Best Halong Bay Destinations

Limestone islands, caves, beaches, mountains, villages… - One of the best thing about Halong Bay is that you can always find something you’ll love. Not convinced? Here are the handpicked best of Halong Bay destinations, from world-famous places to off-the-beaten-track areas.

Don’t know where to begin? Check out Top 10 magnificent Halong Bay Attractions.

How to Decide Between Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, or Bai Tu Long Bay

How to Decide Between Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, or Bai Tu Long Bay

No trip to the north of Vietnam can be considered complete without a visit to the absolutely stunning Halong Bay region.

But it’s not that simple:

Ha Long Bay, undeniably, is recognized as the New 7 Wonders remaining its very own evergreen charm. 

But how about Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay, the nearby stops that have been being recommended more and more by the international tourists nowadays?

Gives you a little more to consider now, right?

This guide is going to give you all the info you need to decide which place is the one for your next visit, and how to decide between Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay/Bai Tu Long Bay or Halong Bay.

A Bit of Background

Halong Bay is by far the most well known by tourists, who come from all over the world to check out its stunning beauty.

But here’s the catch:

Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay have the same scenic beauty as Halong Bay, in fact some people say more so.

If you have time and the opportunity to take in the whole region, don’t miss out.

But what if you haven’t got time? Which should you choose?

This infographic basically sum up major points about the 3 bays. Below that is my personal experience, which may help you to choose the destination most ideally suited your vacation needs in the entire region.

Here we go:

cruise-ship

3 Famous Bays

in Northern Vietnam

GEOGRAPHY

Halong Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

Lan Ha Bay

  • Quang Ninh Province, around 165km east of Hanoi.
  • Area around 1,553 km2, having 1960-2000 islets, most are limestone
  • Port : Tuan Chau Marina
  • 30km east of Halong Bay
  • Area around 1100km2 with 1,600 islets
  • Port: Hon Gai Port
  • 10km south of Cat Ba island
  • Area around 300 karst limestone
  • Port: Got Ferry Port

TRANSPORTATION

To Tuan Chau Marina

To Hon Gai Port

To Got Ferry Port

  • From Hanoi City Center: 146km/ Shuttle Bus – Car (3h25′)
  • From Noi Bai Airport: 148km/ Shuttle Bus – Car (3h) – Seasplane (45′)
  • From Cat Bi Airport: 62km/ Private Car – Taxi (1h45′)
  • From Hanoi City Center: 153km/ Shuttle Bus – Car (2h)
  • From Noi Bai Airport: 150km/ Shuttle Bus – Car (2h30′)
  • From Cat Bi Airport: 28km/ Private Car – Taxi (40′)
  • From Hanoi City Center: 136km/ Shuttle Bus – Car (3h15′)
  • From Noi Bai Airport: 157km / Shuttle Bus – Car (3h20′)
  • From Cat Bi Airport: 79km/ Private Car – Taxi (2h)

ATTRACTIONS

Halong Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Thien Cung cave

Dau Go cave

Rocky Dog

Fighting Cock islet

Ba Hang fishing village

Dinh Huong islet

Hoa Cuong fishing village

Surprise Cave

Titop or Soi Sim beach

Me Cung cave

Ho Dong Tien cave

Trong Cave

Trinh Nu cave

Bo Nau cave

Luon water cave

Tung Sau pearl farm

Overnight anchor at Trong cave area

Cua Van fishing village

Tien Ong Cave

Ho Ba Ham water cave

Overnight anchor at Trong cave area

or Ho Ba Ham area

Thay cave

Vong Vieng fishing village

Cap La cave

Thien Canh Son cave

Cong Dam fishing village

Tung Ang area

Cong Do Island

Overnight anchor at Cong Do Island

Da Chong islet with French lighthouse

Con Vit islet

Cat Ba island – Thoi Quyt Area

Bright & Dark water cave

Da Chong islet with French lighthouse

Con Vit islet

Ba Trai Dao beach

Tra Bau area

Ho Ba Ham water lake

Viet Hai village

Hospital Cave

Thien Cung Cave

Cat Ba Island - Height 177

Vung Vieng Fish Farms

Titov Island

Cat Ba National Park

ENVIRONMENT

Halong Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Hundreds of boats and tourists, especially in the peak season, sailing everyday

More crowded and getting polluted

Less visited thanks to its harder-to-reach location and fewer accessible caves.

Still remains pristine, unspoiled

Small bay

Not crowded, unspoiled

ACTIVITIES

For Halong Bay

For Bai Tu Long Bay

For Lan Ha Bay

Cruising overnight cruises, boats, junks:

Kayaking
Swimming
Canoeing
Fishing
Diving
Swimming
Dining in cave
BBQ on beach

Exploring many undiscovered and wild caves:

Kayaking
Swimming
Cycling
Tuktuk riding

Exploring bay yourself on rent boat:

Kayaking
Rock climbing
Trekking
Stay in bungalows

TOUR OPTIONS

Halong Bay's Tour

Bai Tu Long Bay's Tour

Lan Ha Bay's Tour

Day Cruise / 2D1N / 3D2N

2D1N / 3D2N

Day Cruise / 2D1N / 3D2N

1. Halong Bay – Colourful Bustling Beauty

Ha Long Bay earned the title as the New World Wonder for a reason.

