The Halong/Cat Ba conundrum

If you’ve been to Vietnam, or are planning a trip there, you know how much of a headache it is trying to arrange that picture-perfect trip to either Halong or Lan Tho Bay. For me, deciding on what to do left me in a state of mental purgatory for at least 2 days! I hope this post helps you out a little.

The first thing you need to come to terms with is that both Halong Bay and Lan Tho Bay (accessed from Cat Ba island) are both located in the Gulf of Tonkin and are close to each other. They are both beautiful and they both have exactly the same sort of famous rocks projecting from the water. Deciding on one over the other, is in my opinion, a redundant concern as they’re both pretty much the same thing. I have heard, however, that the Halong Bay side of the Gulf is more polluted? If you’ve been there, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Heading out to Lan Tho Bay.

I chose to visit Lan Tho Bay and stayed on Cat Ba Island. I decided not to join a cruise into the bay and rather traveled independently with a friend I’d met in Vietnam. My mental purgatory was caused by the following:

Do I join a cruise?

Firstly, they’re not cheap – you could join a ‘cheap’ one for $80 (a 2 day one night job) full of 18 year olds looking to spend the duration of their trip pissed, or you could join a more expensive tour with prices exceeding $200 but you run the risk of being stuck with a crowd completely out of your backpacking budget. Both options never appealed to me and as I am not too time constricted, opted to venture to Cat Ba Island independently.


If I join a cruise, what cruise?

There are millions of agencies, all punting a variety of different cruises. Many of them are on the same boats, but booked through independent agencies. The sheer number of agencies will leave you confused.

The main questions to ask an agency if you’ve opted for a cruise is:

  1. Whats the ‘quality’ of the boat? This is ranked into low, medium and high.
  2. Do you sleep on the boat or on some island rented by the boat owner?
  3. Inclusions and exclusions.
  4. Does the boat have aircon? Critical in South East Asia!

Cat Ba or Halong?

They’re both excellent, I liked Cat Ba as it’s a little less touristy and the town itself is decent with a number of good beaches. I can’t comment on Halong City. Both are easily accessed from Hanoi via the harbour town of Haiphong. All the hostels can organise your transport there – there’s nothing too difficult about it.


Can I see the bay as an independent tourist?

Yes you can. I signed up for a day tour from my hostel for $16 and saw Lan Ha Bay, kayaked around, visited Monkey Island and had a cracker lunch onboard the boat. This is all I really wanted and saved me a lot of dollars!


We visited Monkey Island. If you’re heading there, pack some decent hiking shoes. I did the hike up in flip flops and nearly saw my arse a hundred times!

Whichever option you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Both are extraordinarily beautiful and will leave you completely satisfied!

2 thoughts on “The Halong/Cat Ba conundrum

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