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I really enjoyed my time in Hoi An, but it was time to move on.
I was looking forward to getting ‘more active’ in Cat Ba Island / Halong Bay. It was time for some ‘adventuring’, some kayaking, some trekking, and a trip by boat around Halong Bay.
To get from Hoi An to Cat Ba, I flew from Da Nang to Hai Phong and caught a ferry.
It was a long day: I left my Hoi An Hotel at 6:00am and arrived in Cat Ba Town at 4:00pm.
The direct ferries from Ben Binh arrive in Cat Ba Town itself.
But, I arrived on the North West of Cat Ba Island and got to Cat Ba Town on a bus that took about 30 minutes.
I still had my Viettel SIM card that I bought on arrival in Saigon. It was topped up in Nha Trang and again in Hoi An. The final top up was enough to last me until I planned to leave Vietnam on 17th January 2016.
Vietnam is, generally, very good for internet access with almost all Accommodation, Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars offering decent and reliable Free WiFi. Obviously, some are better than others.
Walking around Cat Ba Town is easy. It is also, an easy 10 minute walk from Cat Ba Town over the hill to Cat Co 1 beach.
From Cat Co 1, it is an easy 10 minute walk over the hill to Cat Co 2 Beach.
The walk from Cat Co 1 to Cat Co 3 Beach takes a bit longer and is best done as a ‘loop’ around the coast so that you can take in the coastal walk way as well as the beach.
You can easily rent a scooter from any hotel for US$4 (VND80k) per day. This might be more in Peak Season – but, you should still be able to get it at this price if you negotiate.
You are best to top up with petrol at one of the gas stations before you set off; your scooter rental people will be able to tell you where the Petrol Stations are.
The nearest one in Cat Ba Town is over the small bridge in the Fishing Port.
There are a couple of others in strategic locations around the island; so don’t panic if you start to approach ’empty’.
WHERE TO STAY:
I spent my first full day looking around Cat Ba Town and the nearby beaches.
I concluded that, at this time of year, the Cat Ba Town waterfront was Where To Stay.
Full Moon Party Hotel:
Although I was not able to secure a room with seaviews, I did manage to secure one with mountain views for US$7 / night including a simple set-menu breakfast.
It was Backpacker Standard and ‘just short’ of GRANDPAcker standard: the room was nice and big with Cable TV and Aircon, etc but:
- The bed sheets weren’t as clean as they could be and some had cigarette burns
- The room was not cleaned every day: you had to ask them to do your room
- You had no breakfast choice: it was a simple ‘set’ breakfast
- The hot water shower only had enough hot water for 1 quick shower: you had to wait another 10-15 minutes for the water to heat up again for a second shower
The Full Moon Party Hotel was, also, a bit noisy as, during the day, renovations were being done on the property next door. When I booked in I expected SOME noise but did not expect to be woken most mornings at 7am by pneumatic drilling…
But, this was not the Full Moon’s fault and such things are only temporary. Without the renovations going on, the Full Moon would be a good (if not one of the best) Budget Hotel option.
There are many restaurants and cafes to choose from but you are a bit of a ‘captured market’ and Cat Ba Town is not the cheapest place in Vietnam.
You can buy a good quality Baguette on the streets for VND20k (they are VND10-15k in other places in Vietnam); for this you get Doner Kebab type meat with either egg or sausage with your normal selection of salad and sauces.
P.S. This is NOT ME in the photo. 🙂
You can get cheaper ones with less fillings for VND15k.
If you haggle, or get to know the sellers, you can get these for VND15k and VND10k respectively.
At the budget hotels and cafes, prices start at VND30k for a simple noodle soup (like Pho Ga) with the average simple meal like egg fried rice costing about VND40k and beef fried rice about VND60k.
The prices are low to mid range with many dishes available for about VND70k.
I had a very tasty Chili Fish with rice. For Vietnam, the size of the fish steak was very good.
As always, you can go ‘westernised’ if you want to with burgers and / or pizzas costing about VND100k but the meal sizes are smaller than you get in the west.