Its unique gracefulness.

Which obviously is hardly to find elsewhere.

So consider pleasing your eyes with the dazzling scenery of Ha Long Bay from a deck of a stylish cruise is already your joyfulness. Isn’t it?

Since Ha Long Bay has been acknowledged by the whole world, you may well guess the tourist population here. Reportedly, it might reach millions during its peak season and getting more crowded, year by year.

Accordingly, services including entertainment, restaurants and accommodation have also risen to satisfy the needs. Now Halong City and the bay have become busier than ever.

Each year, more than 3 million visitors go cruising on Halong Bay

Regardless you are a solo, couple or family traveler; exciting activities are always ahead. Group activities such as canoeing, kayaking or fishing are all on offer in this part of the bay; even for solo travelers, this provides opportunities to meet many interesting people and make new friends.

Despite you join alone, or in a group, there is always something to discover about Ha Long Bay around the clock.

Islands, beaches, caves, fishing villages: they are bright and shine.

Recommended visits:

…and many more

Those tourist attractions appear in their own nuances and are unmistakable. Their beauties and behind-the-scenes stories might make you “wow” continuously. Witnessing them by your own eyes, and you will know why Ha Long Bay is listed on New 7 Wonders scroll.

Halong Bay Lan Ha Bay
Solo travelers would definitely fit in!

A further reason that I think people enjoy Halong Bay more than Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long is that the nightlife here is fantastic. Nowadays, there are plenty of cool bars and pubs ready to serve foreign visitors and locals alike.

In case you’re wondering:

You can find these both on land and on special cruise boats. A party night out on board would be absolutely amazing. A wide range of beers, wines, soft drink and cocktails are served on these cruises.

Halong Bay nightlife
Nightlife in Halong Bay
Halong Bay cruising
Cruising in Halong Bay is wonderful

But that is not all the party is about.

Sport-lovers will find themselves enjoying off-the-cruise activities and happy to make friends with on-board companies, while actively blending in the heaven-like nature through moderate exercises.

And let’s not forget about the food:

Giving a little hint to food-lovers, you can easily find a long list of fresh cooked sea foods, as well as typical Vietnamese dishes in our menu, both offshore and onshore. How wonderful it may be when you can dine in a cave, or have a BBQ on a beach during your travel schedule?

Dining-Cave- Halong Hub
Dining in cave in Halong Bay is one-in-a-lifetime experience!

Thanks to the widely reputation and easily accessibility of Ha Long Bay, cruising’s traffic here is heavy the most. And it is agreeable to say this is the safest and most convenient area to visit, where you can hardly find yourself in boredom awhile.

So if you are a person who enjoys the leisure and doesn’t mind the crowd, Ha Long Bay fits you very well.

P/s: For your information, Ha Long Bay is where the mighty Mother Dragon has landed from the sky, by its mythology of Vietnamese.

Recommended activities:

  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Diving
  • Fishing

2. Bai Tu Long Bay – The Secret Hidden Beauty

This is something really different:

The whole bay area occupies three quarters of Halong Bay World Heritage site – but it seems that people hardly know of this place.

However, the bay has the most magnificent views out of all three bays, earning itself a reputation as one of the top off the beaten track destinations in North Vietnam.

Peaceful Bai Tu Long Bay
The peaceful scenery of Bai Tu Long Bay

If you’re not good with crowds and want to experience a private and peaceful atmosphere, it’s an easy choice between Halong Bai or Bai Tu Long Bay.

Here’s why:

The local tourism industry hasn’t exploited this destination yet, meaning it still carries a quiet, wild beauty.

When I went there, there were almost no other travellers or tour boats anywhere. When you meet locals out on the islands, or in the floating fishing villages, they look genuinely amazed because they hardly ever see any tourists.

Another reason may be because Bai Tu Long, by literally translation of Vietnamese, is just where the Child Dragon has landed – that nearby the place the Mother Dragon touched down (Ha Long Bay)…

Indeed, Bai Tu Long is a hidden gift for tourists who are eager to discover a wild land without requiring intensively traveling assistances.

From a comparison of drama, if Ha Long Bay is the Earth, then Bai Tu Long Bay is the Moon that was left very few footprints of human.

bai tu long bay
In legend, Bai Tu Long Bay is where the Child Dragon landed

But the best thing is:

Bai Tu Long Bay boasts a strong connection with local people in non-tourist areas, and of course, you will find more interesting stuff in these rural areas.

Exploring the lesser-known caves in this bay area was the most exciting experience for me. You never know what you’ll find and it’s hard to imagine just how beautiful and breathtaking they are. Check out Sung Sot Cave or Thien Cung Cave, for example.

You have to figure it out yourself! If you’re on your own now you’ll feel like a professional explorer- it really is great fun. Of course, this area is pretty large so there are many caves waiting to be discovered.

A new cave discovered in Van Don island Bai Tu Long Bay
A new cave discovered in Van Don island Bai Tu Long Bay

Recommended visits:

…and many more

Vung Vieng floating village Bai Tu Long Bay
Vung Vieng floating village in Bai Tu Long Bay

The bay is also home to the large Bai Tu Long National Park, one of seven Vietnamese national parks, which has both a terrestrial zone and an aquatic zone.

