Exploring Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island: A Budget Travel Guide from Hanoi

A travel guide to visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi via Cat Ba Island on a budget. Originally published in 2013. Updated in 2023

Halong Bay is a must-see destination in Vietnam, with its stunning scenery of limestone cliffs and islands rising from the water. While it can be a bit pricey to visit, there are ways to do it on a budget by traveling via Cat Ba Island.

Step 1: Getting to Cat Ba Island

The first step to visiting Halong Bay on a budget is to make your way to Cat Ba Island, which is located just south of Halong Bay.

To get to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi, you will need to take a combination of buses and ferries. The journey takes approximately 4-5 hours, but the scenery is breathtaking and well worth the effort.

You can start by taking a bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong, which will take around 2-3 hours, depending on traffic. Once you arrive in Hai Phong, you can take a ferry from the Ben Binh Pier to Cat Ba Island. The ferry takes approximately 45 minutes and costs around 150,000 VND (about $7 USD) per person.

While in Hanoi, make sure to take some time to explore this vibrant city before heading to Cat Ba Island. Hanoi is a fascinating city with a rich history and culture.

When it comes to accommodations in Hanoi, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re on a budget, consider staying in the Old Quarter, where you can find many affordable hostels and guesthouses. The Old Quarter is also a great place to try some local street food, which is both delicious and affordable.

Some popular dishes to try in Hanoi include pho, a noodle soup dish made with beef or chicken broth and served with fresh herbs and bean sprouts, and banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich made with a baguette, pate, meat, vegetables, and chili sauce.

In addition to food, Hanoi has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing. Some popular attractions include the Temple of Literature, which was the first university in Vietnam and dates back to the 11th century, and Hoan Kiem Lake, a scenic lake in the heart of the city.

Overall, Hanoi is a great place to start your journey to Halong Bay on a budget. Take some time to explore this fascinating city and enjoy some delicious local cuisine before heading to Cat Ba Island.

Step 2: Accommodation on Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island has a range of options for every budget, from hostels and homestays to mid-range and luxury hotels. To save money, consider staying in a hostel or guesthouse. Prices start at around 100,000 VND (about $4.50 USD) per night. Some popular options include Cat Ba Hostel, Central Backpackers Hostel, and Little Cat Ba Hostel. These places offer dormitory-style accommodation at very affordable prices. If you prefer a bit more privacy, there are plenty of budget hotels on the island, such as Sea Pearl Hotel and Hoang Anh Hotel. These hotels offer clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable prices.

For those willing to spend a bit more, there are mid-range hotels and resorts, such as Cat Ba Sunrise Resort and Cat Ba Island Resort & Spa. These hotels offer more amenities and services, such as swimming pools, restaurants, and spas. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, you can choose from hotels such as Cat Ba Island Resort & Spa, Cat Ba Amatina Hotel, and Cat Ba Island Hotel & Spa. These hotels offer stunning views of the bay, private balconies, and upscale amenities.

If staying in Hanoi before heading to Cat Ba Island, there are plenty of accommodation options as well. The Old Quarter has many budget-friendly hostels and hotels, such as Hanoi Rocks Hostel and Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. If you prefer a mid-range hotel, you can check out La Siesta Hotel & Spa or Essence Palace Hotel & Spa. Hotels like Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and InterContinental Hanoi Westlake are popular choices for luxury options.

Overall, whether you’re in Hanoi or Cat Ba Island, there are plenty of accommodation to suit every budget and taste.

Step 3: Exploring Cat Ba Island

After arriving in Cat Ba Island, there are plenty of things to see and do. The island offers a mix of natural beauty and cultural attractions that cater to all types of travelers. One of the must-do activities is to take a boat tour around the bay to see the stunning limestone formations up close. There are plenty of tour operators on the island that offer affordable tours, so it’s worth shopping around to find the best deal.

