3 Days deep water solo climbing, kayaking, rock climbing and trekking in Cat Ba, Vietnam

By Marla D · Nov 20, 2016

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Main mode of transport
Aeroplane (Vietnam Air)
Cost per person
La Beaute in Hanoi, Le Pont Bungalow Hostel in Cat Ba town, Meracus 1 in Hanoi

Best Bits

  • The sports! Specifically, the deep water solo climbing was phenomenal
  • The nature! Feeling like an ant amongst the limestone karsts, spotting a family of the critically endangered white-headed langur that hadn’t been seen in weeks, entering lagoons hidden in the karsts at low tide…

Marla in Cat Ba

  • Cat Ba Island isn’t overrun by package travellers and tour groups like Ha Long Bay is, but it will be soon - a bridge to connect the mainland to Cat Ba island is currently being built, and a mega project has been approved which will see the construction of an all-in-one resort, theme park, marina and casino.
  • All-in (direct return flight from Singapore, 5 nights accommodation, food, sports, spending money) the trip cost $750 USD and was awesome value for money.
  • I was travelling alone, always felt safe and didn’t get scammed!

Worst Bits

  • The pollution and trash. The amount of garbage on the streets and particularly in the water was heartbreaking.
  • Cat Ba town itself is a pretty tacky, cheap place that in my books has achieved the disappointing feat of being void of any pride of culture or history in an area that is steeped in it.

Marla in Cat Ba

  • I didn’t pack enough warm clothes!
  • Some of the local restaurants go bananas using MSG

Trip Dates and Comments on Timing

Early November. November is the start of low season in Cat Ba which corresponds to cooler temperatures and less rain than in the hotter months. January is the coldest month of the year. The weather was a bit of a mix the few days I was there, which luckily matched each sport I was doing perfectly. The sunniest day, around 22 degrees celsius, was when I went deep water solo and kayaking, it was cool but dry the day I went top rope climbing, and there was a light, misty rain the day I went trekking. During the nights the temperature dropped down to the low double digits which was really refreshing.

Marla in Cat Ba

Arrival Logistics

Direct flight from Singapore to Hanoi in just under 3 hours and spend the night there. Early morning bus ride to Hai Phong city (about 3 hours) where you hop on a 40 minute ferry to Cat Ba Island, then another short bus ride to Cat Ba town. Same in reverse to get back.

Main Activities

Deep water solo climbing, kayaking, top rope climbing, trekking

Food and Drink Highlights

The first day I arrived in Cat Ba town I happened to go to a small, street-food, style restaurant at the far end of the main strip called Phung Nhung. I had chicken pho and tomato and cucumber salad and was hooked. The chicken in the soup was breast meat with all the fat trimmed and I couldn’t taste any msg in the broth. The tomatoes in the salad were among the best tomatoes I’ve had.

Marla in Cat Ba

It was a super basic place but the utensils were clean and the food was cooked fresh. They also had good wifi. I went back here daily during my stay. A full meal here generally cost around $5 USD or less.

The main thing to do in Cat Ba town is eat fresh seafood at one of the many live seafood restaurants on the main strip. Generally I love seafood, but seeing the water that it came from really turned me off. I was also told by one of the locals that there is a high amount of mercury found in a lot of the fish caught in the bay.

Essential Packing for this Trip

Bring a lightweight, fast drying travel towel. They’re not cheap and might seem like an unnecessary expense, but mine was really handy. Pack a good conditioner for your hair so it untangles easier at the end of the day. Bring a nail file (a must for climbers!). Bring a rain coat (or buy one of the North Face knock offs in town). Consider leaving your wedding ring at home. My room in Cat Ba didn’t have a safe and they can also make you a target for street thieves.