Recommended activities:

  • Kayaking 
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Tuktuk riding

Need not to name out exactly what type of travelers should be here, as long as you treasure the nature and appreciate the tranquility, as well as the peacefulness of Bai Tu Long Bay.

List of cruises that go here

3. Lan Ha Bay – Energetic Lifestyle

Not many foreign visitors are aware that the limestones karsts and islands go beyond the actual “Ha Long bay park”.

From an administrative point they account for three separate parks, each one with its own tourist fees, but from a geological and geographical standpoint they are treated as a whole!

If you don’t mind the Ha Long bay “brand” but care about the experience you will start to see the bigger picture.

What’s happening now?

People now tend to switch from Halong Bay to this place in increasing numbers. This place is firmly in the developing phase; everything is just getting started.

Monkey island - Lan Ha Bay
Monkey island in Lan Ha Bay is a great escape

As being called “A forgotten Eden”, Lan Ha Bay shows itself energetically in green covering the entire area. And although being the smallest bay among three, it actually owns the strongest character over the rest.

Lan Ha is tiny, and an amazing thing is that you can rent a cruise boat to explore the bay by yourself. This is excellent for those people who are self-confident and experienced and want a whole new kind of adventure.

It’s not all plain sailing though:

I tried it once and almost lost my way! But it’s well worth the effort. Maybe in these circumstances, you’ll learn some survival skills. You should invest more time and money to visit Cat Ba island, one of the best spots for outdoor adventure activities.

For example:

You can go trekking in the island’s national park operated by local travel agents, climbing to the top of Bai Tho Mountain or take a look at Height 177, formerly a French military observation and defense point.

Biking on Cat Ba island Lan Ha Bay
Biking on Cat Ba island Lan Ha Bay
Cat Ba National Park Lan Ha Bay
Viewing platform in Cat Ba National Park

When choosing between Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay- if you’re an adventurous traveler- I would highly recommend Lan Ha Bay.

Why?

You’ll have the chance to try out some trekking, deep water bouldering, and rock climbing- this place is the perfect destination for these kind of activities.

Lan Ha Bay is also called “Kayaking Paradise”. You can even paddle through a cave!

Kayaking Paradise - Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay is called the Kayaking Paradise

I am quite an introvert and found that I really fitted in, here. Lying on the deserted beach on Nam Cat island area and watching the clouds blown by the wind, I really felt an inner peace. Memorable, to say the least.

Recommended activities:

  • Kayaking 
  • Water bouldering
  • Rock climbing
  • Trekking
  • Cycling

Recommended visits:

  • Cat Ba Island
  • Monkey Island
  • Cai Beo Floating Village
  • Viet Hai Fishing Village

…and many more

List of cruises that go here

Conclusion

To sum up, you may now be well aware of the differences among those three bays, and figure out which destination suits you best then. However, besides those, they still have two things in common: irresistible natural attractions and excellent cruising service, which are promised to preserve at the highest standard by both Vietnamese authority and Halong Hub.

So, if time and budget permit, I strongly suggest you experience all, to capture the entire pictures of what formed the renown Ha Long Bay – the New 7 Wonder.

Need any more advice deciding between Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay, or Bai Tu Long Bay or Halong Bay? Get in touch for advice, itineraries, and bookings.

Share this post

More from Halong Hub

Top 5 Halong Bay Caves Worth Visiting

Top 5 Halong Bay Caves Worth Visiting

Home to 59 ‘discovered’ grottoes, the caves in Halong Bay are fascinating, significant, and laden with culture. The twice recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ethereal

Top 10 of the Most Magnificent Halong Bay Attractions

Famous throughout the world for its staggering scenery and rich culture, visitors can experience this by visiting any number of the top Halong Bay attractions.

The Halong Bay region is home to nearly 2,000 islands, 59 discovered caves and grottoes, and hundreds of beaches- many of which remain vastly undisturbed by modern tourism. Nature lovers and adventurous travelers are drawn to Halong for its wild exploration potential and to appreciate the rich wildlife, flora, fauna, marine life, and coral reefs (to name just a few).

The natural world aside, there are so many things that travelers can do while visiting the bay; from workshops and masterclasses, to activities and explorations; the best way to get involved with these experiences is to visit some of the best Halong Bay attractions – here’s our top 10:

1. Bai Tu Long Bay

bai tu long bay
Bai Tu Long Bay

Sitting to the northeast of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is the lesser known neighbour of the famous World Heritage site. Boasting hundreds of its own karst formations, Bai Tu Long Bay easily challenges the scenic beauty of Halong and yet far fewer tourists make the trip this far north- in effect, this part of the Halong region is much less populous.

Caves, grottoes, beaches and islands are among the top Halong Bay attractions, and Bai Tu Long Bay has plenty of each- without the crowds. Highlights of the area include the ancient Thien Canh Son Cave, the colourful houses at Vung Vieng floating village, the untouched paradise of Ban Chan Beach, and Cong Do area.

