Two-Day Halong Bay Cruise with Cat Ba Ventures: Tour Review & Recap
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Taking a cruise through Halong Bay is one of the most popular activities to do in northern Vietnam. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains around 1,600 islands and islets. The untouched islands and limestone cliffs create a beautiful backdrop, which has been featured in a few movies. One of the most well-known is Kong: Skull Island.
Seeing Halong Bay was a must for me when I visited Vietnam. When I started researching tours, I realized there’s an overwhelming number of companies and tour options available. I was tempted to book through my hostel so it’d be an easier choice, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of potentially getting stuck on a horrible cruise.
After looking at a few tours, I figured out what I wanted in my Halong Bay cruise. As a solo traveler who likes to travel cheaply but is willing to pay more for special experiences, here’s what I was looking for:
- No single supplement
- Pick-up and drop-off in Cat Ba
- Two days, one night
- Hot showers
- A boat that’s in between luxury and budget
- A cruise that would have other young adults, but not a party boat
- Preferably under $150 USD
My criteria led me to Cat Ba Ventures, which has over 800 reviews for their Halong Bay cruise on TripAdvisor and consistently gets 5 stars on all their tours. Their rating and reviews on Google are just as high.
Here’s how my Halong Bay cruise with Cat Ba Ventures went and what you can expect if you decide to go with them. This review is not sponsored by Cat Ba Ventures.
- What I paid: $136 USD
- How to book: Cat Ba Ventures website (I recommend contacting them via WhatsApp for the fastest response)
- Rating: 🛶🛶🛶🛶🛶 5 out of 5 kayaks
Why I chose Lan Ha Bay over Halong Bay
My cruise with Cat Ba Ventures sailed through Lan Ha Bay, instead of Halong Bay. This is actually one of the reasons why I chose to go with them over other companies.
Because of its popularity, Halong Bay is very busy and touristy. Imagine sharing the waters with lots of other boats and running into other tour groups when kayaking. It’s not the peaceful, undisturbed experience you want.
Lan Ha Bay is the way less touristy alternative to Halong Bay. The two are next to each other and are geographically similar. The limestone islands that have made Halong Bay famous also exist in Lan Ha Bay.
Even though you can find the same stunning views in Lan Ha Bay, it’s still under the radar. Fewer tour companies sail there so you’re not surrounded by other tourists. Lan Ha Bay cruises are also slightly cheaper than Halong Bay cruises.
Our hilarious tour guide
One of my favorite, unexpected highlights of the cruise was our tour guide, Ben. He had a great sense of humor and was always cracking jokes. I’m sure he tells the same jokes to every tour group, but he delivers them as if it’s the first time.
Ben was an open book. He shared his background and culture with us, and we could ask him anything. We learned about the tribe he comes from and their interesting marriage customs.
If you decide to go with Cat Ba Ventures and get Ben as your guide, you won’t be disappointed.
Kayak, swim, and spot wildlife in secluded lagoons
Choosing Lan Ha Bay over Halong Bay was absolutely worth it. The main activities on the cruise are kayaking and swimming, which are best enjoyed without a lot of other tour groups around to spoil your views and photos.
We kayaked through limestone tunnels that opened into pristine lagoons and rarely ran into other tour groups. On the morning of the second day, we had an entire lagoon to ourselves. It was such a treat, given how crowded some activities in southeast Asia are.
As we pulled up to the limestone cliffs in our kayaks, we kept our eyes on the forests. It’s common to see macaques, but what you’re really searching for are langurs. The Cat Ba langur, also known as the golden-headed langur, has a dark brown body and a golden yellow head. They’re a critically endangered species, with less than 60 of them remaining. We saw a few monkeys jumping around the trees, but weren’t able to spot the rare langur.
My favorite stop we made was a small beach tucked into the side of an island. Some people jumped off the boat and swam to the island. I chose to kayak over since it was January and the water was too cold to swim in for me. There wasn’t much exploring you could do since the beach was tiny, but there was a red temple hidden behind some trees and a small cove next to the beach.
Being the only ones on the beach was incredibly peaceful and special. It truly felt like we were discovering a secret place.
Fresh seafood feasts
After experiencing the delicious homestyle meals of the Ha Giang Loop, I was hoping for something similar. My high expectations were met, and my inner foodie was so happy and well fed on this trip.
If you’re a fan of seafood, you’re going to love all the fresh clams, squid, shrimp, and fish that’s served. Meals are done family-style, with a large number of dishes, all the rice you can eat, and fruit. And if you don’t do seafood, Cat Ba Ventures can accommodate dietary restrictions. In my group, we had one meat eater who didn’t like seafood and a few vegetarians.
Water, coffee, and tea are included, but you’ll need to pay extra for soda and alcohol.
Comfortable rooms with a view
The quality of the rooms was exactly what I was aiming for with a mid-priced cruise. My room was clean, well organized, and comfortable. The room fits two people and was nicely set up with a bed, nightstand, vanity and stool, a small seating area, and closets. The bathroom was basic and had toiletries, like toothbrush, toothpaste, and shampoo. There’s even a heating and air conditioning unit.
For solo travelers, there’s no additional cost if you’re willing to share a room. Otherwise, it’s $65 USD for a private room. If the boat isn’t full, you’ll automatically get your own room.
I didn’t mind sharing a room with someone and preferred to save that money for something else. Since I went during the low season, our boat wasn’t full and I got a room to myself.
The perfect, affordable way to see Halong Bay
As we got closer to Cat Ba Island, I was bummed the cruise was over. Two days felt like a short time for exploring the turquoise waters and the towering islands. Ben had made it such a fun adventure, and the cruise felt like the perfect balance between cost and quality.
If you have the time and money, I recommend going on a longer cruise. And if you’re looking to spend less than I did, try Cat Ba Ventures’s one day tour. It’s only $29 USD and includes a seafood lunch and pick-up and drop-off in Cat Ba.
More resources for traveling Vietnam
- What to Pack for a Halong Bay Cruise
- How to Solo Travel Vietnam
- 5 Complete Itineraries to See North Vietnam in 7 Days
- Three-Day Ha Giang Loop Tour With Cheers Hostel: Tour Review & Recap