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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Sapa to Cat Ba Island to Hanoi

VIETNAM | Monday, 19 May 2008 | Views [4843] | Comments [1]

Tue 13th May - Boarded train SP8 coach 1 destined for Hanoi. Very clean and organised and in a shared cabin with a couple of girls from Denmark  with four beds. Left spot on 7:30pm as planned. ETA 4:15am. Cup of tea in nice pottery cups and snack service available. Watched a dvd to pass the time, 'the silent american' with Michael Caine. Another poignant vietnamese film set during the war in 1954. Unfortunately, not the best acting!

Didn't sleep much during the journey although the ride was smooth enough.

Wed 14th May - Arrived in Hanoi at 4:30am, tired and greeted by a fair sized mob of taxi and motos. We are on our way to Cat Ba Island and it didn't take long to fathom out that we needed to get a bus to Haiphong from Xa Pat bus station. Cost us 100,000 Ðong for a taxi. Luck was in our favour and there was a Huon Long bus just ready to leave, so straight on (45,000 Ðong) and on our way at 5am. Easy journey as not much traffic around, and got dropped off at the Tam Bac bus station in Haiphong at 7:30. One of the memorable features of Haiphong is the abundance of 'Flame' trees (aka Pointsiana) flanking the banks of some of the rivers and roads...a stunning sight.

A 20,000 Ðong moto ride to the ferry teminal. Luck struck again as there are four fast ferries leaving to Cat Ba Island (6:40, 8:15, 9:45, 13:40). Two competing ticket offices, one saying there were no spaces on the other office's ferry and both trying to overcharge for what was available. Turned out that there were spaces and the 'tourist' price was 50% higher than the vietnamese price. Haggled and managed to get two tickets on the 8:15 crossing and got the price down to 120,000 Ðong. A minibus takes the passengers on a half hour journey to where the ferries actually leave from. Set off at 8:55 and landed on Cat Ba at 9:15. The previous departures used to take 45 minutes. A Cat Ba tour bus was waiting to take us to Cat Ba town, which is a half hour trip to the other side of the island. The island is a real beauty and looking forward to exploring as we will have 5 nights here. Lots of hotels to chose from and ended up at the nice and clean Bay View hotel with a superb view over the manificent bay for $12. The best room in the hotel and normally over $25, especially at weekends. A shower and change followed by breakfast.

Cannot believe our luck with an amazing sequence of connections this morning and we arrived here many hours before we expected to.

Off for a walk along the attractive waterfront with numerous attractive boats and a floating restaurant in the bay, and into the market to buy some rambutans and mangosteens. It's funny how easy it is to get used to exotic fruits being available. Also, whereas I have regularly seen the local rice wine with snakes and scorpions in it, here it has seahorses and geckos pickled in it as well as snakes!

Stopped off at Noble House for a beer and chat in the comfortable upstairs bar. Victoria had been here before and knew a couple of the girls, so that made for a nice reunion. Will be doing some rock climbing whilst here and Noble house is the only place that can orangise it. It had been a really fast paced moning and we were both suffering from lack of sleep, so crashed out for a siesta...zzzzz

A nice walk later and then a quick look around to find a nice place for some fresh fish. Many floating restaurants but prices here are very high. Picked a place on the waterfront but wasn't too impressed with what turned up. Apparently the best place in town is green mango, but that is expensive too. Finished off the evening with a nice social gathering in Noble's bar.

Thu 15th May - Going east from Cat Ba town takes you to three beaches called Cat Co 1, 2 and 3. 1 and 3 have been taken up by resorts, which are dead during the week, but come alive at weekends apparently. Pristine pools and nicely turned out staff with absolutely nobody around. The security guard looked shocked when we walked in to have a look. Cat Co 2 is a nice quiet cove with an option to stay in tents under gazebos for $5 a night. Good food available and bonfires at night make for a cheap option although it isn't accessible by road, only along the beach.

In the afternoon hired a tandem bicycle for 15,000  Ðong an hour, which are plentiful along the waterfront and take a bit of getting used to at first. There isn't much to see here, so had been around the town twice in 45 minutes! When someone has an idea here, everyone copies it. The tandems first appeared about 2 years ago and are now everywhere.

In the evening had a nice meal at Huong Y, which is recommended by the rough guide, then off to the new zealand expat owned Flightless bird bar for a social with the group from the hotel.

Fri 16th May - Had hired a couple of moto drivers to pick us up at 8:30am, one of which would also act as guide. Had agreed 100,000 Ðong each and what we would be doing. Set off to Quân y, or 'Hospital cave' first. (25,000 Ðong each including the guide). This place took 3 years to build from 1963 with help from the chinese, and was used during the war with the US. Built on three levels in a massive cave and containing the full treatment theatres, beds, kitchens and even swimming pools. An average of upto 400 patients could be accomodated. Battleship type doors protected the hospital from invasion.

