We had just one night in Hanoi before we made our way over to Halong city. With past bus journeys been such a nightmare, we thought we'd hit the jackpot with this fully cushioned, air conditioned, couple of hours journey. With a stop along the way at an actual store.
We booked our trip to Cat Ba Island through our hostel, which included the bus to Halong and the boat to Cat Ba.
With Cat Ba as the goal, we weren't anticipating the scenic tour of Halong Bay - in hindsight this was the best way to see it, but as we hadn't booked to stay on the boat overnight we weren't allowed to take advantage of any meals, so the day long trip was a pretty hungry one.
The tour was pretty breathtaking, the Islands are pretty much deserted, dotted with floating homes and the odd boat as we were in off season. The first tour of the caves was worth seeing, but as they've added their faved neon lights to the rock, it does feel a little Disneyland.
You can take canoes and boats out around the islands, but be prepared for more of a workout than you'd think.
We might some really great people on the boat, it's a great day and night opportunity but fears of seasickness - despite deathly still waters - had us avoiding it.
Instead, we arrived at Cat Ba Island just as the sun was setting.
Cat Ba Island
From what we saw of the island, the majority of 'life' all seems to be based on one side, with a more industrial side near the locals' dock area.
With this in mind it meant another 40 minute bus, packed tightly, to get to the other side of the island.
This is one thing you can't really avoid as there are no other options (or at least not in the pitch black) which meant we really had to push to be taken further than where they were trying to drop us of. You'll be fully aware when you're in the lively part, neon lights everywhere as you should expect. It's not far out to a few of the other hotels but we were again wary of been taken to a 'friends' hotel and been taken advantage of in cost.
We stayed in Cat Ba Dream which is in prime spot on the front - nothing amazing, but all seemed pretty similar from what other people said.
The island is the idyllic place to hire a moped - at least to practise, if this is where you're kicking off your trip. We were in off season, but I'm pretty sure it'll always be pretty quiet on the roads. We hired for the day and did a tour of the entire island. There's gorgeous scenery around every single corner and it was genuinely one of my favourite days of the whole trip having the chance to fully explore without a guide. Always step off the opposite side to the exhaust as it gets scalding hot, I was too aware of this in order to avoid another mass injury but there were plenty of bandaged legs on the island.
The beaches are in small coves and most are essentially tourist beaches with cafés and loungers for hire. I think it was the Cat Co 3 beach that has beach huts as a resort just off the beach. They were out of our budget at this point but they would be perfect for silent paradise if there's just a couple of you. We hired a canoe here, which allowed us to go out to more of the smaller islands there.
There were a couple of bars that were obviously the hub of the front when we were there, drinks - as expected - are cheap, but still good, and the setting is ideal for meeting people.
The island was actually where we spent the most time, which was nice to just stay still for 3 days instead of constantly been on the move.
It's definitely worth your time if you're in Hanoi, and the two hour bus journey out to the dock will seem like 5 minutes with what you're used to.