Everything You Need to Know About Cat Ba Island Vietnam

After soaking up everything Halong Bay had to offer by boat, it was time for us to live among the hundreds of islands! Cat Ba Island is the perfect extension to your Halong Bay experience. I'm a sucker for island life (aren't we all) and was looking for a beach, a Tiger beer and Pringles. And also Oreos. 
Cat Ba being the largest island in Halong Bay is completely underrated, but to be expected when its show stopper of a brother is Halong Bay. However, it is the perfect place to escape the busyness of Hanoi and get that laid back, chilled out, "bro-that-was-gnarly-bro" atmosphere we all crave at times.

 How to Get There...

After we finished off our Halong Bay cruise, part of our package was to be dropped off back in Hanoi however, about 20 minutes outside of Halong City lies a feryy port that will take you straight to Cat Ba Island. Your tour operator will most likely drop you off on the side of the road close to a very large bridge where you'll have to hail a taxi that will take you straight to Bến phà Tuần Châu Port. From there it is about a 1-1.5 hour ferry ride through the islands to Bến tàu Du lịch Đảo Cát Bà Port. Pretty cool and inexpensive. Bonus!
Cat Ba is located off the coast of Hai Phong City, so if you are for some reason already in Hai Phong City, you can board a ferry there to Phu Long Pier which takes about 30 minutes.
Regardless of which port you arrive in to, you will need to take some sort of hour long, bumpy af bus ride into Cat Ba Town. Literally just try to get on any bus by paying the driver. We paid đ 200 000 for 2 tickets ($8 USD) and jumped on a Chinese tourist bus. Nǐ hǎo ya'll.
Side note: if you are coming from Hanoi there are plenty of tour agencies that offer one-way trips to the island. For around $20 USD and these include a hotel pickup in Hanoi and then a speedboat trip to Cat Ba Town. 

Where to Stay...

Have your pick, Cat Ba has resorts, hotels, hostels, you name it. We opted for a more budget friendly stay and chose the Central Backpackers Hostel. It was extremely clean, super cheap, breakfast is included and there's a pool with a view of the lake. This might even be the best hostel I've stayed at.
The staff is super friendly and helpful, which is always a bonus and they have tons of motorbikes and regular bicycles to rent! I definitely give this place a huge thumbs up. 

Photo by: Nomad Pad

Where to Eat...

This is pivotal. 

Mona Rooftop Restaurant

If you want the best views in town and the greatest damn coconut coffee that will ever graze your lips, then here you go. The food is also on par with the view and really this rooftop is the place to be for an epic Cat Ba sunset over the bay. 
Location: Số 180 đường 1/4, Thị trấn Cát Bà
Told you...
Photo from Tripadvisor

Casa Bonita

A cute and cozy place where you can get so many options from vegetarian-vegan to traditional Vietnamese dishes to your typical Western pasta dishes.
Location: 82 Núi Ngọc, TT. Cát Bà
Photo from Tripadvisor

Kayak Cafe

One of the prettiest and insta worthy places to grab your cà phê sữa đá in the morning before heading out to explore the island!
Location: 175A Một Tháng Tư, TT. Cát Bà
Photo from Tripadvisor

What to Do...

 Head to the Beach

Have your pick of beaches close to town. Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2 are great for sunbathing and swimming during the summer, but if you’re not a fan of crowds on the beach, you can charter a speedboat or rent a kayak to Monkey Island and Lan Ha Bay, where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.

 Venture Out to Monkey Island

We decided we'd spend a day on Monkey Island because a. it was raining and b. why not venture out. We drove our motorbikes to the Bến Bèo Port where we got a long-tail boat to drive us round trip to Monkey Island for about đ 200 000 per person. 

Once there we kicked off with the short trek up to the peak of the island where you get one of the best views of the bay! We both wore flip-flops, instant mistake, but in the end we managed to get to the top with some sketchy manoeuvring.

We finished out our Monkey Island adventure with some tanning, monkeys and Oreos.

Hike Cat Ba National Park

Woah. This is a must.

Another day another hike. We geared up and rode our motorbikes from Cat Ba town to the National Park Headquarters and Entrance, which took a total of about 30 minutes. The entrance fee was a mere đ 40 000 for the Peak Walk and parking was another đ 10 000.

It'll take you about 15 to 20 minutes to walk from Cat Ba National Park Entrance to Kim Giao forest. The first 500 meters from the garden to the foot of the mountain is flat and easy to navigate. From the bottom of the mountain, you can start to climb the 500 meters along sections of rugged limestone stairs to get that epic view.

On the way down we grabbed some lunch at the Hoi Lake Farmstay which was right inside the National Park. What a lunch, surrounded by the mountains and overlooking a lake this was just the spot we needed after that hike! 

