Kayaking Cat Ba Island – Cyclists On The Sea

We brave the cold to kayak Ha Long Bay off Cat Ba Island

This post is part of our epic series documenting 19 months of cycling through 22 countries. If you want to know more about kayaking Cat Ba Island, read on.

(Don’t miss: Our post covering everything you need to know before cycle touring Vietnam)

9,999 km so far.

Note for app and process nerds: My original post for this day was eaten by the Mac Notes app that we’ve been using to share and edit our posts. So today, I finally bit the bullet and found something (hopefully) better. Simplenote. Here’s to no more lost work!

For today, we were planning an all-day kayaking trip, to see Ha Long Bay from the water, which is really the only way.

To Market To Market

Stephen woke early and went out to find hot water to brew his coffee. He also made a trip to the market to buy us a picnic lunch for our day trip kayaking Cat Ba Island. French bread, tofu, coriander, lime, carrot, cucumber, and hot red chiles, to make the perfect Western-style vegan banh mi. Yum.

He also bought a little bag of fresh soy milk as a treat to add to our morning muesli. The soy milk was so fresh it was still warm when he picked it up.

The bad news was the weather report. It was cold and mizzling, again. Yuck. Not really inspiring for a day on the water.

Instead, we spent the morning curled up under our three thick blankets, getting some more work done and trying not to freeze our butts off.

(Don’t miss: Our post about everything you need to know before visiting Vietnam)

Kayaking Cat Ba Island: Water Borne

Around noon, with the weather looking slightly less damp, we decided to get a move on. After all, we couldn’t just spend our whole time on Cat Ba sitting around in the hotel.

We prepared and ate our picnic in the room – it’s that cold. These were probably the best banh mi we’ve ever had.

banh mi for a picnic on cat ba island

The final banh mi. Delicious mostly because of the bread and the Cholula.

We’ve discussed going around to the restaurants here and teaching them how to make them. Vegetarian backpackers would love them.

Full up on sandwiches, we walked over to Ben Beo harbour, where the kayaking company we wanted to rent from, Blue Swimmer, is located.

Before we could rent, we had to purchase tickets to enter the Ha Long Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was 30k dong each (or about $1.50). Entrance fees are much more reasonable here than in China.

There's something not quite right here... Ha Long Bay.

There’s something not quite right here… kayaking Cat Ba Island.

After outfitting us with our rudder-equipped sea kayaks, the guys from Blue Swimmer handed us a map and told us to be back whenever. No questions about our kayaking experience, or anything. Gotta love these unregulated countries.

Living On The Sea

Ben Beo harbour is home to a very large floating village. I was pretty excited to return to a floating village, since the simple lifestyle fascinates me, and really appeals.

The floating village lines the entire inlet at Ben Beo, Cat Ba Island.

The floating village lines the entire inlet at Ben Beo, Cat Ba Island.

Each home is the size of an average California garden shed, but they all have ample dock space and room for a few netted areas in the water filled with various kinds of fish. Imagine just dipping into your front yard when it’s time to make dinner.

kayaking cat ba island

Stephen and the grocery boat, Cat Ba Island.

Additional groceries are bought from floating grocery stores. We saw at least half-a-dozen women rowing their woven boats around the harbour, stopping off at docks as people waved and called to them. They were laden with water and soda, chips and cookies, dried rice and beans, propane tanks, and lots of fresh veggies.

Someone should start a similar, land-based service in LA. I would happily buy my groceries from a cart at my doorstep, wouldn’t you?

Fishing boats on the water, Cat Ba Island.

Fishing boats on the water, Cat Ba Island.

Almost every home seems to have a dog. These guys are aggressive protectors of their territories, and each one we rowed by came to the very edge of the dock to bark and growl. We assumed they were not eating dogs, but just good guard dogs, to protect the fishing family’s property while they are out on the water.

Go Down Dragons

After tootling around the village for a while, we decided to hit the slightly more wild side.

kayaking cat ba island

Small kayak, big rock, Ha Long Bay.

We paddled out past some of the picturesque islands for which Ha Long Bay is famous.

According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. from Ha Long Bay on Wikipedia

As we made our way back into the harbour from the other end, we noticed a group of people heaving large plastic baskets full of something up a set of concrete stairs into a brick holding tank.

As we paddled closer, some of the workers yelled hello and beckoned us closer. All work stopped as everyone watched us approach.

Stephen rowed right up to the underwater netted area to see what they were loading into the baskets. The man who had been filling the baskets reached down into the water. He pulled out an enormous jellyfish which he proudly held it the air and posed so Stephen could get a photo.

Look at the size of that jellyfish! Ben Beo Harbour, Cat Ba Island.

Look at the size of that jellyfish! Ben Beo Harbour, Cat Ba Island.

As we passed through the fishing boats in the harbour, people shouted out greetings and waved.

Everyone made us feel welcome to come up close, look at their boats and fishing nets, and have a little chat, consisting of “xin chao” and “hello”. Don’t they get tired of tourists out here?

Land-lubber dog, wrapped up against the rain, Cat Ba Island.

Land-lubber dog, wrapped up against the rain, Cat Ba Island.

Despite the great shape we are in, a few hours of kayaking proved to be plenty, and we were on dry land and back at the hotel, warming up under the covers, before 5pm.  


  1. Comment by Scot

    Scot February 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Reminds me of kayaking to Pirate Bay with you guys and Alexander. Would you believe almost 8 years ago? He and I were just talking about that trip last week.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen February 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      Eight years? Oh wow, that is so hard to believes it reminded us of that too – we were talking about it,and thinking of you guys, while we were out.

  2. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly February 13, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Wow! What a contrast in landscape, food, communication, and more to China. Thanks again for your observations and narrative so that I can experience parts of the world that I’ve never been able to travel to. Namaste!

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