Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vietnam Series (Part 1) – Getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island

Just got back from our 12 days of fantastic- tripping around Vietnam. It was entirely a DIY trip, so we mulled through tons of travel blogs / articles and also our trusty Lonely Planet to plan our journey. Travelling in the month of January in Vietnam can be quite tricky when it comes to packing for attire, since the misty cold winter lingers up North (average of 16◦ in Hanoi / Cat Ba Island) but the sun shines warmly at the South (average of 25◦ in Saigon).

As we were doing our typical pre-trip rigorous research leading up to our adventure, we faced a mini dilemma of sorts. We wanted to do some rock climbing on Cat Ba island, but wanted to cover Halong Bay at the same time. At the very end, we decided that Cat Ba > Halong Bay.

Since Cat Ba is the trip less taken, getting from Hanoi to Cat Ba requires a bit more transit as compared to Halong Bay. Z has taken the liberty to write the (nitty-gritty) details as reference below:-

Bus Company: Hoang Long

Departure Times: 5.20am, 7.20am, 11.20am, 1.20pm

Duration: 4 hours from Hanoi to Cat Ba Town (including transits and waiting time in between)

Cost: 210,000VND per person (covers 2 bus rides, 1 speedboat ride, and 1 final bus ride)
(some sources have claimed it to be 240,000 VND which might be the peak summer season price)

Bus Station Address:

Ben xe Luong Yen,So 1 Nguyen Khoai

1.      The bus station is a 15 minute taxi ride from the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Motorcycle taxi should cost around 40,000 VND per person while normal taxis should not cost more than 80,000 VND.

2.     Once you’re at the station facing the petrol station, the ticket office is to the left with a counter for Hoang Long inside. Show up at the bus station at least 20minutes before departure as the buses are punctual! You will board a red Hoang Long bus that is air conditioned with reclining seats and reasonably clean. Then it’s a 2 to 2.5 hour ride to Hai Phong City. The bus will most likely make many stops to let people on and off along the way. Just point to your ticket and say “Cat Ba” and you will be fine.

Note: Do not use the toilet at the bus station unless absolutely desperate. As in DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES use the toilet unless you are literally on the verge of pissing your pants. It is hands-down the foulest-smelling toilet I’ve been to! And I’ve been to many poorly-maintained Malaysian public toilets in my life!

3.       The bus will stop at a small Hoang Long office by a main road and you will need to disembark with all your luggage. At this bus stop/ office, you may get a toilet break/ buy some snacks and drinks as you wait for the next trip. You will then have to get on another similar bus which will take you to the pier which is approximately 45 minutes away.

4.      Once at the pier, you will board an air-conditioned speedboat that will take you to Cai Vieng harbor on Cat Ba island after 35 minutes.

5.        Once on the island, you will transfer one last time to another bus which will take you into Cat Ba Town in 30-45 minutes. The Hoang Long office/bus stop in Cat Ba town is along the main road facing the harbor where almost all hotels are so it should be just a few minutes’ walk to your hotel.

On your return journey, it will be the same thing but in reverse! Just buy tickets from the Hoang Long office/bus stop in Cat Ba town, or even from your hotel in Cat Ba.

Busses depart at: 7:15AM, 9:15AM, 1:15PM, and 3:15PM

Take note that once again, this depends on the season. When we were there during winter, the 7.15AM and 3.15PM buses were not available. There should be a sign board outside the office indicating departure times. It’s the same price for the tickets all the way back to the same bus station in Hanoi. Once at the bus station you'll need to get a taxi to your intended location in town. Prices for taxi are as stated above. You will get hustled by dozens of taxi drivers the second you step down from the bus, so brace yourself! We’ve been advised that taxis waiting at bus stations are more likely to be rigged, so try and walk out to the main road and hail down a Mai Linh taxi if possible.

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