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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Vietnam | Cat Ba Island

Train & Bus Journey

We departed Hanoi early in the morning; having to get up at 4:30 in order to catch the 6:05 a.m. train. We walked to the train station and stopped for some noodles with chicken from one of the street vendors before we boarded the train.

The train ride was a couple of hours to Haiphong and there was some nice scenery; unfortunately, there were bars at the bottom of the window so sometimes it was difficult to see out the window. But we were glad when we arrived because the seats we had gotten had been the Hard Seat tickets and they were literally "hard seats" of wooden benches.

Our plan when we got to Haiphong was to take a hydrofoil across to Cat Ba island, but when we got to the dock the morning ferry was full and the only other option for the rest of the day was to take a 250,000 VD per person ferry. This was about four times more expensive than the normal ferry so we opted not to take it and would instead take a bus to Halong City where we knew there were quite a few transportation options from there.

Like all bus rides in Vietnam it was entertaining. First, I almost got left at the bus station because I had left the bus briefly to go to the bathroom. However, when I came back out and climbed onto the bus I saw Alex wasn't on board and realized it wasn't the same bus. I climbed off the bus and saw Alex waving in the back of the bus window as it was turning to depart from the bus station. Luckily, the bus went at a snail's pace for about the first 30 minutes of the bus ride so I probably could have caught up with the bus if it indeed did leave without me.

Bus Stops for Beer

As we crept along the bus tried to pick up more passengers; in order to justify the bus ride it seemed. Then about 15 minutes after we stopped looking for additional passengers and started to speed up, the bus pulled over and the bus assistant and some passengers got off the bus for a smoke break and the roadside stand poured them some draught beers for them to enjoy.

Then we pulled over again about an hour after that for one of the men to take a "roadside" bathroom break. When we finally reached Halong City we were at full capacity on the bus. They dropped us off on this highway and Alex thought we might be able to walk to the bay area. However, we were able to bargain with one of the motorbike taxi drivers for a reasonable price -- otherwise, it would have been a LONG walk.

Tide Too Low for Ferry to Cat Ba

After lunch we looked for various ferries to go to Cat Ba but found out the only one was from Tuan Chau Island on the other side of the city. We took a taxi to the ferry dock and found out the tide was too low that afternoon so the next ferry wouldn't depart until the next morning; so we were stuck on the island. Luckily there was a hotel nearby and they did have rooms available. Although it wasn't in our plans, our stay at Tuan Chau was nice and relaxing.

Exploring Tuan Chau

We went for a walk around the island in the afternoon and through the small village. This was definitely not a place many foreigners come, as there was not much on the island to accommodate or serve them. As we walked around we stopped for some drinks at a little sidewalk stop and watched these Vietnamese guys use this hookah-like pipe for smoking. They asked Alex to try, but he declined as it appeared it was the same pipe that the entire village used.

There was a lot of farming going on in the area so we saw hogs and oxen being lead on the village streets as well. For dinner, we had no choice but to eat at a little family-ran sidewalk stand in the middle of the village, but the food was still fantastic.

Ferry Ride to Cat Ba Island

At 8 a.m. we caught the local ferry to Cat Ba Island. It was a car ferry, but only transferred one taxi (which the drivers tried to get us to use their services as soon as we walked on the boat), a few motorbikes and mostly pedestrians. We were the only ones who weren't from the local area. However, the ferry ride was nice and gave us a good idea of what Halong Bay would behold for us the next couple of days. The limestone peaks, covered in green, just popped out of the water sporadically and there was a calm essence in the air.

When we arrived we thought we'd be close enough to Cat Ba Town to walk, but then realized shortly later we were actually on the other side of the island and would have to take the bus. However, the bus ride was super scenic and it inspired us to rent a motorbike and ride around the island for the rest of the afternoon. We found a hostel right on the waterfront of the bay in Cat Ba Town for only $6 per night and then rented a motorbike to head out for the afternoon.

Cat Ba National Park

We first looked for a place to eat and we thought we had found one, but when I got off the motorbike to ask, a man standing nearby quickly ushered us away - so it must have been a private party. Oops! So we turned around and found another place instead. After lunch we rode out to Cat Ba National Park and went on a hike up to the top of the small mountain. Towards the end of the hike there were a lot of rocks we had to climb and it was steep in places, but getting to the top was worth it. At the top they had a tower that you could climb for an overall view of the area. We climbed up and the view at the top was just breath-taking, we honestly felt like we were on top of the world. We got back to the bottom without breaking anything and then continued with some additional motorbiking.

We zoomed all over the island and with the cooler temperatures and the wind, it got a little chilly; especially for Alex since he had ignored my suggestion that he change into pants instead of shorts back at the hotel. ;-)

So after a while we had to stop for some coffee at a roadside café to warm up. The café was pretty awesome and the eating area was suspended on stilts over a little canal with the beautiful scenery in the background.

Then we headed back to our hostel for the evening. Cat Ba was really nice, serene and quaint -- definitely a nice escape from the city of Hanoi.

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