I stopped one night for Fish & Chips (they do many other, nicer dishes… but I just fancied Fish & Chips). The meal cost me VND150k and a Tiger VND25k.
Sorry, but you can get a good meal elsewhere at half the price and the same beer for VND10k next door. It was a nice treat, but a waste of money.
You have a good selection of cafes and bars to choose from.
There are usually Happy Hours going on in different bars between 4pm and 10pm.
THE OASIS BAR:
Happy Hour between 4pm and 9pm with VND10k large Tiger Beers.
It has a reasonable Pool Table and good music (you can be your own DJ).
THE NOBLE BAR:
Go upstairs to find a nice bar with a Pool Table.
Happy Hour does not include beers, so you pay VND20k for a Tiger.
THE ROSE BAR:
The Pool Table is covered in graffiti and performs like ‘crazy golf’.
Otherwise, the Rose is one of the most popular ‘young’ bars with one of the best ‘Cocktail Happy Hours’ in town between 6pm and 8pm (Cocktails start at VND40k).
It has good music and you can be your own DJ.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
- LAN HA BAY & MONKEY ISLAND: 3 Hour tour including kayaking – US$10-25 each
- HA LONG BAY & LAN HA BAY: One Day tour including lunch, kayaking, snorkelling, & caves – US$20-25 each
- HA LONG BAY & LAN HA BAY & DAU BE ISLAND: Two Day / One Night tour including overnight boat stay, kayaking, snorkelling, caves, and food – US$55-65 each
AROUND THE ISLAND BY SCOOTER:
Rent yourselves a scooter for VND80k and take a day trip around the island.
Pop over to the Fishing Port Petrol Station to fill up before you set off. VND30k of petrol should be enough to take you around the island for the day; if you have an old ‘gas guzzler’ this may be VND40k.
For the more energetic, Canon Fort is a pleasant walk from Cat Ba Town.
The Fort itself is nothing spectacular but still worth a visit to while-away half a day with a nice, long walk.
You get some beautiful views of Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island.
Hospital Cove is found off Ha Sen Road, 10km north of Cat Ba Town.
It is a 17 room underground hospital and hideout which was in use until 1975. Get entry tickets from the café on the opposite side of road (VND15k each).
End to end, Cat Ba Island is only about 20kms long.
The road down the coast is still under construction and parts of it are mud and gravel.
But you get a nice view of the coast and out across the bays.
You can scooter the whole island in about 3 hours which gives you plenty of time for stop-offs. One day should be more than enough time for the average person.
CAT CO 1, 2, and 3:
The white-sand Cat Co beaches (called Cat Co 1, 2 and 3) are a great day trip.
Cat Co 2 is the less hectic and more appealing beach.
On weekends the beaches fill with Vietnamese travellers.
Cat Co 1 Beach is the beach that you reach first.
Cat Co 1 & 2 beaches are separated by a little hillock that can be traversed in about 10 minutes.
The other major beaches are Cai Vieng, Hong Xoai Be, and Hong Xoai Lon.
Cat Ba is safe.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Cat Ba suffers from the same VND2m ATM limit as other places in Vietnam.
There aren’t many ATMs to choose from.
Luckily, there are 2 Agribank ATMs on the waterfront. I have always found the Agribank to be the best as they only charge you VND22k per ATM transaction. However, on Cat Ba Island, the Agribank ATM limit is VND2m (in Hoi An it was VND2.65m).
I made my own way from Cat Ba Island to Quan Lan Island.
I wasn’t able to get the best out of Cat Ba Island… the weather wasn’t good enough.
Being here for Christmas / New Year may be one of the best times to come to avoid the crowds… but, not if you want to get the best out of what the island has to offer: sailing around the bays, trekking, kayaking, etc.
Over Christmas, without these out-door activities, a few days is more than enough – as there isn’t much to do.
Personally, I would NOT recommend coming at this time of year. If you come to Cat Ba Island, make the trip worth it… come in the sunshine when you can participate in everything that Cat Ba has to offer.
Cat Ba Island is NOT a long term destination; it does NOT make it onto my Retirement Locations short-list.
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