The Sapa to Cat Ba Island bus drives and later boards a ferry to cross water. There’s no bathroom on board, but, the bus makes break stops. Make sure to bring an eye mask, ear plugs, and warm clothes in order to avoid discomforts.
There's nowhere better to head to after a trekking trip in Sapa than Cat Ba Island in the northeast of Vietnam. All of that mountain air will have done wonders for your energy levels, no doubt, but the chance to soak up the salty sea breeze on the coast is even more relaxing. Cat Ba Island (translating as Women's Island) is one of the largest in Lan Ha Bay, adjacent to Ha Long Bay, and features many similar scenes of fishing villages and limestone mountains.
One of the benefits of visiting Cat Ba Island rather than islands in Halong Bay is that there aren't as many tourists. Also, aside from the mix of hillside trails, fishing villages and secluded beaches, Cat Ba Island also holds some historic value too. Hospital Cave, especially, is well worth a visit while you're there. It was once a secret bombproof hospital used during the war with the USA and still has that eerie presence that brings the horrors of conflict flooding back to life.
The ride from Sapa to Cat Ba Island is quite a long one, at just over ten hours. A couple of sleeper buses depart each day and offer a fairly comfortable journey with several rest breaks along the way. The earliest bus leaves at 8am and gets you into Cat Ba Island in the afternoon, via a short ferry ride. The latest, the overnight bus, is at 8.30pm and drives through the night. Both buses board the ferry which takes you across to the island.
The distance from Sapa to Cat Ba Island is 368 kilometers (228 miles) and it's a good idea to book accommodation in advance so you can hit the ground running. Otherwise you might find yourself queuing for cabs or haggling with hostel representatives. Although that can actually be quite fun sometimes, right?
Buses are equipped with sleeper seats that are almost like beds – think couchettes on French trains rather than hotel standard. You will be able to sleep throughout the journey, especially if you remember to pack a blackout eye mask, ear plugs and travel pillow. Air conditioning keeps the chill factor on full blast but blankets are provided to balance things out a touch.
There aren't any bathrooms on board so rest stops are regular which can be most welcome or a little bit annoying if you've just got off to sleep. Water is also freely available on board however, snacks are not. Purchase provisions in Sapa before you leave or pay over the odds at roadside service stations – the choice is yours.
If you're taking the evening bus from Sapa to Cat Ba Island you're not going to be able to see a great deal, even if you get a window sleeper seat. However, if you're leaving at 8am, you can expect to see lots of mountain scenery as you start to make the 368 kilometer (228 mile) journey towards the coast.
Along the way you might also get to see sidewalk stalls and rural villages as well as terraced rice paddies and forests of bamboo. However, sleeper buses aren't renowned for their window viewing potential. You'll be better off bedding down for the journey rather than keeping a hopeful eye on the window for anything more exciting than passing traffic.
Rest stops throughout the journey allow travelers to stretch their legs and use the restrooms – there are no bathrooms on the bus so grab the opportunity when you can. As you get closer to the ferry port that takes the whole bus over to Cat Ba Island you'll begin to see more of the coast. This can be a really beautiful sight, especially so if you've been traveling through the night and are witnessing the sun rise over the limestone islands, just offshore, for the first time.
It's certainly a good idea to have accommodation on Cat Ba Island booked in advance. If you have pre-booked you might also find a representative waiting for you on arrival who can help with bags and transport. Of course, you can always take a taxi or walk into town to find somewhere to stay. It's a large island but not so large that you're going to get lost walking from the central drop off point. There will always be someone around to help and often making a few pals during the bus ride can lead you to places that you won't find in the guide books.
Taking a bus
The bus ride from Sapa to Cat Ba Island is quite lengthy (just over 10 hours) but the good news is that the bus has sleeper seats, air conditioning and free blankets to encourage passengers to rest as they ride. It's certainly advisable to pack a sleep mask, travel pillow and ear plugs at the top of your hand luggage. Water is available on board, and there will be plenty of rest breaks so you can stretch your legs, use the facilities and purchase some snacks if you've not brought anything from Sapa.
There's not lots to see out of the window on these types of sleeper buses from Sapa to Cat Ba Island. Departure times are at 8.00 am and 8.00 pm. This means you can arrive on Cat Ba Island in the early morning or late afternoon. Some travelers prefer to make the journey in the dark so as to get the best chance of sleep, others prefer to arrive in the afternoon and then look for accommodation.
Booking a place to stay on Cat Ba Island is definitely a good idea, especially if you're arriving early in the morning. Although, you can always expect to find a few local cab drivers and accommodation representatives no matter when you arrive.
Come for the stunning landscapes, but stay for the food. The unique dishes of Sapa will add extra flavor to your adventure in the mountains.
Getting to Halong Bay in Vietnam just got easier! This transportation guide will help you figure out how to get to this destination in Northern Vietnam.
Grab your camera and head to these spots in Sapa to capture some once-in-a-lifetime pictures to enhance your Instagram feed!