Vietnam Part 5: boat trip through Lan Ha Bay

The biggest challenge on Cat Ba was to organise a boat trip. Of course you’ll find a travel agency on every corner of town, but we weren’t opting for the classic day or half-day tours everyone was hoping to sell us. A normal trip includes a ride through the floating village, group kayaking, a stay on monkey island and usually lunch. With lots of other people on board. That’s not what we wanted. We tried to find an individual experience with lots of photo opportunities, preferably early in the morning when tourists are still sleeping and first sunrays emerging the karst mountains in warm light. To find such a tour seemed surprisingly hard at first. An online search on tripadvisor made us aware of a lady called Smiley, whose agency organised individual private tours. We looked for her at the harbour – she was literally the first person we spoke to, by coincidence – and made plans for the next day. Starting at 6 am, we were about to see the Lan Ha Bay in the most beautiful light and probably on the most quiet moment of the day.

We enjoyed the silence on our small boat

The boat trip became one of the best and unforgettable experiences of our entire Vietnam journey. The Floating Village was flooded by orange sunlight while our small boat gently cruised past the houses. Dogs were curiously watching us passing by, children were paddling in their canoe on the way to school, and the stunning reflections in the water led us to shoot more and more photos. The “Turtle Island” definitely looked like a giant turtle between the other impressive karst mountains rising from the sea.

Children paddling in their canoe on the way to school

After two hours of floating through Lan Ha Bay, we landed on “Monkey Island”, an island that was not as idyllic as its name. By the time we got there, many other tourists were dropped of at the beach, in front of a bar and loud, terrible music blasting from someone’s wireless speaker. The illusion of a remote island was shattered. As the name suggested, there were actual monkeys. They gathered next to the bar and jumped from the trees onto the roof and back. What held them at the beach was probably the fact that with every boat arrival, a new swarm of people came and brought them food. This event repeated itself approximately every fifteen minutes.

From the beach, a challenging hiking trail leads up the hill to a viewpoint. The path can initially be seen with the help of signs at the right end of the beach, but soon transforms into sharp rocks and jungle. We had to abort the hike, as we were not wearing the right footwear for this and strongly recommend you do the same, if you ever end up on the island in flip-flops, like we did.

Stunning view on Lan Ha Bay

Apart from Monkey Island, an individual and private boat tour is probably the best way to experience the amazing bay. We paid 400.000 VND (15€) per person for 3 hours. This should be negotiable, but we didn’t even try and accepted the price straight away. A cheaper option would be a small bamboo boat, if you find an eager fisherman that wants to make some money – although we didn’t find one when we were at the harbour.

„Cat Ba Express“ to Hanoi

At noon we hopped onto the “Cat Ba Express” bus back to Hanoi, where we stayed for the night. Our next destination was Sa Pa, a mountain village known for hiking and ethnic tribes.


Vietnam Travel Log

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