Cruises that go here: Azalea Cruise, Dragon Pearl Cruise, Garden Bay Luxury Cruise, Garden Bay Premium Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, Orchid Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Royal Wings Cruise, Signature Cruise, Signature Royal Cruise

2. Lan Ha Bay

Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay

Not unlike Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay is a quieter, less touristy alternative to the main area in Halong. Lan Ha Bay has its own collection of nearly 400 limestone karsts, as well as a staggering 139 beaches scattered throughout.

Belonging to the larger Cat Ba archipelago, Lan Ha Bay is best explored by kayak or sail boat, both of which can easily be rented on Cat Ba Island. Taking to the waters yourself is the ideal way to explore some of the more secluded areas of the coastline and access the hard-to-reach spots that the cruises tend to avoid.

Cruises that go here: Azalea Cruise, Orchid Cruise

3. Vung Vieng Fishing Village

vung vieng fishing village
Vung Vieng Fishing Village

Floating villages are one of the most popular Halong Bay attractions, and of the four remaining intact, Vung Vieng Fishing Village is easily the favourite. The village’s colourful houses sit nestled in between a collection of towering limestone mountains, floating on their own in the vast, misty scenery.

Travelers tend to come to Vung Vieng seeking an ‘authentic’ experience and a glimpse at traditional Halong culture, which the locals here are more than happy to share through their assorted workshops and displays. Visitors can try their own hand at traditional fishing techniques, net weaving, and even learn a few things about pearl harvesting.

Cruises that go here: Emperor Cruise, Garden Bay Luxury Cruise, Garden Bay Premium Cruise,  Royal Wings Cruise, Signature Cruise, Signature Royal Cruise

4. Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island

The largest of all the islands in Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island< is a haven for landscape lovers and active travelers looking to get in amongst nature. As the largest island in the region, Cat Ba Island is also the main part of the larger archipelago of the same name.

Most of the island is comprised of the Cat Ba National Park, and so a vast portion of the wildlife here falls under the protection of the park. The area is filled with winding hiking trails- some gentle, some challenging- and a handful of truly impressive vantage points from which to view the entire island.

Cat Ba Island has become one of the top Halong Bay attractions not only for its staggering natural beauty, but also for its ecological work; the island is home to the world’s most endangered primate- the golden-headed langur (keep an eye out for them while you’re there, you’ve got about 70 chances to spot one!).

Cruises that go here: Azalea Cruise

5. Titop Island

Titop Island
Titop Island

Titop Island has long been included on many cruises itineraries as one of the ‘must-see’ Halong Bay attractions, thanks to the view from the vantage point at the center of the island as well as the tourist-friendly beach down below.

The island itself is rather small, and these days due to the increasing numbers of tourist boats that stop here it tends to be quite full. However, arriving in the morning will give you a head start against the crowds, and ample chance to hike up to 400 odd steps to reach the viewpoint where you can kick back in the gazebo for a little while and enjoy the awesome views of the surrounding bay.

Cruises that go here: Aclass Legend Cruise, Aclass Stellar Cruise, Carina Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, Gray Line Halong, Pelican Cruise

6. Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave
Sung Sot Cave

The caves and grottoes are among the most coveted Halong Bay attractions, and while there are 59 discovered caves already on the official registrar, experts reckon that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sung Sot Cave holds a special place among the other 58 as one of the largest caves in all of the Halong Bay region.

The inner caverns are wide, tall, and surprisingly spacious, which makes walking around inside comfortable and easy. Stalactites and stalagmites adorn the cave’s interior, some of which meet to form full pillars and all sorts of interesting shapes; the locals will take any chance they can get to share the ‘legend’ of each one of these formations (dragons, demons, and dwarves all play a part, so get ready to be imaginative!).

Cruises that go here: Aclass Stellar Cruise, Carina Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Rosa Cruise

7. Thien Cung Cave

Thien Cung Cave
Thien Cung Cave

Just a few short kilometers to the north of another Halong Bay attraction- Da Gau Island- is Thien Cung Cave, yet another of Halong’s legend-laden grottoes. This is where finding a good cruise guide comes in handy; while in Thien Cung, quiz them about the “Dragon King’s Palace” and find out all about the myth surrounding this cave.

Cruises that go here: Coming soon!

8. Tuan Chau Island

Tuan Chau Island
Tuan Chau Island

The entire area only covers 2.2 kilometers, but despite its size, Tuan Chau Island packs a punch. A newly developed tourist zone just outside Halong City, Tuan Chau is one of the top Halong Bay attractions for those looking to enjoy some recreational activities and beachside resorts.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of the island’s most important features, built in honour of the man himself who used to visit Tuan Chau on his holidays.

Cruises that go here: Aclass Legend Cruise, Aclass Stellar Cruise, Carina Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, Gray Line Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Rosa Cruise

9. Ban Chan Beach

Ban Chan Beach
Ban Chan Beach

If solitude on a beautiful beach is what you’re looking for, Ban Chan Beach will tick all your boxes. Tucked away in a back corner of Bai Tu Long Bay, Ban Chan offers white sands, crystalline waters, and a break from the crowds of the main Halong Bay area.

Swimming, snorkeling, and beach volleyball are all on the cards here, but our top recommendation is to take out a kayak and cruise around the coastline a little bit- it won’t be difficult to find yourself a piece of paradise all for yourself.

