When you’re getting ready to make your next travel move, do you research where to go? How to get there? Do you check fares, schedules, and typical taxi rates? I met a fellow traveler when I was in Bagan back in May and he came to Vietnam just before me. Around the same time, an American family I’d met in Melaka, Malaysia, had also gone to Ho Chi Minh City. I was in a rush to catch up with everyone and accepting suggestions and recommendations along the way. I spent three days in HCMC, a few in Da Lat (where I wrote about coffee), three in Hoi An, and then I took a motorcycle ride from there, passing through Da Nang, ending in Hue. If you know Vietnam, you’ll see I skipped a few places. In my haste to not only catch up with the others and make it to Laos in three weeks, I was in frequent contact with my friend who was just a day or two ahead of me.
“Skip this,” he’d say, or “Don’t go there, it’s a waste of time.” And most importantly, he made a good call on recommending my then travel buddy and I get on the evening bus from Hue to Phong Nha. There was a bus, and arriving in the evening meant my German travel buddy and I could both see the caves! So that we did and at the same time, I caught up with Maz, my Bagan buddy from India.
To pay him back for all his recommendations and being my temporary tour guide as I made my way north, I wrote him a detailed message on how to get from Sa Pa to Ha Long Bay/Cat Ba Island. I’d actually had an idea of how to do it since our homestay host, Andrew, hooked me up with some info, and now I share with you, in more detail!
Taken from my message to Maz:
“I just got to the Cat Ba Central Hostel. $5.00/night, breakfast included. AC. Just north of the main strip.” It’s Not too bad for the price, comfortable beds, and all in all, pretty quiet. I booked it when I arrived in the morning.
Andrew had called a taxi for us before we left Ta Van. I’m sure any guest house owner would do the same and the rate was 200,000 VND. I left the village early to check out the Fansipan Cable Car ride with 3 others.
It was a beautiful day and in addition to getting a bird’s eye view of the rice paddies, we climbed 600 steps once we arrived to the top!
In order to get a van to Lao Caí where the bus station is located, I waited with two other girls at a hostel for pick up in Sa Pa. We made our way on the curvy mountain road, my right foot often pressing the non-existent passenger side break. We made it, stopped in a small office where a woman told us to be ready to go at 6:40, and had time to get dinner, like Andrew recommended. We were ferried to a different bus station in Lao Cai, waited for a while, and finally, around 8:00, the sleeper bus pulled away in the dark.
“When we arrived at the bus stop in the morning, it was early, maybe 4:00 I think but everyone stayed on the bus until about 6:00, sleeping. I was crashed out pretty hard. No taxi would take us to the Tuan Chau ferry terminal for less than 100,000 VND so we had to go and split it 3 ways. We even left the bus station, one guy followed us out. 4 different guys quoted 100,000 VND. We got there around 6:15 and had plenty of time before the first boat left so we found a bakery and had a bite to eat. The ferry ticket to Cat Ba was 25,000 and took about 45 minutes. It left around 7:45 am. On Cat Ba, there’s a city bus you can take for 25,000. The end of the line is the tourist district, but it’s more hotels and whatnot, less of a backpacker style area although there are plenty of hostels.
All rides were good. Ferry ride is very scenic.”
Cat Ba is less touristy than Ha Long and it’s beautiful. On my first day I walked up a steep hill to a Cannon Hill Fort. It was interesting, very few people were there, and most importantly, the views were amazing.
Ta Van-Sa Pa-Lao Cai-Cat Ba. Doable overnight and you get to bypass Hanoi, ultimately saving time.
There’s plenty to do once you arrive, so plan according to your tastes and travel style and if doing the trip in reverse, just ask your hotel or hostel owner to hook you up with info and hit up Andrew at My Tra in Ta Van for an awesome place to stay!