Each year, millions of tourists are drawn to Vietnam from the far corners of the world, their minds firmly fixed on seeing the legendary beauty of Halong Bay, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surprisingly enough, however, more and more of them end up choosing a different bay instead – a relatively unknown bay within the greater Halong Bay area, Lan Ha Bay.
If you are reading this, you are probably wrestling with the same choice right now. Before you make up your mind, go through our Lan Ha Bay guide and find out everything you need to know about it – what it is really like, how it stacks up against its famous neighbor and why, arguably, this might be the best bay in the area to visit.
Overview of Lan Ha bay.
Located to the south of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay is by far the smallest of the three primary bays in the area (with Bai Tu Long Bay, another quiet beauty, completing the trio). It comprises around 400 limestone islets spread over 76 km2, and is just as pleasing to the eye as Halong Bay. Lan Ha Bay features the same jaw-dropping landscape of towering karst outcrops that tourists typically associate with Ha Long and if it weren’t for the conspicuous absence of crowds in Lan Ha, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two bays.
Because of its distance from Halong City and the main tourist wharf, the popularity of Lan Ha Bay never really took off like it did for Halong Bay in the 1990s, and Lan Ha has remained in the shadow of its celebrity neighbor ever since. What this means for you as a visitor is that in Lan Ha Bay it is much easier to find isolated areas, pristine waters, untouched caves – and last but not least, clean white beaches. With no less than 139 beaches in the bay, it doesn’t take much effort to find your perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling and, for the more adventurous – climbing up a cliff face just to jump back into the water!
Home to the magnificent Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay is also known as a great destination for fans of hiking as well as kayaking. There is ample opportunity to stay overnight in locally owned beach huts at some of the larger beaches throughout the bay, so you can just kick back and enjoy a cocktail at sunset there. Alternatively, you can also spend the night on a junk boat anchored in the quiet waters of the bay. Overall, if you are looking to experience the natural wonders of the area but also pining for some solitude there, Lan Ha Bay is a much safer bet than Ha Long.
Is Lan Ha Bay in Halong Bay?
A deceptively difficult question, the answer really depends on how you choose to look at it. Yes and no at the same time!
In geological terms, Lan Ha Bay is part of the same sinking plateau as both Ha Long and Bai Tu Long, and as you sail around the area, you will be hard-pressed to notice any significant change in the scenery around you as you move from Ha Long to Lan Ha Bay. That said, the 3 bays do have clearly delineated borders, and Lan Ha Bay actually sits in a different province.
For the sake of simplicity but also adding to the confusion, most travel guides and websites put some of the attractions of both Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long under one Halong Bay umbrella.
Should I Visit Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay?
Make no mistake about it – both bays are absolute stunners, guaranteed to impress even the most seasoned travelers. In both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay you will be able to feast your eyes on some of the best views Mother Nature has to offer. She certainly took her time to create them; the landscape you’ll see there took over 500 million years to form.
The choice you’re looking at is of a different nature, and it has more to do with your preferred style of traveling. If you are arriving on a tight schedule or a tight budget and need the most convenient, affordable cruise deal out there, then you are likely going to visit Halong Bay. You will have by far the greatest choice of deals and activities at your disposal, and you will also get to enjoy the spectacular headline attractions of Halong Bay such as Ti Top Island or Sung Sot Cave.
If, on the other hand, you are fine with staying away from the famous bay itself and you’d rather opt for a more laid-back, less touristy experience of the place, then Lan Ha Bay is probably much more in tune with your needs.
Still not sure which bay to choose? For more insight, take a look at our in-depth comparison of the three bays – Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Top Lan Ha Bay Activities and Attractions
For lovers of wildlife, the waters of Lan Ha Bay offer outstanding diving and snorkeling opportunities. There are hundreds of species of fish, molluscs and arthropods, as well as some of Asia’s rarest types of coral. If you are lucky, you might even catch sight of a couple of seals or dolphins!
