After a speedy two days in Hanoi we set off towards Cat Ba Island for a day around Ha Long Bay.
Vietnam First Impressions
As soon as we arrived in Hanoi it was crazy. Horns tooting, roads manic, people shouting and taxi men trying to collar us for an overpriced ride to our guesthouse. Luckily we met a Vietnamese girl in the airport who has been living in New Zealand for 8 years; she helped us get to where we needed to be without being ripped off. We quite liked Hanoi as first, the centre was fairly clean and the locals were friendly.
Hanoi city itself, from our experience, was just a place to stop off before moving on to somewhere we really wanted to be. We stayed two nights in a guesthouse called ‘North No.2’, it was down a dark alley way and was pretty decent inside and the staff were super helpful. We wanted to leave for Cat Ba the following day and decided to organise our own way to Ha Long Bay and do it as the locals would, and we also didn’t want to spend more and go through a tourist hub.
Up early after our two night stay in Hanoi, we made our way to the bus station – not sure it was the one we asked the taxi driver for but we made it non-the-less, costing 200,000 dong, way too much for the distance, but its so difficult to reason with them and barter to a reasonable price. At the station the ticket office refused to give us tickets to Cat Ba, but gladly gave out tickets to the locals. We sat there so frustrated and worried that we were going to miss the 07:20am bus. FINALLY we were pointed towards a bus, after numerous attempts to get a ticket, and were told to pay on there, so we did, after some distrust.
We have found it so hard with the language barrier since then, and feel as though the locals are constantly trying to rip us off. We soon started to think that maybe booking through a tour company or pre-booking our tickets online was maybe the better option. But, hey, you live and learn ALOT when travelling.
It cost us 200,000dong to get a bus, then fast boat, then second bus to Cat Ba Island centre. The drive was also crazy, with bikes, buses and cars all swerving in and out of each others way; gripping onto Danny the whole way, we finally made it to Cat Ba after about 4 hours.
Cat Ba was beautiful.
The largest island on Ha Long Bay, it prides itself in its sensational views and national park. We definitely could have stayed a day or two longer to really venture out around the island.
We decided to go to Cat Ba rather than Halong City because we wanted to 1) see the island, and 2) we wanted to get a nice quiet boat to see Halong Bay, rather than a party boat. It really just depends on what you want out of your day.
We booked our boat tour through our guesthouse for 350, 000 dong per person. This included our pick up from the hotel, visiting the monkey island, kayaking in and around the caves of Ha Long Bay, Vietnamese lunch, an afternoon swim and a visit to the old fishing villages. It was honestly such an awesome day, we loved every second of it and we met some lovely people on the boat. The sun turned out nice for us too, so it was perfect.
Money Island was really beautiful, we had an hour here and the monkeys were not shy! They came out from the trees straight away to snoop around our bags *keep everything away! They took my sock!* haha. Also don’t get too close to them because they can get vicious if they think you are going to take something from them or they don’t get what they want. They were amazing to watch though, and there was a small climb up the hill to see an outstanding view of the surrounding islands.
Ha Long Bay
People tell me that Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit – and they are not wrong! I haven’t been everywhere, but it is definitely one of the most sensational things I have ever seen.
I didn’t even realise it was Ha Long Bay at first, until later when I asked, ‘when are we seeing Halong Bay’. But we stopped off there for an hour or so and jumped into a kayak to explore the stunning caves. We loved every second of this, the water is so still and at times, when no one else was around, we felt as though we were the only two people in the water; it was so peaceful and pretty. There are so many caves to explore but we went through two small caves, which led us to a gorgeous rock cove. We sat there in awe for about ten minutes just looking around us; we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to see and experience this natural beauty. An hour flew by and I know we could have stayed for so much longer but it was getting busier with more crowds of people, so we had lunch on the boat and sped off to another bay where you could jump off the boat and go for a swim to one of the small beachy islands.
We stayed on the boat for the rest of the afternoon, cruising around and admiring our surroundings. We were then taken to the fishing villages before being dropped back off at the port, which we nice to see, there were so many of them, like a tiny little community of fishermen and their dogs out for the day to catch dinner for everyone else.
It was such a lovely day and worth every penny! You can pay for so many different tours, such as an overnight stay on a boat and two day tour, or stay in one of the island beach huts, which looked incredible! It is so easy to book through your hostel or hotel or even a tourist information shop. Tick it off your bucket list 🙂
Next stop.. Ninh Binh.
Love Sarah xxxx