Cheap Ha Long Bay trip for just 12 USD!
A trip to Ha Long Bay is a must on your to do list in Vietnam. However, for any 2 day cruise from Hanoi you will have to pay around 100 USD per person. Meanwhile, not far away from Ha Long Bay itself there is an island where 1-day boat trips with almost the same program cost 12 USD! The price difference is huge, but the question is how is the quality of such a cheap Ha Long Bay trip? Below I described the whole cruise bought on Cat Ba Island for just 12 USD. Check it out!
We bought the trip to Ha Long Bay in the Victor Charlie Hostel where we stayed on Cat Ba Island. For a one day trip we paid 300.000 dong, around 12 USD. The price included:
- transportation to and from the hostel
- whole day cruise from 8:00 till 17:00
- entry fee to the National Park of Ha Long Bay
- all activities
- lunch on the boat with vegetarian option (excl. drinks)
I have to admit at the beginning I was sceptical about this solution. It was too cheap to be good. But I have to say at the end I was positively surprised. The boat wasn’t overcrowded, our guide spoke very good English and he told us a lot of interesting stories about the region. We didn’t miss any important attractions and the lunch was simple but very tasty and they served also vegetarian dishes. The price included a boat cruise through the Ha Long Bay, kayaking in the middle of the amazing landscape, a stop at a lagoon where we could jump into the water from the roof of the boat and swim, lunch on the boat, Monkey Island with a view point and floating fishing villages. This was definitely enough for one day.
At the hostel you can also buy a two day trip for 120 USD per person. The only additional element is the Bai Tu Long Bay and of course a night on the boat. The rest is the same but split into two days. Is it worth it? Maybe, but only if the weather is good. Otherwise on a rainy day you will be stuck on the boat without the possibility to enjoy swimming and sunbathing. When we visited Ha Long Bay the weather was very bad. It was raining almost the whole day and it was very cloudy. This and the high price were the reasons why we decided against the 2 day option and took the 1 day cruise.
On the day of the cruise a small bus picked us up from our hostel shortly after 7:00 am and we went to pick up people from other hostels. Our next stop was the ferry terminal Bến Bèo, where the boat was waiting for us. We got from our guide badges that most probably were entry tickets to the Ha Long Bay. After the boat cruise it turned out that the bus couldn’t come so they brought us to our hostels with private cars.
HA LONG BAY
The whole landscape around Cat Ba Island looks like Ha Long Bay, that’s why I didn’t even realised when we reached this place with our boat. Everything looked the same, so our guide had to remind people sitting inside the boat to come to the roof and look at the bay. Apparently not only I was not seeing the difference. In the Ha Long Bay there are a few of alone-standing thin rocks which were named in funny ways to amuse tourists (elephant, wife and husband). Your guide will show them to you for sure. It’s nice to see them because they are eroding from water and will soon fall down but in my opinion we passed by many other more beautiful places during the cruise.
This was the best part of the trip. It was the magical moment when you could swim away from other people, enjoy the beautiful nature while kayaking next to the rocks and listening to birds singing. The best part was definitely kayaking through the caves. On their other side there were mostly small, super quiet lagoons surrounded by the limestone rocks, where one could really enjoy the views in peace. While kayaking you will most probably get a little bit wet, because the water from the paddles is dropping down on your legs and the seat can be wet. If you are careful then there is no need to change. If it’s warm outside you can just go in a bathing suit. During our trip it was quite cold and rainy so we were kayaking dressed from head to toe. My trousers were a little bit wet afterwards but it wasn’t that bad.
SWIMMING (around 40 min.)
During the boat cruise there is also a stop at a lagoon. There you can jump to the water from the roof of the boat and swim to the nearest beach. However, during our trip the weather was rather bad. It was raining, the sky was full of clouds and it was so cold that everybody had long sleeves on. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop a lot of people from jumping into the water – it would be a pity to be in Ha Long Bay and didn’t swim in the emerald green water between the rocks, right? I heard the water itself wasn’t so cold but it got pretty unpleasant when one got out of it. On the boat there were diving masks and snorkels for free but accordingly to Alex there was nothing special to see under the water.