Cat Ba Island has plenty to offer in terms of activities. Rent a motorbike or bicycle to explore the island’s beaches and national park. The Cat Ba National Park has hiking trails that lead to stunning viewpoints, and the island’s beaches are perfect for swimming and relaxing.

Aside from the boat tour, there are other activities to keep you busy on Cat Ba Island. If you’re looking for a more relaxing day, you can head to one of the island’s many beaches and soak up the sun. One of the best beaches on the island is Cat Co Cove, which offers crystal-clear waters and soft white sand.

As for dining options, there are plenty of restaurants and street food stalls on the island that offer a range of cuisines. Seafood is a specialty in Cat Ba Island, so make sure to try some of the local dishes, such as grilled squid or seafood hotpot. If you’re looking for something a little different, there are also plenty of options for Western food, including pizza and burgers.

Step 4: Visiting Halong Bay

To visit Halong Bay, you can take a day tour from Cat Ba Island. The tour includes a boat ride through the bay and a visit to some of the area’s highlights, including caves and floating villages. Prices start at around 350,000 VND (about $15 USD) per person.

Alternatively, you can also book a two or three-day cruise from Cat Ba Island, which will give you more time to explore Halong Bay. Prices for these cruises start at around 2,000,000 VND (about $87 USD) per person.

There are many tour companies that offer trips to Halong Bay from Cat Ba Island. It’s important to do some research before booking to ensure that you are choosing a reputable company. Look for reviews from other travelers and check the company’s safety record. Some popular tour companies to consider include Cat Ba Ventures, Vega Travel, and Cat Ba Express.

Step 5: Returning to Hanoi

To return to Hanoi, you’ll need to take the ferry back to Hai Phong and then catch a bus back to Hanoi from there. Buses regularly leave from the bus station in Hai Phong and cost around 100,000 VND (about $4.50 USD).

When returning to Hanoi from Cat Ba Island, it’s important to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to make the journey back. The ferry from Cat Ba Island to Hai Phong takes about an hour and a half, and the bus ride from Hai Phong to Hanoi takes about two to three hours, depending on traffic.

It’s recommended to book your bus tickets in advance, especially during peak travel season, to ensure a seat and avoid any delays. You can book tickets through your hotel or hostel on Cat Ba Island, or through a travel agency in Hanoi.

When you arrive at the ferry terminal in Hai Phong, you’ll need to take a taxi or motorbike taxi to the bus station, which is about 10 kilometers away. Negotiate the price with the driver before getting in the taxi to avoid any surprises.

Once you arrive at the bus station, look for a bus heading to Hanoi and purchase your ticket. It’s a good idea to ask the driver or ticket seller when the next bus is departing to ensure you don’t miss it.

It’s also important to note that there are several bus companies operating between Hai Phong and Hanoi, with varying levels of comfort and quality. While it may be tempting to opt for the cheapest option, consider paying a little extra for a reputable company with a good safety record.

In conclusion, returning to Hanoi from Cat Ba Island requires taking a ferry and a bus, with some logistical planning involved. However, with some preparation and patience, you can make the journey back to Hanoi safely, comfortably, and inexpensively.

About the Author Kara

Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.

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Aaron says June 11, 2013

Hey,great tips. I’m backpacking through Vietnam in a couple weeks and been searching all over the internet for a simple cheap way of doing Cat Ba and Halong Bay, this is perfect. Was the bus back to Hanoi included in the junk return price? Also which company did you use for this?

Davina says January 19, 2015

Hi. This is great. I’m planning on going to Halong Bay with my family and have been looking for a cheaper way to do this.
What was the name of the return company you used and the hotel you stayed at in Cat Ba?
Also, how was traveling on Cat Ba itself?

dean says September 23, 2016

hey kara, i’m either stupid or just confused, you say at first its 27$ for the bus/ferry from hanoi to Cat bah with the ferry being at Haiphong…so whats the bit about Return to Hanoi for 15/20$? is that because you didnt use the return part of your original ticket? anyways..thanks for the info!

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