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 1,533 km2, having 1960-2000 islets, most are limestone
  • Port : Tuan Chau Marina
  • 10km south of Cat Ba island
  • Area around 300 karst limestone
  • Port: Got Ferry Port
  • 30km east of Halong Bay
  • Area around 1100km2 with 1,600 islets
  • Port: Hon Gai Port

TRANSPORTATION

To Tuan Chau Marina

To Got Ferry Port

To Hon Gai 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

Cat Ba island – Thoi Quyt Area

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
Screen reader support enabled.

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.

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