Hanoi to Cat Ba Island

The only way to get to Cat Ba is by boat. You can take the hydrofoil from Hai Phong (90,000 dong), but it would be silly to miss out on a tour of beautiful Ha Long Bay, and you'll see very little of it crammed inside one of the small hydrofoils, looking out a dirty window (they're fast, but elegant, they ain't). A better option is to make your way to Ha Long City on your own -- if you arrive at about 10:00 the tour boats will be getting ready to embark, and it's a cinch to catch a ride on one of them (costs about 55,000 dong, negotiable, plus the pier fee, 30,000 dong, not negotiable). The trip takes about six hours, not because of the distance, but because the tour boats take their time and cruise the bay first -- well-worth the time and money if you've never done it before. You could reverse the process, and try to take a tour boat back from Cat Ba to Ha Long Bay, but that gets a little trickier to negotiate, and if you're headed to Hanoi, it's faster and cheaper to get there from Hai Phong than it is from Bai Chay, where the tour boats disembark.

You'll arrive in Cat Ba at
one of three piers. The most convenient option is the pier on Cat Ba Harbour, from which the hydrofoils depart -- it's a short walk from there to nearly all the accommodation, with the exception of the Sunrise Hotel, which is over the headland a few kilometres to the east, on Cat Co 3. The Ben Beo pier is about 2km away, and it's easy as pie to catch a motor-taxi from there into town (should be about 10,000 dong, but good luck convincing the driver of that!) The pier at Phu Long is often used as a drop off point for tour boats -- if you've booked a tour, they'll cart you back and forth in a van (30km, but the road is mountainous -- takes about an hour.) If you're arriving on your own by hitching a ride on a tour boat, be sure it doesn't stop at Phu Long -- your boat ticket doesn't include a ride into town, and there isn't any guarantee one of the vans will have space for you.
The hydrofoil to Hai Phong leaves at 14:45 daily in the low season, four times a day at 07:00, 14:45, 15:00, and 15:45 in the high season -- costs 100,000 dong, takes 45 minutes. Slow boats leave at 05:45 and 12:30 year round, cost 70,000 dong, taking 2 hours.

Usually western tourists visit Cat Ba as part of a three-day tour that begins and ends in Hanoi, so most people don't have to worry about how to get there at all.