best Place to eat on Cat Ba
After eating rice and noodles for the past several weeks we were really craving some western food. We happened to walk by this place, noticed their great happy hour deals and couldn't resist - 10,000 VND ($0.40 USD) draft beers!
The food was also delicious and pretty cheap too so we ended up coming back here almost every day. Thus we dubbed Oasis Bar & Restaurant the best place to eat on Cat Ba. Okay, we know it's pretty subjective since we didn't give many other places a try, but their happy hour is too good to turn down.
Where to Stay
From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.
Dorms: $3.00+ USD
Private Rooms: $6.00+ USD
Amenities: Free Breakfast, Air Conditioning, Wifi, Luggage Storage, Tour Desk/Booking, 24/7 Security/Reception, Restaurant
Dorms: $4.96+ USD
Private Rooms: $4.96+ USD
Amenities: Bar, Wifi, Luggage Storage, Tour Desk/Booking, Free Coffee/Tea
Private Rooms: $12+ USD
Amenities: Cafe/Restaurant, Wifi, Luggage Storage, Tour Desk/Booking, Wake up calls, 24hr Security, Fridge/Freezer