After the stunning scenery of Phong Nha National Park we decided to go see the Phong Nha of the sea, Ha Long Bay, another Unesco World Heritage Site. We heard Ha Long City was over touristic so we decided to head to Cat Ba Island via the port city of Hai Phong. This involved a three-day drive. The first day we headed to a small town off the Ho Chi Minh Trail called Bach Dai Dung, this was a pretty nice drive along the scenic and little traveled road. The next day we drove to Thanh Hoa, this was a much less pleasant drive with much more traffic and development. Both days we spent the night in small guesthouses for under $10 a night. The third day we drove to the port city of Hai Phong, the third largest city in Vietnam. This drive was even less pleasant, a ton of traffic, trucks, and construction and then we had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay. We finally found a decent hotel for $15 with a garage to park our bike.
The next morning we got up early to make the dusty drive to the ferry terminal. It was 120k($4.5) Dong per person plus an extra 30k($1.5) Dong for the motorbike. The ferries run every hour from 8 to 5 with a lunch break between 11 and 1, luckily we made it just a few minutes before it left, so no waiting. The ride was fairly scenic but even more scenic was the motorbike ride through the island to the town of Cat Ba where the hotels were located. This was high season so despite being less touristy than Ha Long City there were still plenty of people around, mostly people shuttled in from Hanoi. Even being high season we got a bay front room on the main strip up on the 7th floor for $15 a night. The food however was at least 50% more expensive than the mainland, still cheap but not like before.
The first day we just kicked it at the hotel after three days of hard traveling and enjoyed the view. The next day we got up and changed the oil and had our bike rack rewelded and then went and to check out the two public beaches. We decided on the second beach and ended up renting chairs with no mats and an umbrella for 120k dong. That was pretty steep considering we paid 80k in Nha Trang and had access to a resort and pool. However from the first few hours we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water was also ridiculously warm, I would guess 92 or 93 degrees, not too refreshing! The last day we rented a tandem kayak for 200k($9) for the day. This was probably the highlight of the trip as we paddled through the amazing formations and even through a cave to our own beach, just like the movie. We also paddled to Monkey Island, where we saw no monkeys. We tried to make the climb to the top but it was a difficult hike that required scrambling and the rocks were simply too hot to touch in the middle of the day.
The next day we had to get up early to make sure we caught the ferry. There was a tropical storm coming and it was likely that the ferries would be shut down later in the day. Luckily we made it off the island and then made a mad dash to get as far inland as possible.