After hearing rumours of overcrowding, overcharging and being treated like cattle, we decided against one of the Ha Long Bay cruises on our trip to Vietnam and instead booked a three-night stay on Cat Ba Island. Located on the south-eastern edge of Ha Long Bay, the island is the perfect spot to stay in order to experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site at a different pace and price point. We booked the Ha Long Bay one-day tour with Cat Ba Ventures when we arrived on the island. Having already experienced their services with a half-day hiking tour, we were happy that they were a quality, reputable company to book the tour with, and we were not disappointed.
Things started well with a relaxing boat trip through La Han Bay – the quieter sister of Ha Long Bay – and we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of other boats in the area. While passing through floating fishing villages and hundreds of breathtaking limestone islands jutting out of the sea, our guide had plenty of stories and jokes to inform and entertain along the way.
After a short cruise, we stopped for what would turn out to be the highlight of the entire tour. Anchoring in a spot where no other boats were to be seen, we all climbed into kayaks and set off on a journey through deserted caves and coves that were reminiscent of a scene from Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Unfortunately, however, Leonardo DiCaprio was nowhere to be seen. We kayaked for around an hour and a half, constantly in awe of La Han’s beauty and amazed that no one else seemed to have had the idea to also visit the area in this manner. That was until our return journey to the boat, when multiple other kayakers appeared and we noticed five other boats had also anchored in the area. It’s a good job Cat Ba Ventures got us there first! This also demonstrates the necessity of booking an early morning tour.
Next up was another cruise towards Ha Long Bay before stopping for lunch and swimming, for those who were willing to brave the cold that is. Lunch consisted of numerous meat, vegetarian and fish dishes, and there was more than enough to go around. Beers were also available to buy and were only 25,000 Dong for a can, which came as a surprise as they were 20,000 in Cat Ba Town and we expected prices to be further hiked up on such a tour. We then set off to a beautiful private beach (pictured above) where we could swim and explore some more before a quick trip to a floating fish farm and cruising home.
Ha Long Bay tour price:
The tour cost 26USD per person and ran from 8am to 5pm, with around 30 people on board. When combining the cost of this with the price of our accommodation on Cat Ba Island, it is a far cry from the £200-£280 the two-night cruises charge, and we believe we got a far better, less crowded experience.
Cat Ba Ventures Address:
223, 1- 4 Street, Cat Ba Island – opposite Cat Ba Town’s ferry port.