We'd been extremely excited about visiting Ha Long Bay and the neighbouring Lan Ha Bay, as many of our friends who'd been had said it was a standout highlight of their trip to Vietnam. The photos we'd seen depicting hundreds of sculpted, jagged limestone rock formations protruding dramatically from still, emerald-green waters looked quite literally out of this world.
Largely for time reasons, a day boat trip (2 day 1 night excursions are available) was the best option for us to experience the area, but there are hundreds of choices on where to go from and which company to book with.
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Ha Long City or Cat Ba Island Tour?
Before booking our tour of Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay we did a fair amount of research, much of which seemed to suggest that Ha Long City, where most of the tours go from, had changed significantly in recent years. Reports suggested it was now completely overrun with tourists and catered to by mercenary tour operators offering low price, low quality tours on un-seaworthy boats. Not quite the experience we were after. So we set about finding a quieter alternative.
Cat Ba Island, a small and relatively undeveloped member of the Lan Ha Bay archipelago and equal in beauty to Ha Long, fit the bill perfectly. We found a reputable company, Cat Ba Ventures, that had excellent reviews in both guidebooks and online and booked in for a their Ha Long Bay - Lan Ha Bay day boat trip and it turned out to be a great choice.
The Cat Ba Ventures Boat & Crew
The day started with us meeting at the Cat Ba Ventures' office before being shuttled by coach the 5 minute journey from Cat Ba Town to Ben Beo, the port we'd be leaving from. There was a group of about 16 people on the boat trip but although it was quite a large group, it still felt very intimate as Phuc, our guide for the day, got everyone to introduce themselves while he explained exactly what we'd be doing and where we'd be going.
We were given dry bags to hold the belongings we wanted to take with us when we were off the boat and they also had a safe on board to store any valuables such as money or phones. There were two decks on the boat, the lower one was an enclosed dining room with large tables with benches and the upper one was a sundeck with comfortable chairs and benches perfect for relaxing on while taking in the views. As soon as we cast off we were immediately immersed in the amazing landscapes of the tree topped karst islands, schools of jumping fish flew in and out of the water beside us and hawks circled effortlessly, high above in the hot air currents.
Kayaking Around Lan Ha Caves
After about an hour and a half of cruising we arrived at our first stop in Lan Ha Bay, a floating jetty where we clambered into bright yellow tandem canoes. As we paddled, Phuc recanted the ancient legend of how Lan Ha Bay was originally formed with the flick of a dragon's tail, slicing the islands into the hundreds of shards that now dot the bay.
We spent a glorious couple of hours gliding through pitch black caves as bats flitted above our heads, through into secluded lagoons overlooked by lush verdant peaks. We were even treated to the sight of monkeys noisily thrashing their way through the treetops in search of food. The sun shining down and the still waters made it the perfect spot for kayaking.
Lunch & Snorkelling in Ha Long Bay
We boarded our boat again and began our journey to a secluded area of Ha Long Bay. Here we had time to launch ourselves from the upper deck for a quick swim in the open water before lunch. The meal was an incredible array of seafood ranging from stewed squid to plump prawns and accompanied by rice, salad and vegetables and followed with fresh watermelon.
Watch our video below of the amazing Boat trip!
Next we headed further into Ha Long Bay to one of the hundreds of beaches that are found in the area to enjoy some snorkelling. Whilst the visibility wasn't amazing, we still managed to spot plenty of curious fish darting about around us, a couple of warring hermit crabs in the midst of a fight and even some large oysters on the seabed.
The Floating Fishing Village of Lan Ha Bay
We made our way back towards Cat Ba Island and a mist began to rise from the sea, shrouding the limestone mounds rising from the water in even more mystery. As we drifted towards the setting sun, passing through a vast floating fishing village in Lan Ha Bay, we reflected on what had been a truly special day. Our Cat Ba Island boat tour had consisted of jaw dropping scenery, awesome adventure as well as moments of pure serenity and had surpassed all of our expectations.
The price of the Ha Long Bay - Lan Ha Bay Boat Trip with Cat Ba Ventures is great value at just £24 and includes a bus to and from Ben Beo Port, kayaking, seafood lunch and snorkelling. Cat Ba Ventures are renowned for going to more secluded areas where there are not a high number of other tourist boats, in contrast to many of the tours available from Ha Long Town. They also offer longer tours over 2 days/1 night, 3 days/2 nights as well as walking and cycling tours of Cat Ba National Park.
Ever done a boat trip around Ha Long or Lan Ha Bay? Did you get caught up in the crowds or did you have an amazing experience like us? Let us know in the comments.
We are grateful to Cat Ba Ventures for generously hosting our tour, we have expressed our honest opinions on the Ha Long Bay - Lan Ha Bay boat trip and had a really special experience with the company.