I think I’ve spelt it out pretty clearly in the title and the intro, but the main reason to visit Cat Ba Island is that it’s from here that you can experience an affordable trip to Halong Bay. And if, like me, you’re baulking at the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a crowded cruise in this part of Vietnam now, then you need to visit Cat Ba Island too. If you want to kayak this country’s most famous landscape without the crowds and half the trash, then you need to visit Cat Ba Island.
And if you’re getting a bit tired of the hectic cities of Vietnam and want to escape the pollution and noise of Hanoi, then you need to visit Cat Ba Island. Because this is the spot to do all of those things, plus more, which certainly makes it one of the top places to visit in Vietnam! So let’s start with the obvious, where is Cat Ba Island?
Essentially on the coastline closest to Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam – Cat Ba Island lies in the northeast of this country in a province called Hai Phong. Hai Phong Province is actually the province directly below the one in which Halong Bay sits. What I mean is Halong Bay is located in Quang Ninh province, while Cat Ba Island lies just south, across the border, in Hai Phong province.
Why I’m going to lengths to explain this to you is because technically the bay which surrounds Cat Ba Island is not called Halong Bay, instead, because it lies just south of an arbitrary provincial line, the bay around Cat Ba Island is called Lan Ha Bay. But let’s be clear, the landscape looks exactly the same… because it is!
It’s the same landscape with the dramatic limestone islands and aqua-turquoise waters. It just happens to have a different name. And because of this, the prices of trips here are less than half the cost of what they are to Halong Bay. “What’s in a name?,” you might ask. Turns out, quite a lot! And this is why trips to the bay around Cat Ba Island – Lan Ha Bay – are a mere fraction of the cost, a mere fraction of the crowds and a mere fraction of the chaos compared to Halong Bay, even though the landscape looks every bit as dramatic, every bit as magical, every bit as spellbinding… if not more!
So, if this sounds like good news to you, the first key bit of info you’ll need is how to get to Cat Ba Island. And the main thing you need to know here is that the launch-point for all transport to Cat Ba Island is Hanoi. So first, get yourself to Hanoi, either via international or domestic flight – I always use Skyscanner to find the best flight deals – or via local bus, which is a more economical and better environmental option and no hardship, because the buses in Vietnam are excellent… even the night buses. As always, I use the excellent 12Go to book my buses in Southeast Asia, because you can directly compare services, journey times, prices and pay securely for your tickets all at once – simples!
So once you get to Hanoi (and I recommend there if you need to spend the night FYI), I strongly suggest you use Cat Ba Express to get to Cat Ba Island. There are 2 companies that run the bus / boat service from Hanoi to the island, but the Cat Ba Express one is by far the better option. With better buses and organisation (and no this isn’t sponsored!) I’d definitely recommend going with them.