My Experience…

I had a few free days alone leading up to my birthday and wanted to book a “healthy” holiday. I did a fair bit of research to shortlist places I could reach with a direct flight from Singapore and narrowed it down to the following:

  • Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventure in Sapa, Vietnam
  • Mesastila hotel “fitness retreat” in Semarang, Indonesia
  • Absolute Sanctuary 5 day “Be Fit” package in Koh Samui, Thailand
  • 250 km challenge with Ikan Kayak in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
  • multiple sports with Asia Outdoors in Cat Ba, Vietnam

I ruled out hotel experiences this time because I wanted to be out in nature doing activities I love as opposed to following a set fitness program. Still, I did come close to booking with Absolute Sanctuary because they had a great promotion running. Ikan Kayak required a minimum of 4 people and trekking sounded fun but I preferred to mix it up rather than repeat the same activity every day (During my trip I got feedback from travellers who had gone trekking in Sapa that they hadn’t enjoyed it as much as they thought they would because there were loads of people doing it and the local village visits along the way had that ‘staged’ feeling. I don’t know which tour company they went with).

So, I booked my activities with Asia Outdoors online and then planned my trip around it. A quick plug for Asia Outdoors because the people there are awesome - they’re one of 2 licensed tourism companies on Cat Ba Island, however every restaurant and person on a bicycle will sell you a tour to anywhere you want to go. Asia Outdoors is the real deal and runs well-organised, safe and fun sport-based experiences with good quality equipment and very well-trained and passionate staff. The staff were from all over the world - mostly young, climbing types, smart and unaffected. Having chatted with a number of them, the theme of leaving the corporate world or at least the daily grind to do something that they actually loved was a common theme, and it showed. Caroline was our guide for deep water solo and she was a fabulous cheerleader and hold spotter. Monty was our kayak guide - a very funny guy full of interesting facts and genuine appreciation of our surroundings. Arjan was my climbing guide for the day and he was incredibly patient and dedicated to getting me to the top! Toan was our local trekking guide - very respectful of nature and considerate to different needs of the group, like my phobia of spiders!

One of the things I liked most about Asia Outdoors is that they didn’t have a minimum group requirement. As long as there was one person they would run the activity which is great for someone who is travelling solo. They also have a comprehensive website which helped with arrival logistics and the activities were good value for money. I would definitely book with them again.

My itinerary looked like this:

Sunday night - land in Hanoi, stay 1 night at La Beaute Hotel in the Old Quarter (the Sunday night street markets were open as was entertainment around the lake so it was a great way to spend a short couple of hours in Hanoi).

Monday morning - 7am bus pick up at my hotel with Good Morning Cat Ba company to head to Cat Ba island

Monday evening - check into Le Pont Bungalow Hostel in Cat Ba town for 3 nights

Tuesday - half day deep water solo, half day kayaking

Marla in Cat Ba

Wednesday - full day of private guided top rope climbing in Butterfly Valley with the resident crag puppy, Beener.

Marla in Cat Ba

Butterfly Valley (with butterflies galore) has grades to suit every level including lead climbing. Bolts aren’t titanium but the ones on our route were well maintained.

Marla in Cat Ba

Thursday - half day trekking and then 4pm bus to start the trip back to Hanoi

Thursday night - 1 night at Hanoi Meracus 1 Hotel in the Old Quarter, dinner at New Day restaurant, facial at the spa of Vietview Hotel just around the corner. It was heavenly, nothing fancy though.

Friday morning - 6am transfer to the airport

A few tips:

  • both Hanoi hotels that I stayed at have 100% ratings on Trip Advisor. I wanted to compare and there’s no question that Meracus 1 was better. The rooms had better quality materials, like hardwood floors and wood furniture vs lacquered furniture. The bed at Meracus 1 was very comfortable and the bed at La Beaute was very hard and bumpy. The location of Meracus 1 was slightly better although only a couple of streets apart (on the street front vs in a small alleyway). Breakfast was included at both although I didn’t have it. The service at both was excellent - English speaking staff, very personable and helpful. Meracus 1 was about $4 USD more per night than La Beaute at $45 USD a night. Incredible value.
  • Last time I was in Vietnam my credit card was defrauded, so this time I paid in advance for things that I could and took cash (Vietnamese and a few USD which came in handy).
  • the Visa On Arrival process was very efficient, although I was one of the first off the plane. It took about 30 minutes to get my visa and clear immigrations and customs.
  • book your airport transfers through your hotel to avoid having to haggle with taxi drivers at both your departure and arrival points. I paid $18 USD for a one way transfer through the hotel.
  • Accommodation in Cat Ba town is plentiful and incredibly cheap. The Le Pont Bungalow hostel I stayed at is about 500 metres outside of the town. I chose it because one of the staff from Asia Outdoors recommended it - they have shared hostel-style dorms and 6 private bungalows, each with a private bathroom which is what I chose. The view from my window was gorgeous and although the bungalow was really basic ($22 USD per night), it was very very clean with great natural light.

Marla in Cat Ba

Unfortunately, the only reason I wouldn’t recommend it is because there seemed to be poor drainage in the bathroom pipes and the smell wafted through the room, despite leaving the windows open. It wasn’t a sewage smell, but it was unpleasant nevertheless.

Marla in Cat Ba

Most of the people I met in Cat Ba were backpackers and were spending about $6 USD per night on hostel accommodation which in most cases seemed to be a private room with shared bathrooms. Dorm style sleeping cost even less.

  • If you’re booking a half day kayaking activity with Asia Outdoors, book the afternoon activity instead of the morning activity. It’s more beautiful and you enter into more lagoons.
  • Things I could have done but didn’t: stand up paddle boarding with Asia Outdoors and an overnight experience on a junk boat where you have dinner on the boat and take a dip in the dark to stir up the water and swim with the glowing plankton. Everyone I spoke to who did it said the plankton was amazing - the highest concentration of it that they had seen. Not everyone liked sleeping on the boat, mostly if the water was rough or if it was raining. You can see the plankton by going to one of the beaches after dark on a scooter rental. Another thing to do is hire a scooter for about $5 USD a day and explore the island. The roads aren’t great but everyone was doing it…The local market was cool, particularly for the seafood stalls. They had all sorts of interesting things like every kind of mollusc and horseshoe crabs.

Marla in Cat Ba

  • Good Morning Cat Ba company was great and they are recommended by Asia Outdoors for getting to the island from Hanoi. I still researched other companies, including hiring a private driver to get me to and from the island, but the private driver was too expensive and was going to take a cut from my ferry tickets and the other bus companies didn’t do pickups/dropoffs at your hotel, instead you had to go to a meeting point, and they only went once the bus was full. Therefore, if the morning trip didn’t fill up you ran the risk of waiting until the afternoon trip. Good Morning Cat Ba ran on a set schedule and included the ferry ticket all in one price. Round trip cost $36 USD from Hanoi.


In total I spent $750 USD on this trip, of which, my flight was a third of the cost. All of the activities I booked with Asia Outdoors came to $150 USD which was really reasonable, considering I did a full day of top rope climbing with a private guide. They also give 10% off repeat bookings. Food was ridiculously cheap and very tasty, but the quality varies from place to place.

About The Traveller

Gender & Age Range
Female, 35 - 40

I’m from
The Canadian Rockies


My favourite trip as of late
A long weekend in Byron Bay

Travelling Style
Book the important stuff, but leave some flexibility in the schedule.

I like to go on the following types of trips
Culture, sporty, beach, gourmet, relax

It’s a dealbreaker when
Fatty meat. It’s a weird one, but it’s true and it makes enjoying meat around Asia a bit of a challenge. So if I ever recommend restaurants, you can bet I ate nice, lean, tasty meat there!

Continent I know the best

First Last Name

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

I’m from Perth, Western Australia

My favourite trip as of late is New Zealand, solo travel in lots of nature for a soul-refresher.

My travelling style is to Book the first night, then wing it from there!

It’s a dealbreaker when I’m stuck around large groups of package tourists.

Continent I know best is Asia.

See profile

Enjoyed this trip?!

Then we think you'll love...