Cruises that go here: Garden Bay Luxury Cruise, Garden Bay Premium Cruise,

10. Co To Island

Co To Island
Co To Island

Co To Island is a name only passed around by people who are “in the know”, as they say, and that’s exactly why it’s retained a sense of authenticity, isolation, and undisturbed natural scenery to this day.

Between the white sandy beaches, the turquoise water, the craggy cliff faces, the cheap and delicious seafood, Co To Island is so much more than just another Halong Bay attraction. Beach activities, trekking, and motorbike road trips are the list-toppers while visiting Co To.

Cruises that go here: Coming soon!

Did we miss anything? What do you think are the most magnificent Halong Bay attractions? Let us know!

Cheaper and Quieter Alternatives to Halong Bay, Sapa, Hoi An & Nha Trang

As Vietnam’s tourism numbers continue to rise year on year, the usual hotspots for foreign visitors are becoming more and more crowded and forcing prices skywards. Many visitors are now looking for a cheaper, less touristy alternative that still promises not to sacrifice any of the culture or natural beauty.

Hoi An, Vietnam
part of the tourist area in Hoi An

Last year, the country’s count for foreign tourists exceeded 10 million for the first time in history, a record that has already been broken in the first 10 months of 2017. Experts anticipate that by the time the year is out, Vietnam will have welcomed near 13 million tourists through its borders this year, and as the country continues to move away from its primarily manufacturing past, tourism is a trend that they intend to keep moving in an upward trajectory.

Judging by these numbers, it’s no wonder that so many of the country’s usual tourist haunts are now becoming overcrowded. Halong Bay has long held the attention of foreign visitors, often being touted as the number one place to visit in this neck of the woods; however, even the grandeur of the ancient bay has not been immune to the trappings of today’s fast paced tourism industry – and the likes of Sapa, Hoi An, and Nha Trang are not far behind.

While these destinations are all indeed still worth visiting for their stunning natural scenery and deep-rooted culture, it must be said that tourists who choose to come here should expect to be among the masses. If you’re the sort of traveler who prefers to keep things somewhat “off-the-beaten-track” and away from the crowds, it’s time you learned about a couple of cheaper and quieter alternatives.

Halong Bay alternative: Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay

Halong Bay has a long standing reputation as one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam and even Southeast Asia – and indeed it is. However, upon arrival at the main tourist wharf in Halong, visitors are often surprised to see that there are near hundreds of boats docked and more still heading out to explore the surrounding waters.

Fewer know that Halong is actually the name of the region (as well as this particular bay), and that within this region there are two other bays that are far less touristy and yet lack nothing in terms of their scenic beauty when compared with Halong Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay’s sinking plateau - Halong Bay alternative
Bai Tu Long Bay’s sinking plateau – Halong Bay alternative

Bai Tu Long Bay sits to the northeast of Halong, and because of its relative distance from the main harbour, it remains vastly under visited when compared with its famous neighbour. A large portion of Bai Tu Long falls under the protection of its National Park, so the wildlife here is rich and flourishing – as it should be. Here you’ll find a number of secluded beaches, opportunities for trekking and rock climbing, and plenty of chances to enjoy the impressive scenery – minus the crowds.

It is best to explore this Halong Bay alternative on an overnight cruise, such as Signature Cruise Halong or Royal Wings Cruise Halong.

fisheye view of Lan Ha Bay - Halong Bay alternative
fisheye view of Lan Ha Bay – Halong Bay alternative

Lan Ha Bay is located south of Halong, boasting its own notable collection of nearly 400 limestone karsts. Lan Ha is home to the Cat Ba archipelago, a stretch of islands that play host to thousands of species of animals and marine life. The largest island, Cat Ba, is where the entire world’s population of golden-headed langurs reside – the most endangered species of primate on earth.

Lan Ha Bay is a paradise for nature appreciators and adventure lovers, and offers ample opportunity for kayaking, sailing, hiking, sampling local foods, and just generally enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

Orchid Cruise Halong or Azalea Cruise Halong offers amazing cruise tours to this stunning Halong Bay alternative.

Sapa alternative: Ha Giang, Mu Cang Chai

Sapa’s mountain paths are well-trodden by tourists who come to admire the cascading rice terraces and soak up the colourful culture of the local hill tribes, but because of its growing popularity, it’s now completely flushed with tourists.

Terraces in Mu Cang Chai
Terraces in Mu Cang Chai

Tucked away in the heart of the mountainous Yen Bai province, far away from the mayhem of the tourist hotspots, is the quiet, peaceful district of Mu Cang Chai. The scenery is comparable to that of Sapa; the rippling hills, misty mountains, and lush terraces of rice paddies- yet as of now, the entire district remains more or less unchanged by modern tourism.

Although quite some number of visitors come to the area to celebrate its annual Harvest Festival, most of the time Mu Cang Chai is a serene place where culture, colour, and calmness are all in abundance.

Ha Giang mountains
Ha Giang mountains

Closer still to the Chinese border, north of the capital city, is Ha Giang province. Known for its densely forested granite and limestone mountains, Ha Giang offers a tranquil alternative to the increasingly popular mountains in Sapa. The district’s capital city nestles against the Lo River, and while there’s plenty to see and do at this level, exploring the mountains and terraces that sit just to the north will offer visitors unparalleled views of the pass below.

