We travelled across Ha Long Bay on the Cat Ba Island Ferry to Cat Ba Island, which is way cheaper than any local private boats or day trips.
The total cost of the trip, ferry plus bus on Cat Ba Island, was around $4.60. Here's how to do it...
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Head to Tuần Châu Island
After staying the night in an interesting, by which I mean slightly seedy, hotel near Ha Long Bay we set out to get over to Cat Ba Island as cheaply as possible.
We walked nearly 6 km from our hotel, over the Tuần Châu bridge and to the ferry terminal with our backpacks on.
It was slightly sweaty at times but we stopped at a spooky hotel, which appeared to have no guests, for a cup of tea about halfway. It reminded us a little too much of The Shining but we survived our visit regardless!
To save the sweat and tea you can just get a taxi over from Ha Long Bay, but this a very touristy place so be sure they turn the meter on before you set off to avoid a high fixed price.
Tuần Châu island is a curious place and in a few years will look very different from today. Giant billboards show the planned development to turn it from a sleepy thoroughfare into what looks like the Dubai of northern Vietnam. Good luck with that.
Find Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal
We eventually reached the Cat Ba Island ferry terminal at the far end of the harbour on the south side of Tuần Châu Island. To find it, walk past the main coach park and terminal from which all the day trips and private boats leave.
You'll see the building below, this is where you can grab some ferry tickets. It's all very clearly signed and easy to spot.
Our tickets cost 70,000 VND (now 80,000 VND - $3.40 USD in 2018) each for a one-way trip to Cat Ba island.
If you've run out of cash, there's a Vietcombank ATM conveniently located right next to the Cat Ba Island ferry terminal, as shown below.
There's also a shop and a couple of places to grab a bit to eat if there's a big wait for the next ferry.
Cat Ba Island Ferry Timetable and Prices
As mentioned it was 70,000 VND per person but below are the prices for motorbikes, cars etc. as of 2016. Add another 10,000 VND or so to these prices in 2018.
As shown at the bottom, the Cat Ba Island ferry runs in both directions just 3 times a day in the low season and 5 times in the high season.
Apparently, the service is prone to cancellations but was running fine when we did this journey in 2016.
We jumped onto the 3 pm ferry and were soon enjoying the stunning views from the Cat Ba Island ferry as it weaved its way through the towering limestone karsts. The journey through Ha Long Bay took around 1 hour and was very relaxing and peaceful.
The vessel is just a basic open platform car ferry with plenty of seating if you climb upstairs. There's very limited shelter if it rains though, just something to be aware of.
The Local Island Bus to Cat Ba Town
We docked on the north end of Cat Ba island at Bến phà Gia Luận ferry terminal and looked for the local bus to Cat Ba town. The bus is timed to meet the ferry and transport locals across the island so were there when we arrived.
We jumped on board and paid once it had set off. It costs 25,000 VND (now 30,000 VND $1.20 USD) per person and takes around 30 minutes to reach Cat Ba Town.
There are private taxis and minivans waiting around but these might scam you with a sky-high price.
The road is a bit bumpy in places but the island scenery itself is stunning with some small settlements along the way. It felt like we had been transported to another world.
What Can You Do on Cat Ba Island?
Before you go there, be sure to check out our post on stuff to see and do on Cat Ba Island for some ideas for when you arrive. Including the super spooky Hospital Cave!
Also, remember to book your accommodation on Cat Ba Island ahead of your visit.
The island is a very popular getaway destination for locals and can become super busy during Vietnamese public holidays and celebrations.
Hydrofoil from Cat Ba to Hai Phong
We chose to get the boat directly to Hai Phong rather than back to Hanoi. This is the ideal route if you plan to head south along the coast of Vietnam from here.
The Hydrofoil departs from the Bến tàu Cát Bà pier in the centre of Cat Ba town just behind the big fancy monument. Make sure you get a ticket from the official vendor as there can be a few touts hanging around the pier.
After around 1 hour or so you'll arrive at the Bến tàu khách Bến Bính in Hai Phong. It's less than 1.5 km to the central area and train station from the pier so, easily walkable.
Hai Phong is a fairly industrial town with not a lot on offer to stick around for but it seemed friendly enough. We stopped there for one night to break up the journey but you could just jump onto a bus or train and head on.
Book Onward Travel from Hai Phong
From the central rail station, you can catch a train west to from Hai Phong to Hanoi for around 130,000 VND. The journey is just over 2 hours.
If you want to head south then a bus is the best option. It's a 2.5-hour journey down to Ninh Binh and costs around 190,000 VND.
Here you can jump off the trail and chill after a short taxi ride to the picturesque Tam Coc Village.
We always recommend 12GoAsia for booking any transport tickets in advance. In Vietnam, you can usually use the e-ticket which is emailed to you so no messing around with printing or internet cafes.