There are a lot of Halong Bay tour companies out there. There is, it turns out, an absolutely overwhelming number of Halong Bay tour companies. I attempted to research each and every one, as is my O.C.D. M.O., but it was just not going to happen. I was able to narrow it down to a few within my (not huge, fairly broke backpacker) budget, but unsurprisingly, the more affordable the tour the poorer its reviews tended to be. However, I didn’t want to blow an entire month’s food budget on <24 hours at sea…
Cat Ba Ventures is a happy medium—not a luxury cruise by any means, but a reliable, reputable company well within the average backpacker’s budget! Plus, going with them gives you an excuse to spend a few nights on Cat Ba island, where all the tours leave from.
I would like to say, for the record, this post is in no way sponsored by Cat Ba Ventures. They have no clue I’m writing it. I just want all you future Halong Bay adventurers to have a smoother time with your research than I did.
How much does a Halong Bay Tour with Cat Ba Ventures cost?
My full day tour, which left Cat Ba island in the early morning and returned by early evening, cost $29/person. Yeah.
It’s so funny how at the time, on a long-term traveler’s budget, that seemed like so much money… but now, sitting at home in the US, it’s laughably affordable for an actual, honest-to-goodness once in a lifetime experience. I don’t think you could even get the amazing seafood lunch they served on board for $29 back home.
Cat Ba Ventures has an assortment of different tours, obviously all at varying price points. For example, the overnight Halong Bay cruise costs $128/person. From my extensive research, this is an incredibly reasonable price for such a good, well-organized company.
I am of the opinion you will not find this quality of Halong Bay boat tour at a better (or even equal!) price*.
*That said, anyone who knows of any Halong Bay tour companies at this price point they absolutely adored, please sound off in the comments! I could’ve missed something, and I’d love to shout out to any companies you guys are obsessed with, too.
Why is Cat Ba Ventures worth it?
As I said, I don’t think you’ll find this quality of Halong Bay day tour at such a good price. What do I mean by “this quality”?
Well, every Cat Ba Ventures employee we met was totally awesome. They were knowledgable, communicated with us in excellent English, and clearly had a ton of fun at their jobs. They did everything they could to make sure we had as much fun as they did!
Honestly, every part of the itinerary exceeded my expectations. I’ve traveled in Southeast Asia long enough to know this is relatively rare. The swimming spots we stopped at were private—only our boat (and the backpackers on it) in sight. The floating fishing village we visited was fascinating, and the locals seemed happy to have us around learning about their lifestyles.
My two highlights which made Cat Ba Ventures most worth it: the seafood lunch and the kayaking expedition.
What is the lunch like on the Cat Ba Ventures tour boat?
Oh, man. Don’t even get me started.
Just kidding, definitely get me started, I just might never stop.
The 28 travelers on our boat split up into tables of 4-5 people in the beautiful lower deck area. Vegetarians or people with specific dietary restrictions sat together. The entire lower deck was covered in windows, all of which were wide open on this spectacular sunny day. The setting alone made for a memorable experience.
The staff then served each table around 5 large dishes, as well as bowls of rice. I wish I could remember each and every dish in detail (why was I so busy eating when I should’ve been writing?!), but I do remember some amazing spring rolls, squid fried rice, and lemongrass vegetables. There was more than enough of everything to go around.
As I said above, you could not find this meal for less than $29/person in the USA, full stop. Cat Ba Ventures staff provided us with bottled water, but we did have to purchase any pop or beer we drank on board.
Kayaking in Halong Bay with Cat Ba Ventures
The kayaking expedition was also a great highlight for me. We got into our 2-person kayaks and followed our guide around some truly rad sights. This activity is an optional add-on, and there is a kayak-free option, but I definitely think it’s worth it! You need zero experience, just a willingness to be adventurous and possibly laugh at yourself when you collide into your fellow crew mates!
The Cat Ba Ventures staff give everyone a buoyant waterproof gear bag for stuff you want to bring on the kayaks, like cameras or phones. We put stuff like passports and cash in a secure safe on board the boat.
The boat docked at a small kayaking outfitter, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, just a shack and boardwalk with a bunch of kayaks floating around it. Getting into our respective kayaks went smoothly, probably because of the relatively small group size (another perk of Cat Ba Ventures boat tours!) (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just love them a lot).
First, we followed our guide through the crystal-clear blue water… and directly into a long, dark, tunnel-like cave. We all had headlamps which we turned on in the cave. The geology inside the caves was fascinating, as was the biology! We heard the high-pitched chittering of bats as we got deeper into the cave and sure enough, looking directly up with your headlamp resulted in seeing approximately four billion bats swooping around. It was actually so breathtaking and cool, I forgot to be freaked out by the prospect of rabies and ebola.
After the cave, we emerged into a beautiful cove, surrounded by karsts on all sides. Everyone wanted to take pictures of one another here, and the guide happily stopped paddling to give everyone a chance to do so! We all spent an embarrassing amount of time taking selfies before stuffing out gear back into the waterproof bags.
We kayaked back through the cave, around some more ridiculously beautiful landscapes, and back to the boat. There was another optional cave you could follow the guide into, but it seemed far too small for all of us so my brother and I happily waited at the entrance and watched a storm roll into the bay.
If you don’t want to do the kayaking part of the day tour, Cat Ba Ventures offers essentially the same itinerary with just more relaxation time instead for $26 instead of $29.
Booking a Halong Bay Day Tour with Ca Ba Ventures
I know, I know, you’re convinced. If not, does a 4.5/5 score from over 1,000 TripAdvisor reviewers do the trick? Eyyyy?
Anyway, it’s very easy to book with Cat Ba Ventures. You just send an email directly to them via their website (which I attached here, to make things easier). They responded quickly and it was all simple to arrange, even when I needed to change our tour date due to a typhoon! Ah, the joys of travel.
As for staying on Cat Ba Island, it’s really simple to arrange transportation from Hanoi or even all the way from Sapa. The island has a National Park (of which Cat Ba Ventures also offers tours) and some lovely beaches.
If you’re looking for accommodation on Cat Ba Island, you can conveniently peruse according to your budget here! I personally stayed at Cat Ba Oasis Bungalows, which had great deals on both dorm beds and private rooms, plus a super fun social atmosphere. They also have some of the best food on Cat Ba Island, randomly enough. You can check them out here.
That’s all, folks!
I hope you found this information helpful! This is the kind of quality you can and should expect from your Halong Bay tour. Visiting Halong Bay is such a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Cat Ba Ventures truly did not disappoint. It was such a high quality experience, it’s hard to believe how budget-friendly it was, as well.
If you choose to do your Halong Bay day tour with Cat Ba Ventures, please let me know what you thought in the comments below!
*This post contains affiliate links, not from Cat Ba Ventures, but Booking.com. Basically, if you want to book accommodation on Cat Ba, you can do it through one of the links above and I’ll get a tiny commission! Yay!