After deciding we didn't want to pay the $500+ dollars for 1 night on a boat (family of 5) in Ha Long Bay, we decided last minute to just come to Cat Ba and figure out how to do what we wanted from here. We are so glad we just came to Cat Ba. It was way less money and the beach nearest Cat Ba town was white sand and absolutely lovely and we still got to take a boat ride out to Lan Ha Bay which was so similar to how we remember Ha Long Bay from several years ago. We kayaked and went to Monkey beach and saw floating villages and a fish farm on a half day boat tour, which was plenty for us. We had a private boat for $80 which included pick up and drop off from our hotel. Transportation to and from Cat Ba was fine. About 4 hours total, door to door. A fair amount of waiting and picking people up. Bus had very little leg room, but it was fine. And about $13 per person for a one way ticket. We wish we would have booked more time on Cat Ba. We will next time. It was a great alternative to the really expensive overnight boat trips farther north. For all the same scenery!!!!