Hoi An alternative: Hue

Hoi An has long been famed for its rich cultural displays, colourful lantern festivals, and diverse local ethnicities; nowadays those things translate to a city undergoing substantial economic inflation, and full of tourists who come to ogle at their intriguing surroundings.

Riverside houses in Hue
Riverside houses in Hue. Credit: Jimmy Tran

For travelers looking for something a little more laid back, Hue is a much quieter, cheaper alternative. Located a couple of hours to the north of Hoi An, sitting calmly on the banks of the Perfume River, is Hue; revered for its impressive shrines, imperial palaces, and well preserved Citadel surrounded by a moat and thick city walls. Rich in culture and laden with ancient history, Hue is a must-see for travelers looking for a deeper insight into Vietnamese tradition.

Nha Trang, Qui Nhon

Qui Nhon, Vietnam
Qui Nhon

Qui Nhon perfectly fills the gap for beach-loving, budget-conscious travelers who prefer to shy away from the bedlam of raucous Nha Trang. Situated on the coast, smack bang in between Nha Trang and Hoi An, Qui Nhon is all about logging in beach hours and enjoying low-key local experiences.

Accommodation here is surprisingly cheap considering how idyllic the surroundings are; most beach towns this gorgeous have already been developed and experienced price hikes, but Qui Nhon remains one of the best places to check-out from the busy outside world and just enjoy the sun, sea, and delicious local flavours.

Ready to plan your Vietnamese adventure? Get in touch with us for advice, travel tips, and booking help now!

Hidden Gems: Vietnam’s Most Underrated Places to Visit

Vietnam’s tourism numbers are through the roof, and while most seek to tick off the country’s main attractions from their travel bucket list, many are beginning to search for lesser-known places to hang their hat.

tourists admiring view in halong bay
Tourists admiring the view in Halong Bay

The city-hubs like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi have relatively long histories of attracting foreign tourists, as does the likes of Quang Ninh Province, home to our world-famous Halong Bay; yet the spike in tourism numbers is beginning to cause an inverse reaction.

Travelers today revel in the ‘different’, in the unheard of experiences, in doing things that few others have done, which is why we now see tourism activities beginning to creep out far beyond the limits of the traditional tourist hubs.

Vietnam is an astoundingly diverse country, with topography ranging from arid desert, to cool and misty highlands, to the flat, fertile delta- not to mention the sprawl of jungles, mountains, plains, and beaches in between. There are few countries in the world that display such vastly diverse environments within its borders, which is why no matter where you go in Vietnam- surprises are the only thing you can count on.

Often it’s the underrated places that offer the best experiences; authenticity, peacefulness, adventure, a chance to tread your own path away from the crowds of tourists following the same route. For any travelers looking to take things “off-the-beaten-path”, these underrated places in Vietnam should be on your radar during your trip:

Cat Ba Island

cat ba birdeye's view
cat ba birdeye’s view

The largest island in all of Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island belongs to the archipelago of the same name, and is a haven for nature lovers and culture appreciators visiting the famous Halong region. More than half of Cat Ba Island is made up of National Park, which means that most of the flora, fauna, and various types of wildlife fall under the region’s protection.

The area has gained great respect for its efforts to repopulate the Cat Ba Langur community, one of the most endangered primates in the world. There are more than 70 of the golden-headed langurs inhabiting the island these days, alongside nearly 300 other species of animal, 900 types of fish, and a purported 178 species of coral- some of which is the rarest in Asia.

A trip to Cat Ba Island should be all about getting up close with nature; there are a tonne of trekking activities, cycling, hiking, as well as beach activities like kayaking and snorkeling. Visitors also have the option to take out a sail boat and explore the nearby Lan Ha Bay, Halong’s lesser-known and possibly even more beautiful neighbour.

Halong Bay cruises that go to Cat Ba Island: Au Co Cruise Halong, Emerald Cruise Halong , Emerald Premium Cruise Halong.

Da Lat

large waterfall in dalat
Dalat

Tucked away slightly inland from the eastern coast, Da Lat epitomises Vietnam’s cool, central highlands. A place that was originally colonised by the French who celebrated the chance to escape the stiflingly hot surrounding regions, the Da Lat of today echoes the colonial influences at every turn; the architecture, the food, even the people themselves.

It’s a big agricultural region, specialising in high quality dairy products (the yogurt is delicious), coffee, and fresh fruits and vegetables that scarcely grow in other parts of Vietnam (strawberries!). Canyoning is a favourite amongst the adventurous visitors who make their way to Da Lat, which is a full-on activity involving hiking, climbing, rappelling, abseiling, cliff diving, and swimming. If that sounds a little heart-in-mouth, that’s because it totally is.

For those of you who prefer to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, Da Lat’s generous spread of coffee shops, gentle hikes, and public gardens should be plenty to keep you happily chilled out.

Phan Rang

view of the palms and the bay in Phan Rang
Phan Rang

Phan Rang sits just over an hour south of Cam Ranh airport, yet is worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang’s city life. The town of Phan Rang is quite big, although somehow there isn’t all that much there- just some ‘mom and pop’ shops, mechanics, small hairdressers, the usual- the surrounding rural areas are where Phan Rang really holds its appeal.

