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:
The region actually includes 3 bays: Bai Tu Long, Lan Ha and last but not least, Halong Bay.
Gives you a little more to consider now, right?
This article 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.
I have been fortunate to have had a chance to visit all 3 bays. 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:
1. Halong Bay – Colourful Bustling Beauty
The number of visitors to this place has increased rapidly in recent years.
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.
If you’re an extrovert, solo traveller or are travelling with a group of friends, Halong is the one for you. Spending time on busy but beautiful beaches like Titop Island Beach, Three Peach Beach and Tuan Chau beach with a couple cans of beer would be a great choice.
But that’s not even the best part:
Group activities such as canoeing, kayaking or fishing are all on offer in this part of the bay; even for solo travellers, this provides opportunities to meet many interesting people and make new friends.
When I was in the bay, I struggled to decide whether to cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay or Halong Bay. I would have done both, but unfortunately I had no budget left.
Instead, I just took a one-day tour to explore some of Halong’s caves and some small karst islands. The views were absolutely stunning!
Here’s what it boils down to:
If you’re choosing between Bai Tu Long Bay or Halong Bay like I was, and you want to experience something more upbeat and lively, Halong Bay is definitely the choice for you.
A further reason that I think extroverts 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.
And let’s not forget about the food:
Barbecue buffets, deluxe seafood buffets and many other dishes of 4-star Michelin restaurant quality are available.
Tuan Chau theme park, Vinpearl Land Halong and other theme parks are a really outstanding choice at night. The famous show here is the high tech water fountain with music, laser lighting and film projection on water screens at Tuan Chau theme park.
Cruises that go here: Aclass Legend, Aclass Stellar, Azalea Cruise, Carina Cruise, Garden Bay Luxury Cruise, Garden Bay Premium Cruise, Paradise Elegance Cruise, Paradise Luxury Cruise, Paradise Peak Cruise, Royal Wings Cruise, Signature Cruise, Signature Royal Cruise
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.
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.
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.
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.
Popular sites often included on cruise itineraries are Vung Vieng fishing village and Hon Co Beach. The more remote attractions such as Co To Island, Quan Lan Island or Ngoc Vung Island are harder to reach by water.
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.
Cruises that go here: Azalea Cruise, Dragon Pearl Cruise, Emperor Cruise, Garden Bay Luxury, Garden Bay Premium, Glory legend Cruise, Huong Hai Sealife, Orchid Cruise, Paradise Elegance Cruise, Paradise Luxury Cruise, Paradise Peak Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Royal Wings Cruise, Signature Cruise, Signature Royal Cruise
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 are now tending to switch from Halong Bay to this place in increasing numbers. This place now is firmly in the developing phase; everything is just getting started.
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.
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 defence point.
When choosing between Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay- if you’re an adventurous traveler- I would highly recommend Lan Ha Bay.
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!
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.
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.