Once in the north of Vietnam, we had to decide whether going to Sapa or to Halong Bay because our one month tourist visa was running out soon. Two factors determined our choice: on one hand, the bad weather conditions in the northwest region of Vietnam, on the other hand, a tropical storm which had flooded and incomunicated the northern region of Sapa, leaving hundreds of deads and homeless people behind. We could only go then for a boat trip in Halong Bay. As it is usual on our trip, we asked for advice in many different travel agencies and checked the internet to make our move independently with all the info available. This is how we found Cat Ba Ventures (www.catbaventures.com), a tour operator based in Cat Ba, the biggest island of Halong Bay, who offers tailor made boat trips for independent travellers.
We booked a 3 days/2 nights trip and paid 90 USD each. We arranged more or less the plan for everyday: sail in the morning to a nice spot, go on the kayak for a while to hidden lagoons and caves and have a swim, then eat and do the same in the afternoon in another spot. Overall we wanted to avoid tourist places and crowds. We wanted to go further away than the normal tours go. We wanted to be alone most of the time and sleep in a different secluded place every night. We wanted many things and almost all of them were accomplished. You can contact Mr Tung, the operator, through his website or under email@example.com.
Halong Bay is spectacular and the weather conditions were great (sunny, cloudy and few big storms during the nights, which gave a feeling of adventure to the whole experience), as well as the arrangements of the organizer. Basically we had a wooden and bamboo sail boat for four people –we were travelling with two other spanish guys together- entirely at our service. We could decide where to go and where not to go, if we wanted to stay longer or not. We could stop the boat and take the kayaks or just jump off the boat for a refreshing swim in the middle of nowhere –with some restrictions, of course. The crew, Tim and Hum -at least this is how their names sounded to us- were great although we had kind of communication problems sometimes, when we had the feeling they had not understood what we were asking for. They cooked so well and so much that we are missing their food a lot now –we have to say that we ate the same lunch and dinner during the 3 days with slightly variations, but still great food!
If we sumarize the trip, it was awesom! If we had to make a review about the arrangements of Cat Ba Ventures, we would say they did it very well! Some companies in Halong Bay or Hamoi are not very reliable and most of the time don’t provide what was promised. They is a big issue going on in Hanoi of copycat companies that just take the name of a reputed one to steal their clients. Those companies don’t offer the same quality tours and you will end up paying a service that you won’t get. This is what we heard or read while we were searching. Just some tips if you are planning to do a similar tour: fix the route and what you are interested in seeing –it is enough to have an approximate idea, you can change plans once in the boat-. Insist on it once onboard. Ask for a map to be able to locate yourself at anytime –we didn’t do it and missed it- and corroborate you are doing what you were promised to. Ask in advance any question you may have and above all, enjoy the experience!!!