 Check Out Hospital Cave

This is a great pit stop to take on your way back from the National Park. The Hospital Cave served both as a secret bomb-proof hospital during the American War and as a safe house for Viet Cong leaders. Pretty cool. It was built between 1963 and 1965 with three stories of rooms to explore.

Photo from Cat Ba Express

The Verdict

Placed among thousands of beautiful limestone rocks, Cat Ba Island has a beautiful landscape and enviable location. It’s the perfect way to live among the limestones, adventure through lush forests and relax by the beach, Tiger in hand. These are true island vibes and I'm here for it!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your Cat Ba experience!

Bonsai River Cruise: Wine & Dine Down Ho Chi Minh City's Saigon River

 Give me a stunning 2-story boat, a glass of vino, an endless 5-star buffet, a sparkling nighttime view of Ho Chi Minh City's skyline, beautifully crafted traditional Vietnamese entertainment and tell me not fall in love with Bonsai Cruise.
Ho Chi Minh City, my tropical home-away-from-home, is such a charming little huge place. The culture is fascinating and the way the classic French architecture compliments the sleek skyscrapers while still merging together the many ornate temples throughout the city, make me love every second of life here. When the sun sets the city is crawling with rooftop bars that overlook Saigon and beyond. But, if you want a unique perspective of Saigon by night, the place to be is on the water! 
I've lived here for nearly a year and I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with the re-opening of Bonsai Cruise was truly a night for the books. I mean, I love a good cruise, but they really blew me out of the water with such a fantastic evening (see what I did there)!
Arriving in style, we were excited to have a classy little night out in Saigon, a change from our usual plastic-table-and-chair-meal where we wear shorts and flip flops and boy were we in for a treat! Greeting us at the pier was the two story, open air, beautifully crafted Bonsai cruise ship. We were excited! Obviously.
As we were escorted to our seats, the welcome drinks arrived within seconds. We ordered some Cabernet to accompany a little walk around the boat, admiring the view, before setting sail to soak in more of Ho Chi Minh City's riverside attractions. 

The Food

Our two hour river cruise combined authentic and very delicious Vietnamese food with genuine hospitality and sparkling Saigon River views. Do you need more? There was certainly no shortage of high-end, traditional Vietnamese dishes and slow-cooked, hand-selected, fresh from the grill drool worthy options to choose from. All of which were arranged and prepared live before our eyes on interactive buffet stations.
I do love a buffet, but a tasteful, classy buffet where ingredients are locally sourced and organic makes all the difference. From the build your own pho bar to the lamb curry beautifully concocted specifically for you, this was my paradise. I'm talking, sushi, fresh spring rolls, a gorgeous cheese platter, crab claw herb salad, steamed dumplings, stuffed tofu bites, char grilled chicken skewers, clams in cream sauce and this is just the start... 

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
One more thing, the desert bar included mini pancakes. I repeat, mini pancakes.

The Entertainment

While taking an evening cruise down the Saigon River might be the main draw, there’s nothing about the radiant Ho Chi Minh City or its shimmering river water that is exclusive to any one dining experience. However, the stunning onboard entertainment really made the night spectacular and set it apart from any other dining experience I've had in this city!
From the moment we stepped onboard our ears were lit with live music, watching traditional Vietnamese dances, laughing at the frantic magician pulling coins from people's ears, to applauding the incredible man playing Despacito on the Vietnamese Bamboo Flute (best day of my life? yes). There was no shortage of entertainment. We were having a ball watching the range of talent, we almost forgot to get desert.... almost.

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
Photo by: @bonsaicruise

The Verdict

After living in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly a year, I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with Bonsai Cruise has easily become one my favourite experiences in the city that I love. The views you get drifting down the river are unbeatable and definitely something a sky bar will never get you. The food? Heavenly. The entertainment? Exceptional. The experience? It undeniably sets Bonsai Cruise apart. I just can't wait for someone to come visit me here so I can have an excuse to do it all over again! 

Lastly, one thing I really appreciate about Bonsai Cruise is that since their re-launch they've upheld an environmentally friendly cruise operation where they use ethical and local sourcing to deliver their exceptional product. A+, this is so important for the future of Saigon and I'm so happy to see companies getting on board (see what I did there) with a greener future!

Essential Information

Company Bonsai Legacy Cruise at www.bonsaicruise.com.vn and @BonsaiCruise 
Pick-Up Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Drop-off Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cost: Dinner cruises start at $47 USD  and all-inclusive dinner cruises start at $67 USD
What to Bring: Come hungry and don't forget your camera!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your river cruise experience!

