The original plan for Ha Long Bay was to do a Junk Boat Cruise for either 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights. However, that plan changed quickly once we talked to a very sweet woman in the train station heading to Sapa.
She and her husband just got back from their Junk Boat Cruise and were less than impressed. Like us, they had high expectations for this portion of their trip to Vietnam. There was a lot of “hurry up and waiting” done from the beginning of their cruise to the minutes they were gathering their bags to leave the boat. We didn’t want to be rushed while kayaking, swimming, or hiking. We wanted to enjoy and utilize every second we were in Ha Long Bay. Thankfully, they gave us a great recommendation – instead of doing the cruise and paying a ridiculous amount of money for a mediocre experience, they suggested we stay on Cat Ba Island and sign up for a day trip to see/do everything you would be scheduled to do on the actual overnight cruise. So… that’s exactly what we did!
We took the ferry straight to Cat Ba and found an affordable hotel for the night. A triple-bed room for $11.00! What a steal! Once we were all checked in, we made our way to the beach. We floated for a couple hours and came up with a game plan for our time on this little island.
Day 1 – Rent motorbikes and drive around.
This is the best way to explore a new place. We saw everything! Except for caves 😐 We seemed to fly past those and not realize it. We drove through butterfly valley, went to both piers, made our way up the hill to the cannon fort (didn’t pay to go inside), and we drove ourselves back down to the beach. It really is a small island but it’s worth the journey around.
Day 2 – Junk Boat Day Cruise.
We started with a stop at Monkey Island to do a “hike” up to a viewpoint. Little did anyone know, this was not a hike – we went rock climbing in flipflops. We went halfway up the cliff and decided our lives were more important than the view. I’m beyond happy we turned around. For one, it started pouring right when we got back onto the beach. That kept us safer than scaling down a wall when the rain is blocking your eyesight and your flipflops can’t grip the rock (literally rock climbing). Secondly, it’s dangerous! Other people on our tour were coming back very upset. There wasn’t any information presented to us regarding proper attire and people could’ve seriously injured themselves.
Once we left Monkey Island, we made our way to the famous Ha Long Bay to have lunch, kayak, and swim. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating on our way out there. We were told lunch would be ready in 20 minutes but ended up taking an hour and a half before we were served. None of us would’ve minded if there was a more accurate ETA. We wanted to swim – regardless of the weather.
It was kayaking time right after lunch. I was so excited! My Auntie Barb and I were in one kayak together and my mom and our new friend Joe (or Ireland, as my mom liked to call him) were in another kayak together. As a huge group, we all made our way through different caves to calm lagoons. One lagoon was filled with jellyfish. I don’t mind jellyfish when I’m on a boat and nowhere near them 😉 (foreshadow!!!!)
Kayaking is tiring but we still had enough energy to swim! Not only did we have enough energy to swim, we had just the right amount of energy to jump off the top of the 2 story junk boat.
I was REALLY proud that I was on this trip with my Mom and my Auntie Barb. They were visibly the oldest people there (sorry ladies), but they were definitely having the most fun! I got to experience the Ha Long Bay Junk Boat Jump with my family, who constantly remind me to not let fear stop me – it was proven by their determination to do it all – no matter what.
I’m really happy with our decision to go to Cat Ba Island instead of doing the overnight Junk Boat Cruise. We were able to do things at our own speed, we experienced everything the overnight cruise takes you to, and we had the comfort of our own room on stable ground. We may have experienced a government mandated island-wide black out for an hour or so, and then multiple times throughout the night, but we still experienced the best of Ha Long Bay.