Vietnam – Our Cat Ba Island Adventures
The final part of our Vietnam trip took us to the coast and to Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is on the southern edge of the famous Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay share the same unique limestone karsts that make a maze of islands in the bay and Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba Town are where you’ll want to stay if you’re keen on exploring the area.
We were really looking forward to our time on Cat Ba and we had booked several days worth of adventures with Asia Outdoors. First, however, we needed to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island. You can try and coordinate passage yourself but getting there currently requires 2 bus rides and a ferry ride.
We booked with Good Morning Cat Ba and they handled everything for us, including pickup ‘near’ our hotel in Hanoi and drop off directly in front of our place in Cat Ba Town. There is a bridge being built and sadly this is probably going to change Cat Ba for the worse.
The trip from Hanoi was supposed to be 3 hours but that didn’t include the hour we spent collecting other travelers first! Oh well, it was like a bus tour of the city and honestly we weren’t really upset by it. Once on the road the scenery was great. The ferry dock is pretty modest but there were some snacks and drinks to buy and some pretty rustic restrooms. Take your own paper and hand sanitizer!
The ferry ride was actually really nice and we sat outside and enjoyed the scenery and salty air. Once on Cat Ba we got on the second bus for our ride into Cat Ba Town. A large portion of Cat Ba Island is a national park and the road from the port to Cat Ba Town goes through a decent part of it. A lot of tourists rent scooters and cruise around the island and hike in the jungle to some of the caves on the island.
Our first night in Cat Ba Town was at the modest Ali Baba hotel, right in the middle of the downtown area. The staff are incredibly friendly, always smiling and helpful. Our room was clean, had great A/C, was very comfortable and had a million dollar view!
As our visit was during a shoulder season we found Cat Ba Town to be very quiet and pretty relaxed. We had read other travelers poor reviews of the town and honestly I don’t get it. Cat Ba Town is small, sure, and staying more than a few days would get a little boring but we rather liked the place. We found a couple of excellent places to eat, everything was really affordable and the people seemed quite friendly as well.
We had been looking forward to seeing the incredible Ha Long Bay for a long time. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I had also been dreaming of doing some deep water soloing in the bay for years. Deep water soloing is rock climbing on the limestone walls of the islands but without ropes. When you finish the climb or fall you end up in the water! It’s something I’ve never done and was really looking forward to the experience.
Our first booked adventure with Asia Outdoors was an afternoon of regular rock climbing on the beach of one of the islands in Lan Ha Bay. Ever since a bouldering debacle years ago Shani has been super reluctant to try any more climbing. This trip, however, I was able to convince her to at least give it a shot. It also helped that the crew of Asia Outdoors was super supportive and re-assuring. Thanks guys!
We started the trip with a cruise out into Lan Ha Bay on a junk boat and met up with the kayakers and other people booked on various Asia Outdoors adventures. The boat crew prepared an awesome lunch for us and was easily able to accommodate the vegans and gluten allergies among us!
After lunch the groups split into their respective tours and motored off in basket boats for our various destinations. The rock climbing takes place at Moody Beach and it really is an exceptional setting! As this was top rope only climbing our guides Maiju, Nate and Travis had already set up the ropes and everything was ready to go after a quick bit of safety instruction.
Our group was pretty small which allowed us to separate and get on the rock without any audience which was a pretty critical component for Shani. I have to say I was quite proud of her for tying in and giving it a go! She did great on her first ever climb and Nate was an awesome encourager. We basically flip flopped with the rest of the group and Shani was willing to push herself and do a second climb. Maiju was really great on belay and was extremely encouraging as well. I was very proud of Shani and she was quite proud of herself as well (as she should have been)!
After rock climbing at Moody’s it was back to the junk boat. We had booked the overnight adventure which meant spending the night out in Lan Ha Bay on the boat. So after all the others had disembarked the junk boat took us back out with our new best friend Leah from Asia Outdoors and the three of us had a nice traditional Vietnamese meal prepared by the boat crew. And then we totally partied the night away!
Just kidding. While there may or may not have been some rum cocktails consumed what we actually did after dinner was go for a swim in the bay. What makes this swim in the bay so special is all of the bioluminescent plankton. It was so amazing moving in the water and seeing all of the dots of light. I was mesmerized. Such a cool thing to experience!
The next morning the boat crew made breakfast and then we motored back to port to pick up the days adventurers. We booked a full day of kayaking around the bay and karst islands. So much of this trip was stunning scenery and Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay did not disappoint! Our kayak tour leader was Arjan, and he was very informative as we all paddled along taking in the sights. The second half of our kayaking day took us into some more secluded lagoons and we got to thoroughly enjoy the amazing natural wonders of the bay.
On our trip back to Cat Ba we were lucky enough to see some Cat Ba langur. These are an extremely rare monkey found no where else in the world. The estimate is that maybe 50-60 still exist!
After our two days of adventure and the overnight on the boat we booked a little more luxurious hotel for our last two nights in Cat Ba. A short walk from the downtown area of Cat Ba Town and we were at the Sunrise Resort. After the night on the boat I have to say it was quite nice to be at the resort.
As we had been so craving outdoor adventures we booked a morning of SUP and an afternoon of deep water soloing next! For me this was the highlight of an already awesome time on Cat Ba. Our new bff Leah was the guide for both of these adventures. We were pretty psyched because Asia Outdoors had just gotten in some new inflatable standup paddle boards and we’re in the market and we were excited to give them a try.
SUP in Lan Ha Bay was magical. It was calming and more zen than the kayaking (to be fair, Shani and I were in a tandem kayak which neither of us prefer and our first kayak seemed sluggish like maybe it was patched with lead?) But the SUP was great. We all went at our own pace and it was just the 3 of us. We had time to chill in lagoons and swim around. It was a really nice way to spend the morning.
After lunch on the junk boat it was time for the deep water soloing! I was a little nervous to be honest. Aside from the climbing a few days earlier I hadn’t done any training or climbing for a while. Our group was small which was really nice and it meant we would all have plenty of soloing opportunities.
The deep water soloing was so much fun! Although, jumping in did take a bit of getting used to but after the first two jumps it was no big deal. Right away we got into a rhythm of getting a climber off the boat and onto the rock and then motoring away until they were back in the water. It was an amazing experience! My only regret is that I wasn’t in climbing shape. Oh well, next time. I’m hooked and can’t wait for my next deep water solo adventure.
After an evening in Cat Ba Town and a much needed lounging day at the resort, we again took Good Morning Cat Ba back to Hanoi for our last night in Vietnam. We were both sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful place and vow to see the rest of the country one of these days.
If you’d like to know more about our time in Cat Ba or our trip to Vietnam just drop us a line or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. If you’d like the exact itinerary or more info on the places we stayed or tours and drivers we used just let us know.