The region was put on the map in 2016 for hosting the continent’s official kiteboarding championships in a little corner called Ninh Chu Bay. One of several beautiful bays in the area, Ninh Chu is perfect for beach bums, sports lovers, and nature appreciators. Since then, the wider Phan Rang area has been earning a reputation as Vietnam’s new most coveted spot to practice wind-powered water sports.

The region survives and thrives on fishing, agriculture, and sea salt production- there are also a number of vineyards producing local wine, too. Stop by one of the beautifully decorated “whale temples” to learn how traditional Vietnamese fishing communities worship and celebrate the ‘giants of the ocean’.

Mui Ne

dunes in Mui Ne
Mui Ne’s sand dunes

Having existed for many generations as nothing more than a tiny coastal fishing town, Mui Ne is now one of Vietnam’s most trendy beach hangouts. Although Mui Ne has welcomed plenty of foreign tourists over the years, it still remains one of the most underrated places in Vietnam with many often skipping past on their way from one end of the country to the other.

Mui Ne has long held a reputation as one of the best spots in Asia to kiteboard and windsurf, and for visitors who fancy giving it a go there are just shy of 15 schools to take your pick from. Slightly to the north of the town sits the white sand dunes, which are best seen by sunrise if you can pull yourself out of bed!

Taking a stand-up paddle tour of the fishing village is another brilliant way to see Mui Ne from a different perspective; while you’re there, stock up on some fresh seafood! Low season is from April-October, which is relatively quiet compared to the high season when the kitesurfing community returns to take advantage of the strong winds by day and the raucous party scene by night.

Ready to plan your Vietnam trip? Get in touch with us for advice, ideas, and of course- Halong cruises.

Top 3 Most Beautiful Halong Bay Beaches

Some are vast, sandy expanses; others tiny and tucked away- Halong Bay’s beaches are, without doubt, among the area’s top highlights.

Halong Bay’s landscape is famed throughout the world; the teetering limestones karsts rising from the water, the thick jungle cascading over the islands, the misty morning sunrises viewed from the top deck of a traditional junk boat…

Perhaps the lesser known (but by no means less impressive) features are Halong Bay’s beaches peppered throughout the region, showing up on many of the 1,996 islets that make up Halong Bay.

Where are the Halong Bay Beaches?

Considering how many islands there are in the Halong Bay region, there is quite a lot of coastline – just imagine how many beaches there might be between nearly 2,000 island!

There are a number of beaches located near to Bai Chay Wharf, which is where most cruises will depart from – even visitors on a Halong Bay day cruise will be able to enjoy a stop off at one of the nearer beaches.

However, the real gems are somewhat further flung; further away from the tourist wharf, where they remain vastly undisturbed by the crowds.

Finding Solitude on a Halong Bay Beach

Vietnam is experiencing nothing short of a tourism boom, and Halong Bay plays no small part in attracting these crowds of visitors to the country year upon year.

While tourism interest in Halong Bay continues to rise, we often hear travelers voice their concern that they will arrive to a Halong Bay choked with throngs of other tourists- however, this is not the case.

Indeed the main tourist wharf is a busy place, with many number of cruises ferrying visitors in and out of the bay; however, setting out further afield and exploring deeper into the bay is where you’ll find solitude- and this especially goes for the Halong Bay beaches.

We’ll fill you in on some of the best Halong Bay beach stop-offs you can make (and the cruises that will take you there!).

Ban Chan Beach

ban Chan Beach

Tucked away in a corner of Bai Tu Long Bay, Ban Chan Beach is certainly one of the “off-the-beaten-track” Halong Beaches. Bai Tu Long Bay is situated to the north of Halong Bay, and is generally visited only by the overnight Halong cruises.

Despite its pristine beauty, very few people know about Ban Chan Beach, and fewer still make the journey over to it.

Travelers looking for some peace and quiet within Halong’s vast landscape will undoubtedly be drawn to Ban Chan, and what with the powdery white sand, the crystalline water, and the towering limestone outcroppings standing guard on either side, it’s hard not to be captivated by this place.

Cruises that go here: Halong Bay Royal Wings Cruise, Garden Bay Luxury Cruise, and Garden Bay Premium Cruise.

Ba Trai Dao Beach

people enjoying the water at Ba Trai Dao Halong Bay beach
enjoying Ba Trai Dao

 

Sitting 22km away from the tourist wharf, Ba Trai Dao belongs to Halong’s less-visited neighbour, Lan Ha Bay.

The beach is nestled into a nook of Ba Trai Dao Island, and is sheltered away from the weather, as well as the crowds.

Sometimes referred to as “Three Peaches Beach”, because of the ‘peach-like’ appearance of the surrounding rock formations, Ba Trai Dao Beach is laden in ancient folklore.

The soft white sand on Bai Trai Dao Beach will all but disappear at high tide, however, so visitors should be aware that the beach is only accessible at certain hours of the day (your cruise director will be able to advise you on the tide patterns).

