No trip to Vietnam is complete without a trip to the iconic Ha Long Bay, the descending dragon. But the more we researched boat trips the more it became clear to us that as a destination it can be very hit and miss. Depending on the cruise you end up on, your tour, and even your safety, can be compromised. And for a premium price, particularly in South East Asia, it is not something we wanted to gamble on. Throw in the fact that Ha Long City has become one of the most crowded tourist spots in the country, we decided to look into alternatives.
Successs! When we went there was not a single other boat in sight
Luckily having made friends along the way with this trip, and knowing people who have travelled Vietnam before, we knew the best alternative. Cat Ba Island. By far the largest island in the Lan Ha and Ha Long Bay area, it also gives the option of day cruises in both bays, minus the thousands of tourists and dodgy tour boats. And instead you get plenty of chilled bars, beaches, and seafood restaurants to spend your time between excursions. Since we wanted to spend the rest of our time chilling out before our trip to Hanoi, this turned out to be perfect!
The view from our hotel balcony was beautiful too!
We picked Green Trail Tours for our day trip; spending a little more than the cheapest on offer in Cat Ba. But the extra cost ensured we were with the most reputable company in the area with the best reviews. Plus we were still saving massively compared to a cruise through the bay. An added bonus was that we had an earlier start than any other group. While this sucked when our alarms went off, when we sailed through our first stop, a floating fishing farm and village, we had the place to ourselves. We actually spent the whole day ahead of the bulk of the tours and for us this was well worth a few yawns.
Fish farm and floating fishing village
Sailing through the towering limestone karsts of Lan Ha Bay was just as impressive as I thought it would be. We were armed with cold beers as we soaked in the views. We were doing it. Ticking off that bucket list item for the pair of us and exploring some of the most beautiful landscapes the planet has to offer. Fully worth its UNESCO World Heritage status! As we were sailing to Ha Long from the south, rather than the north like the cruises, it was quiet enough for us to spend an hour and a half kayaking through the tranquil green waters. Traversing ancient caves in the karsts by kayak was just another thing that a 2 night cruise wouldn’t have given us!
We love the freedom of kayaking!
Leaving Lan Ha Bay we reached Ha Long Bay and it was one of those moments where the difference is so little it is hard to say what the change was. We could see out to Ha Long City and we could the hoards of cruise ships not too far from where we were. It was at that moment, when we were able to swim in a quiet spot in the bay but still observe how packed it was not too far from us, that I was happiest with our decision. After swimming, we had a beautiful seafood buffet back on the boat and sailed around the bay soaking in the karsts with more cold beer, before starting the journey back to Cat Ba Island.
Ha Long Bay and it’s famous limestone karsts
In our experience of Asia so far it seems you are never going to go on a boat trip and not visit a monkey beach or monkey island somewhere along the way. So it was on this voyage as well. Our last stop, and really the last bit of sightseeing we did on our stay, was to Monkey Island. Beach, check. Overpriced bar / restaurant, check. Monkeys roaming around trying to nick things from naïve tourists, check.
Avoiding all of this, we followed our guide through a scramble and then rock climb up the islands limestone crags to get a stunning view over the two bays. Seeing Ha Long Bay is something I have wanted to do for a long, long time. This view was the pick of the bunch. A few scrapes and splinters along the way and we were back down, ready to head back to Cat Ba Island and begin the next leg of our adventure: Hanoi.
Check out Emily on Instagram
Climb for that viewpoint instead!