How to Choose A Halong Bay Cruise

The hardest part about planning trips in South East Asia? Choosing from the millions of potential possibilities. For example, oh you're going to Halong Bay? No problem, here are 500+ different cruise ships you can choose from! I mean, if I'm given more than 1 choice I need at least a year to weigh my options. This is also why I could never be The Bachelorette. 
Because we managed to research Halong Bay until our eyes bled, I thought I'd be the nice Canadian that I am and give you all the insider information before you endlessly scroll to the depths of the deep dark internet. The one thing I do love about South East Asia, is that you never have to plan in advance because there will always be availabilities. However, I think it's in your best interest to book a Halong Bay cruise in advance (1-2 weeks), just so you can secure one of the better options.

Halong Bay vs. Bai Tu Long Bay

First things first, which bay are you going to choose? Right!? Who even knew there was a second option? Well, there is, there are two main bays to choose from: Halong Bay (think party boats, booming music, more touristy, more boats) and Bai Tu Long Bay (quieter, less boats, less tourists).

We opted for Bai Tu Long Bay. Seeing as we were only going to be spending one night on board, we wanted to soak in as much of the area's zen as possible, without having a raging Tiesto glow stick party as background noise.

Only a select amount of boats are able to dock in Bai Tu Long Bay at night, which gives you the best views and a more authentic experience of the area. If you're really stressing about which bay to choose, just know they are both extremely similar and you most likely won't be able to tell the difference. The choice comes down to whether you want a quiet or lively experience of Halong.

Length of Your Cruise

Everyone will tell you that a one night cruise is enough. And even though you hum and haw over one night, just one night? They're right, one night is plenty. These cruise tours really cram everything you need to do into your 2-days-1-night experience.

So Which Cruise to Choose?

I can only speak from experience, however we couldn't have asked for a better experience on board. After some hardcore research, we ended up booking our cruise with Cristina Diamond Cruise through Saigon Cafe Travel and no question, I would do that exact cruise again in a heartbeat. We had a great guide, some great food, met great people and took in those jaw-dropping views we were hoping for.

What to Expect...

Day 1

Pick-up from our hotel in Hanoi was key and it saved us the hassle of attempting to figure out how to make the 3 hour journey from Hanoi to Halong City ourselves. With a pretty painless journey to Halong City, we were on our boat with a welcome drink in our hands by noon. And as we cruised into the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay we had a delicious buffet lunch. We were of course given some spare time to check into our rooms and freshen up before the days activities commenced.

That afternoon we kayaked through Vung Vieng floating village and hopped off to see the Pearl farm. One of the best ways to see the caves, lagoons and the World Heritage sights of Halong Bay itself is to kayak through it. I mean the photos speak for themselves, but really there is no better way to experience Vietnam's beauty than on the water.

Back to the boat we cleaned up and got ready for our rooftop sunset party while cruising to Cong Dong, Cong Do to anchor overnight. With a complimentary glass of wine and 360 degree views of the bay, it just couldn't get more picturesque #amirite

Now, dinner was just insane. The amount of food? An 8 course imperial feast that was at one point only available to royalty. Of course it was absolutely fantastic and not to mention delicious. After dinner, we grabbed some Halong beers from the on-board bar and relaxed on the sun deck watching the stars twinkle over the limestone islands. A couple beers deep we were ready to squid fish. Let's just say our sundresses were not helpful in the attempt to seduce a squid to our rod.

Day 2

If you're feeling up to it, sunrise Tai-Chi is offered. We, however, "slept in" until our 7:00am breakfast, before departing to the Thien Canh Son cave located in one of the towering limestone islands. A neat little cave to explore, with some fantastic views from the outside. Next to the cave is a little beach where we got to spend some time strolling about before our ship beckoned us back. Although, there is no swimming in Halong Bay because the amount jelly fish is so high, it's nice to exfoliate your feet in the sand.
Once we were back to the boat, we gathered our things from the room to check-out and headed up to the sundeck to join the onboard Chef in a mini Vietnamese spring roll DIY. Finally, to finish off our Vietnamese culinary experience we had a traditional Vietnamese family meal while docked close to the shore.
After lunch we were jetted back to the pier where it was time to say our goodbyes and get back on the bus to transfer back to Hanoi. However, we jumped off early as we were on our way to Cat Ba Island.

The Verdict

An absolutely breath taking experience that you can't miss if you're in Vietnam! This is the golden egg of the country, you'll be able to see why once you're there. If you like views on views on views on views, and enjoy cruising through extravagant scenery with a glass of wine in your hand then this is the place for you. I mean, it's the place for me, so can someone come visit me so I can go back?

Essential Information

Company:  Cristina Diamond Cruise through Saigon Cafe Travel

Pick-Up Point: Your hotel in Hanoi

Drop-off Point: Your hotel in Hanoi

Cost: From đ 3,858,000 (about $165 USD) enjoy 1 nights 2 days of Halong Bay's beauty. Explore the limestone islands while sailing on board a mid-luxury ship. Includes all meals, activities and pick up and drop off.