Cruises that go here: Azalea Cruise Halong, Glory Legend Cruise, Orchid Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Rosa Cruise

Titop Beach

titop island halong bay beach
Titop Beach

 

Titop Beach is a popular favourite amongst Halong Bay beach lovers, thanks to its convenient location on Titop Island– which is a destination included in quite a lot of cruise itineraries.

The beach itself isn’t so big, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality- the soft sand, the clear waters, and the clean environment are the main contributing factors.

While on Titop Island, visitors can also enjoy hiking up the the vantage point in the center of the island and check out the blockbuster views of Halong Bay from above.

Cruises that go here: Aclass Legend Cruise, Aclass Stellar Cruise, Carina Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, Gray Line Cruise, Pelican Cruise

These three beaches are just the tip of the iceberg. Which other Halong Bay beaches would you add to this list?

Changing Times for the Vung Vieng Fishing Village

Of the four floating villages that lie in Halong Bay, Vung Vieng fishing village is the one earning a reputation as the most authentic, community minded, and ecologically aware of all.

young boy rowing a wooden boat with dog inside
Before the move more than one third of the residents were children

As Halong Bay experiences a momentous tourism spike, it is the small communities like Vung Vieng fishing village that one would assume are most vulnerable to the trappings of modern tourism. Yet despite the changes and developments, and even the move inland- their prevailing culture and way of life is far from fragile.

Location

Vung Vieng fishing village, one of the four remaining of its kind, lies in what is considered to be the center of Bai Tu Long Bay. To the northeast of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is far less populous than its world-famous neighbour- and yet lacks nothing in terms of impressive scenery.

History of Vung Vieng Fishing Village

Vung Vieng fishing village was first established in the 19th Century as a mooring for the local fisherman, and a place where they could exchange goods. Up until a few years ago, there were somewhere in the realm of 50 families who resided in the floating village of Vung Vieng, totaling just shy of 300 residents (about 100 of which were children).

These families have dwelled here for many generations, living a modest life, relying solely on the rich marine resources of the bay. In recent times, their income was also supplemented by the steadily growing tourism industry, although the bulk of earnings still came from the fishing industry.

fish farms in the vung vieng floating village
Bird’s eye view of Vung Vieng’s fish farms

Perhaps at a point in the not so distant past, the residents here may have felt themselves to be in another world from the tourist attractions of Halong City, Cat Ba Island and the surrounding bay. Now, however, their very homes have become a tourist attraction in themselves.

In 2012, the management board of Halong Bay set out a directive to begin the process of moving the residents of the floating villages inland. This originally caused quite some upset for those who had been living for generations in these secluded floating homes, far away from the effect of modern society.

Despite the backlash, the board insisted that the move is for the benefit of the future generations, who will have access to a higher standard of living and proper education on the mainland.

Community

aerial view of boats full of goods and food to be traded and sold
Modern times still very reminiscent of the old days of trading in Vung Vieng

One would imagine the communal spirit is what allowed a place like Vung Vieng fishing village, in such isolation and relative poverty, to thrive for so long. Among the 50 or so homes, there was one ‘community center’ which was constructed as a location for meetings, and is now a place for locals to sell their handmade wares to visitors passing through.

The most affluent families had tiled rooves, radio sets, televisions, and furniture- although now almost the entirety of the village is a museum of sorts, for the homes that once were.

Tourism

sightseeing in boats in vung vieng fishing village
Sightseers in Vung Vieng

Those who inhabited Vung Vieng fishing village were not hardened from the flow of strangers who came to wander through; in reality, these people remained steadfastly kind and hospitable. As for the tourists who come to Vung Vieng fishing village now, they are usually those seeking an ‘authentic’ experience, a glimpse into local life and an insight into the rich traditional cultures of the indigenous people.

Although the village is no longer the home it once was, the locals still command a strong hold on their culture and way of life, and so have set up displays of this- such as workshops where you can learn to weave your own fishing nets and catch and prepare fish.

There’s also an overnight touring option where you can spend a night in Vung Vieng fishing village and get stuck into some night time squid fishing under the watchful supervision of the experts. The variety of activities and chance of exposure to the real-deal Halong Bay culture is why visiting the floating villages tops so many lists of must-do things in Halong Bay.

Ecologic Care

As the ever growing groups of tourists flock to Halong Bay, stakeholders become increasingly concerned with issues of pollution (another reason the board insisted on moving the floating families inland).

While measures are constantly being drawn up to encourage sustainable, responsible development; the waters of the Bay become slowly more and more at risk of pollution from litter and boats’ off-runnings. Vung Vieng fishing village, along with a number of other places across the Bay, is taking part in the recently launched “For a Green Halong” campaign.

Tourists and locals alike are encouraged to take out nets and pick up any litter they may find floating in the area during their time there. In the first 6 months of the campaign operation, clear of 16 tonnes of rubbish was removed from Halong Bay.

Residents of Bai Tu Long and Vung Vieng fishing village have also joined in USAID’s “Local Engagement for Sustainable Development” project, where locals are educated about safe water practices and community-based tourism.

As for the tourists who visit the village today, they will have the chance not only to appreciate the beauty of the scenery, but also to be educated about the marine culture, and most importantly- learn the history of Vung Vieng fishing village and its people.