How to do Ha Long Bay without a tour

Hanoi is full of tour companies trying to get you out to Ha Long bay on a one or two night trip, booze cruise or otherwise. These are all pretty pricy, especially some of the booze cruises, eg Castaway which will come in at over $200. The cheaper options may be half that price, but with hundreds of reports of dodgy food, rickety boats and unhelpful guides, it is a minefield. So, when we went, we just went straight to Cat Ba town, on Cat Ba island, and stayed there to save money.

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Travel

From Luong Yen bus station it is only 210,000VND to get a bus-bus-boat-bus combo to Cat Ba. It departs at 11.30, so be there to get a ticket at about 11.00. The bus company is called Hoang Long and they are easy to spot in the ticket office. It is the same price going back and they depart several times though the day, the last being at 1.15. Tickets can be booked in the Hoang Long office in Cat Ba.

The first bus takes you to Haiphong, the second takes you to Haiphong Port. Then, a speedboat takes you across the bay to Cat Ba island. Finally, the last bus takes you across the island (through beautiful scenery) to the town and deposits you on the Main Street.


Accommodation

In the off season(winter), when we went, prices for a hotel room with a balcony and sea view were between $6-10USD. Shop around. Apparently in high season (summer) they can be a lot higher, so bear that in mind when planning.


Eating and Drinking

As usual, any restaurant on the sea front is more expensive – 100,000-150,000 VND for a main. There are some great places, but if you are on a budget there are plenty of smaller restaurants on the street running parallel, just up the hill, where you can get a meal for around 50,000VND.

The Dolphin Pub is a good shout for cheaper western food if you are after that – great pizza and pasta.

Beer is pretty cheap on Cat Ba, and there are lots of happy hour/free drink deals. So, save the drinking until after your boat trip if your feeling frugal.


Excursions

Here is where you can burn money. Rock climbing, kayaking, guided hikes and boat trips are all on offer. We did a great day cruise, inc kayaking with Cat Ba Ventures, which was $29USD each, but you can score cheaper boat trips for about $15USD. From what we heard, you get what you pay for.

A good option for exploring the island, is renting a motorbike. This will save you transfer, guide etc fees if you want to get to a few viewpoints and have a short hike. Read our guide to motorbike rental here.

If you want to seriously climb or kayak though, always pay for an experienced guide and decent equipment – it’s worth the extra few bucks.

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A pretty standard boat for a trip in bay.
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