There is a nice little walkway form Cat Co 3 to Cat Co 1, that takes about 15 minutes. There used to be a walkway from Cat Co 1 to Cat Co 2 as well, but it has fallen into disrepair, and no longer walkable.
Cat Ba Island has one of the most beautiful and unique climbing opportunities in the world, and has a great climbing store right in the heart of town. Called Slo Pony, they offer everything from beginner and expert tours, to equipment rental and maps. They have a book with information on all the climbs, but is not worth the high price charged, and its maps are awful. They will let you look at it and take some photos, if you are nice to them.
Vietnamese Coffee is a real treat, especially for those who enjoy their coffee strong and sweet. If you like it white, which I recommend, they use sweetened condensed milk which makes the coffee more palatable.
A Vietnamese filter is a small coffee pot. It looks like a hat and sits upon the top of a coffee cup. Inside is a chamber for coffee and room for hot water. When finished filtering, remove the lid of the pot, place upside down on the table, then take the pot from the cup, and place in the lid, so that you don’t spill anything.
Probably best to avoid getting a Vietnamese coffee just before you hit the sack, or get on a 12 hour sleeping bus. Unless of course you don’t actually want to get some sleep.
Cat Ba is a mixture of cheap food and hotels, but expensive tours. Much better to organize your tours from Hanoi, they seem to be about $20 more expensive if you to buy a tour in Cat Ba. On the other hand, there are plenty of restaurants along the esplanade, offering cheap food. And my hotel with a brilliant view of the bay was only $7, the cheapest I have seen in my time so far. As with all hotels, the owner will act as though he is selling the room at a loss, and needs to make it up on the various tours and other items he will rent you. Stay strong, there is always a cheaper option around the corner, and you don’t want to get into an argument other a scrathced bike with someone who has your passport.
There are a number of tours you could do from the island, clearly up to Ha Long bay, but the specialty is rock climbing. You can find a great climbing store just in the center of town, Slo Pony, that offers tour for the beginner and experienced climbers, as well as equipment for you to go it alone. If your new to this, be sure that you have no aversions to cuts and bruises, and sore muscles that you may never have used before. And it is probably a good idea not to be afraid of heights, although just not looking down can sort this out.
If you get the chance, a wonderful place to stay is the town of Cat Ba, on the island of Cat Ba, near Ha Long Bay. This is the most serene place I have been to in Vietnam so far, although you could see that during the high season this place will get busy.
There are 3 amazing beaches here, all about 10-15 minutes from the center of town. There is a cliff walkway between Cat Co 3 and Cat Co 1, all with chairs and drinks if you feel like paying, or for free if you are willing to lounge around on the sand.
Ha Long bay is one of the most beautiful sites in all of South East Asia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the the New 7 Wonders of the World. A definite must see if you ever visit Vietnam. The bay features over 3,000 limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes, which makes for an amazing landscape offset by clear seas and breathtaking sunsets.
I did a one day tour, that ended in Cat Ba Town, so that I could spend some extra time in the Town and on the island of Cat Ba. There are a number of other tours you can do as well, most people doing a 2-day or 3-day tour, often with overnight stays on the boats or on the island. A 2-day tour costs from $32 up and a 3-day tour from $42 up. All the tours use the same buses and boats, so paying more is not going to get you any better of a tour, despite what the travel agents say.
All the boats leave about 1pm, then head off to the Vinh Ha Long caves, and all arrive around the same time. So you get to enjoy the colourfully lit caves with 100s of other tourists, possibly not the best way to see the caves. After entering the grotto, you enter the huge cave, with very impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The path is narrow and straight, and can take you up to 20-30 minutes to walk through.
Then the boat slowly cruises around the cave, while the crew bring out a impressive variety of food, including some local seafood. After dinner your allowed to move to the top deck, and get the most out of the trip. It is about 2-3 hours to the island of Cat Ba.
A great experience, and very easy way to meet some fun people.
Hanoi is the capital city in Vietnam, its second biggest city, but still seems more hectic than Saigon. The tourist part of town is to the West of the Hoan Kiem lake, and a good place to find cheap hotels. North of this is the Old Town, the last remaining one in the big cities of Vietnam. You can get a private room for as low as $10 if you walk around the back streets, although $15 is more common. Beware of tricks such as charging you for water, or claiming drinks from the bar fridges.
Hanoi is famous for two big tourist spots nearby, Ha Long bay, and Sappa. Ha Long bay is a definite must see, and there are 1, 2 or 3 day tours leaving everyday from Hanoi, all at around 8am. Or you can get a bus-ferry direct to Cat ba, on the main island also called Cat ba, if you want to escape the hustle of the big cities. Cat Ba is the most laid place I have been in Vietnam, often the roads are completely devoid of all traffic, but it is a bit tricky to get to. You can arrange to do a 1 day your, where they will leave you in town, which is what I did, and a great option to spend some extra time.
Make sure you shop around for tours, they vary in price quite a bit, and you all end up on the same buses and boats, no matter who you go with.
No matter what city or town you are in when traveling around Vietnam, there will be a number of tours that you can take, from morning tours to multi-day sleepovers. Some of them are great deals, with lots of value for money, others are complete rip-offs with loads of waiting.
Another hit and miss is the tour guide. A good guide will give you loads of information, and hopefully have a great sense of humor as well. Vietnamese do have a great sense of humor, once you get them to drop their salesman facade. Unfortunately it is so hard to find out what your tour guide is going to be like before you start the trip, a lot of tour operators have never even done the tour before, and they will say anything to get you to buy.
One this tour from Hue, the 110,000 dong tour you can find anywhere, we drop in at the Garden house near town, continue along the river to the Thien Mu Pagoda, one of the most sacred places in Hue, had lunch on the boat, and in the afternoon took a bus tour to the 3 most popular tomb sites. They usually chuck in a stop or two to get you to buy some trinkets, but there is generally no pressure, and they might put on a demonstration on how to make hats or incense sticks.
The extra stops may cost extra as well, each of the tombs on this tour cost 55,000 dong extra, the Garden house was 10,000 dong, there were extra options for lunch (which consisted of rice, tofu, and cabbage), and