Cat Ba Island – How to cruise Halong Bay without a tour
Mystical, UNESCO listed Halong Bay is one of the world’s new 7 natural wonders and high on the bucket list of most visitors to Vietnam. Most visitors see Halong Bay from a rushed tour from Hanoi but with a little more effort you can avoid the tour boats and enjoy Halong Bay without a tour at your pace and save money doing it!
The best way to experience the stunning karst landscape of Halong Bay is by boat; cruising through serene emerald waters, as towering limestone karst peaks covered in green foliage rise up around on all sides, becoming fainter in the distance before blending into the blue skies.
Passing floating fishing villages clustered around the rocks and colourful little floating houses surrounded by nets of fish, watching women in conical hats hauling fishing nets and going about their daily lives in canoes in the midst of this amazing landscape and jumping into swim in the cool, gorgeous emerald waters.
So no wonder Halong Bay is a must do in Vietnam but how to make sure you do this spectacular sight justice and ensure it is a memorable experience for all the right reasons
How to see Halong Bay without a tour
Halong is in the north of Vietnam just a few hours from the atmospheric capital of Hanoi. There are countless travel agents and tour operators who will want to sell you a Halong Bay tour in Hanoi but just as many tour horror stories about dirty, dodgy, rat infested boats, rushed itineraries, overcharging, scams, poor food, noisy karaoke and bad service.
So see Halong Bay without a tour, save money, take your time and avoid the rushed, crowded tours from Hanoi – go independently to Cat Ba island.
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is emerging as an adventure and eco tourism hub and the best place to base yourself for exploring Halong Bay and lesser known Lan Ha Bay and there’s also plenty to entertain you on beautiful Cat Ba island itself, however, traveling from Halong City to Cat Ba can also be fraught with scams and hassle so the best way to get to Cat Ba without the hassle is to get a combined bus – boat – bus ticket with a company called Hoang Long from Hanoi’s Luong Yen bus station 4 times a day which takes about 4 ½ hours.
It really isn’t difficult to enjoy Halong Bay without a tour and to also save some money by staying on beautiful Cat Ba Island and there is plenty to do – relax on the beach, explore by motorbike, trek through national park to viewpoints, explore old forts and caves, go rock climbing.
Of course you can also take a boat trip for only about $20 a day (easy to arrange at the many hotels along Cat Ba Harbour) around the limestone pinnacles of Lan Ha Bay the less touristed part of Halong Bay where the sounds of noisy karaoke tourist boats are replaced with the puter putter of small fishermans boat engines as they only sound that breaks up the serene stillness.
Cat Ba is a pretty big island but most of the accommodation is based around the harbour front of Cat Ba town and it’s easy to find rooms for under $10. I took a room on the 6th floor with a balcony and amazing views over the harbour and Halong Bay for only $6 a night and spent time taking in the amazing scenery. You can just turn up and look around or you can check out and book accommodation on Cat Ba Island before you arrive.
The iconic limestone cliffs continue on land on Cat Ba island. Motorbike hire for the day was only $5. Most of Cat Ba Island is quite untouched by tourists, the Hospital Cave used by the Viet Cong is worth investigating and the WWII Japanese built Fort Cannon also offers a cafe with gorgeous views overlooking Halong Bay. I explored the national park trekking through sticky jungle, keeping an eye out for the world’s most endangered primate the golden headed langur, climbing up to be rewarded with stunning views.
For eating, you can find all the usual Vietnamese favourites and seafood restaurants around the harbour in Cat Ba town or go on a floating restaurant for something a little different and cheap Bai Hoi joints are set up along the promenade at night.
Our highlight was enjoying an amazing seafood BBQ buffet for only $10 at Le Pont, a ship themed open air restaurant overlooking the harbour that also turns into a nightclub later on.
You could easily spend a week on Cat Ba island, relaxing on the island’s beaches, soaking up the scenery and exploring Halong Bay independently so avoid the crowds and dodgy tours, save some money, spend longer soaking in the spectacular scenery and have an amazing experience.
Still not convinced or want more information? Here’s another D.I.Y tour of Halong Bay or if you still want to take a tour – here’s Rough Guide’s information on organized tours of Halong Bay or check out this post – Guide to Halong Bay: How to choose the best cruise.
Pin Me 🙂