After that we went to the National Park to walk to 'Frog lake', at which point our guide announced he couldn't come with us as he didn't have the right shoes and would meet us back in 4 hours. Not happy with that but set off anyway. Didn't make it all the way to the lake as the terrain is difficult and ran out of time before deciding to turn back. A nice forest though, with no wildlife to see but some cool stick insects and some large numbers of beautiful butterflies.

On returning, the 'guide' and his mate soon appeared ad announced that we didn't have enough time to see the rest we agreed and that he now wanted             $20! A heated argument then broke out as he had lied to us big time, and we weren't having any messing. Had to scrap the rest of the day as had lost complete confidence in them, so went back to town early. They only got paid less than half the agreed price, so their loss...beware of this type of scam as it ruined what should have been a nice day...Vietnam scam strikes again! I could seriously consider living in this country, if it wasn't for the at times painful scamming. It is a part of asian life, but more extreme here.

Sat 17th May - A chillin day today, so didn't do much. Walked up to the Ho Chi Minh statue that is perched on a hill above the town opposite the main pier. Not too difficult to find the way up although it isn't signposted. It is illuminated of an evening and isn't too exciting by day. The main feature is the excellent view of the bay.

As it is the weekend, the vietnamese have flooded in from the mainland and the beaches have filled up as a result. The stage that is permanently set up by the pier laid on a traditional theatrical show in vietnamese that was interesting to watch in the evening. It was funny to watch the large numbers of tandems take to the roads, with the kids squeezing four to a bike and doing various acrobatic stuff. A real change in pace and activity, compared to the peace and quiet of the past few days.

Sun 18th May - Booked on to a rock climbing and kayaking day, run by slo-pony at the Noble house, a super bunch of guys, Slo, Clint and a vietnamese climber Victor.

Did four climbs from a place called 'Honeymoon' beach. For my first foray into proper rock climbing, I couldn't have picked a more awesome setting. The limestone karst rock formations are stunning but very treacherous, with edges like knives in places. Thoroughly enjoyed myself and fortunately don't have much of a fear of heights. Professional guys and all gear is provided. Followed the climbing with a couple of hours kayaking. We managed to find our own deserted beaches with not another human in sight. There are so many islands here, many with beaches that it isn't difficult to find isolation from the rest of the world for a while.

The boat we came out on was later used to ferry out a group of backpackers from Hanoi, so things got a bit noisier. A good crowd, so it made for an interesting time, although we did escape again later for another spell on the kayak and some more isolation on our own beach before returning to the busy throng of twenty somethings.

Another thunder and lightening storm this evening, so time to settle indoors with a nice meal at our hotel and a welcome shower to get rid of the salt.

Mon 19th May - Our last full day together before I fly back to the UK tomorrow for a short break and Victoria flies down to Ho Chi Minh City to meet a friend for a few days. A sad day as it may be many months before we see each other again.

Booked a bus ticket through the Houng Lao company that will take us back to Hanoi (150,000 Ðong), leaving at 13:15. There are four a day that save on the hassle of having to sort out the individual sections if you do it yourself.

Have enjoyed staying at the Bay View hotel, with a great guy Martin, who runs it. Highly recommended.

Time to kill after a late breakfast until our bus leaves, not much to do as the power is out across the island again. No disruptions to power over the weekend but early monday and its back to normal.

Went for a haircut and it's near enough back to having my head shaved, not ideal as i'm going back to the UK with low temperatures...will be a shock to my system as I haven't been in anything below 25 degrees celcius for a long time.

Walking around Cat Ba town can be a shocker for the guys as there is quite a red light side to this place. Twice on my way to get my hair cut, the girls approach....sir want massage and Boom boom?  Recently, when Victoria and I were out walking, a girl ran out of a hotel, grabbed my arm and....sir want boom boom? She then turned around and noticed Victoria standing there, clasped her hands over her mouth and ran back into the hotel giggling. Didn't expect it of this town.

The trip back to Hanoi went fairly well. The Huong Lao bus takes passengers to the ferry terminal the other side of the island, where you board a very nippy fast ferry to Haiphong. On to a nice flash bus to go to some intermediate point where we transferred to another bus for the section to Hanoi. Got there at peak time and had to pick up a taxi to get to the old quarter where we wanted to stay. Chose the Duc Huy Hotel for $22 including beakfast and wifi in the rooms.

Tue 20th May - Up early to get to Hanoi airport. On Vietnam Airways flight VN831 to Bangkok, leaving at 9:30am. Then got to wait around at Bangkok airport until my flight back to Manchester via Abu Dhabi that leaves at 8:40pm. Going to be a long haul....




Hi. It was a while ago I did this and I went from Cambodia which was easy as I just went to the local consulate to get it, which took an astonishing 15 minutes from start to finish...a record for any visa application I have ever done! From outside the country you have to go to your nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate I guess. It depends if you are going straight form Australia. If you are then you will have to research you nearest cities there, or maybe even a visa agency. Best of luck and enjoy


  jeff bradshaw Jan 23, 2011 2:11 AM

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