MONKEY ISLAND (1,5h)
The least attractive part of the trip was the Money Island. The reason for that was most probably the rain. If the weather is nice you can spend time on the beach, swim in the sea or go to the viewpoint. From the top there is a great view on the bay. However, the way up is quite hard and a bit dangerous because of the slippery and sharp stones and it gets even more dangerous on rainy days. Make sure you take your sport shoes with you!
MONKEYS ARE BITING!
If the weather is not good then the only thing you can do there is sitting in the small roofed bar and watch people trying not to got bitten while taking selfies with wild monkeys. Now, this is a topic that I have to elaborate on. Obviously, the Monkey Island is famous because of the monkeys living next to the bar. A lot of tourists try to do photos with them or try to pet them in exchange for food. Meanwhile, these are fully wild animals that don’t associate human touch with pleasure. That’s why very often they snatch food out of people’s hands and react aggressive when somebody wants to touch them because they most probably think, this person wants to take the food away from them or they interpret this as an attack.
This is the reason why most people get bitten by monkeys. The bites are really dangerous, because monkeys can carry rabies – a very serious illness that is leading to a painful death if not treated in time. That’s why after a bite you will need to visit a hospital several times in order to get injections against this deadly disease. Judging by people’s behaviour on the Monkey Island, not everybody is aware of that when reaching out his or her hand to a sweet little monkey.
However, if you look at the interaction between the monkeys and the locals who work on the island, you will see that the animals are used to living around humans. The staff was easily approaching them and giving them food from their hand. The interaction is much more pleasant for both sides if you skip the part when you try to treat a wild animal like a pet.
The monkeys are also super clever and they learned how to use the fact, that people are often afraid of them. They jump on people’s arms and shoulder and steal food or even phones from their hands. They also jump on tables and take whatever they want – it’s like an all you can take buffet for them. If you simply try to chase them away it won’t work because they already know that tourists are too afraid of them to really hurt them – after all they are a tourist attraction.
The floating villages can be seen both, at the beginning of the cruise and at the end. One of them Làng Chài is located next to the harbour Bến Bèo from which we started our trip. This part is just about swimming with the boat through the village and watching the life on the floating constructions. Most of them are fish farms but people also have there small houses. Sometimes even cats and dogs are living there. What I was missing though, was the possibility to really visit these villages. Take a walk, watch from a small distance. There is a possibility on Cat Ba Island to buy a private trip directly to the villages. A guide will take you with a small boat and you will visit for example a pearl farm, a floating school, a police station or a floating house. But this attraction will cost you a lot of money…
Interesting fact: I read not so long ago that local people are not allowed anymore to live in the floating villages. Apparently the government advised them to move on land so they will live in better conditions and their children will have better education possibilities. That’s why the villages are now just used as fish farms and tourist attraction. Anyways, not so long ago thousands of people were living on this floating constructions, so it’s really worth to see them.
For just 12 USD I was not expecting at all to have such a great experience. It was really the best choice we could make. All the most important sights and activities were included, there were no crowds and the food was really good. That’s why I recommend to buy a one day cruise on Cat Ba Island to everyone who wants to organise a cheap Ha Long Bay trip on one’s own. Instead of buying an organised 2-day trip from Hanoi for 100 USD you can spend 3 days on Cat Ba Island and visit Ha Long Bay for 40 USD. Why 40 USD? Check out my other blog post about how to organise a Ha Long Bay trip to find out.
Here is a map on which I marked all the important places on Cat Ba Island and in its neighbourhood. It will help you to plan your stay on the island. It includes the cheap hostel we slept in, restaurants and bars that we checked and other places that we visited. By clicking on the star you can save it in your Google Maps Account under Your Places and use it later while travelling. Enjoy!