But the bay is obviously much more than its amazing marine life. Check out our top 5 activities and attractions in and around Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam:
- Kayaking is surely one of the best ways to explore it; you’ll have a chance to explore the waters and coastal areas at your own speed and access places where tours won’t be able to get to. Kayak rentals are easy to arrange at the waterside.
- Swimming at any one of the 139 gorgeous beaches is the perfect way to take advantage of the warm, tropical surroundings.
- If you make your way to Cat Ba Island, you’ll find a fully-equipped rock climbing center where you can enjoy a full or half day of climbing;
- Cat Ba Island is also wonderful to explore on bicycle.
- Located on Cat Ba Island, in the heart of Cat Ba National Park, visitors will find the Viet Hai village, one of Lan Ha Bay’s premier tourist attractions.
- Visiting a floating village is a must when you’re in this part of the world, and the nearby Cai Beo floating village is a perfect place to stop off and gain some knowledge about Lan Ha Bay’s deep-rooted culture and traditions. It also makes for a great photo op!
Lan Ha Bay’s diversity is what makes it so special. No matter what kind of traveler you are, you’re bound to find something you love: kayaking, swimming, diving, trekking, rock climbing, cycling, beach volleyball, football – and so much more!
How to Get to Lan Ha Bay?
Lan Ha Bay is a bit more secluded than Halong Bay, but this is not to say that it’s much more difficult to reach. As a matter of fact, you have a range of convenient, hassle-free options at your disposal.
How to Get to Lan Ha Bay from Hanoi?
The most common starting point for trips to Lan Ha Bay, the capital of Vietnam offers to get you to the Halong Bay area in a number of ways. Lan Ha Bay lies approximately 134 km from Hanoi and it’s best accessed through the port city of Hai Phong, which is where Got Pier is located. Got Pier connects Hai Phong to Cat Ba Island – the gateway to Lan Ha.
Travel time from Hanoi to Hai Phong (Got Pier) is around 2 hours, and your options include public buses or private cars and limousines.
An alternative access point is through Halong City and its Tuan Chau Island. Rather than get to Lan Ha through Cat Ba Island, in that scenario you will arrive at the destination by cruising through Halong Bay first.
Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi is the second biggest transportation hub in Vietnam, and it is also the most popular choice for Ha Long visitors, offering convenient transport to Hanoi city center and to the Halong Bay area.
How to Get to Lan Ha Bay from Cat Bi Airport?
Your second option is to fly straight to the airport in Hai Phong, the Cat Bi International Airport. It is located some 60 km from Halong Bay. From Cat Bi, you can take a taxi or private car to Got Pier. Travel time is around 40 minutes.
Your Options for a Lan Ha Bay Tour from Hanoi
If you’re sold on the idea of visiting Lan Ha Bay from Hanoi, your options for a tour of the bay are as follows:
- Travel to Cat Ba Island via Got Pier on your own; a great choice for independent adventure-seekers, but you’ll have to arrange everything by yourself.
- Go on a one-day cruise, back in Hanoi the same day; your operator will organize everything and you’ll get to see Lan Ha’s beauty, but the trip will feel rushed.
- Join an overnight tour, or even better – a 3 days & 2 nights cruise; hassle-free package tours that give best opportunities to really get to know the place.
Best Lan Ha Bay Cruise
With so many Ha Long cruises available in the market, and the actual quality of service varying wildly among them, you may find it’s quite a challenge to choose a top-quality cruise. Don’t worry, we’ve done the legwork for you! These hand-picked 5-star cruises, all featuring luxurious cabins with panoramic views and private balconies, guarantee nothing but the best experience of the glorious Lan Ha Bay.
Hop on board!
Long story short – Lan Ha Bay is well worth your time and money, so if it sounds like your type of thing, don’t think twice about it. Choose from among these Lan Ha Bay cruises, grab a cocktail and get ready for some real fun!