Lan Ha Bay—far from the maddening crowds of Halong Bay

There’s no doubt Halong Bay is the jewel within Vietnam’s tourism crown. A destination of literally legendary status, the otherworldly landscape of craggy limestone islets jutting from a placid jade mirror of sea speak for themselves.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Since its inception into the UNESCO World Heritage “hall of fame” in 1994 and also listed as one of the new seven natural wonders in the world in 2011, many travelers have added Halong Bay to their bucket list and it is always included on packaged tours to Vietnam, usually as an overnight cruise activity.

But let me let you in on a little secret—did you know that Halong Bay is just one part of a much larger and diverse area? Indeed, Halong Bay is only one of three bays within the enormous Gulf of Tonkin, which stretches from the Chinese border all the way to Vinh in central Vietnam. Located on either side of Halong Bay you can find the remote Bai Tu Long Bay to the east and the insulated smaller Lan Ha Bay to the south.

The region

Each bay offers something different which can make it hard for travelers to decide where the best experience will be. Undoubtedly Halong Bay usually wins, and why wouldn’t it when the accolades are as good as previously mentioned and your time is limited?

While popularity is usually enough when it comes to picking future vacations, this is one time when going against the crowd and exploring Lan Ha Bay instead of Halong Bay will truly pay off.

First and foremost, although Lan Ha Bay is smaller in size than Halong Bay, it is less crowded. Especially now with the new road from Hanoi to Halong complete, there are more and more tourists visiting on day-only cruises, creating more demand which inadvertently leads to polluted water and jam-packed attractions. After all, who really wants to look out from the sundeck and just see other boats clogging up the wonderful scenery? Lan Ha Bay doesn’t have this problem as there are fewer cruise ships operating here.

Lan Ha Bay

Lan Ha Bay’s 76 km2 is home to around 400 different islands, islets, and empty beaches of the Cat Ba Archipelago. The biggest island, also named Cat Ba, is where the endangered Cat Ba Langur resides, as well as Van Hai Village, only reachable by boat.


A forgotten Eden, the lush jungles of Lan Ha reflect the turquoise hue of the bay, showcasing a wild display of every shade of green imaginable. In addition to cruises, there are a plethora of activities to indulge in, including kayaking through caves and grottoes, rock climbing, deep water soloing, trekking, cycling, sunbathing, and swimming. Staying on Cat Ba Island overnight is another wonderful way to get off the beaten path, interact with locals, and engage in sustainable tourism efforts and projects.


Cultural immersion also takes place with visits to Cai Beo or Viet Hai floating fishing villages. Although people do not live there full-time anymore due to a recent government initiative to relocate these seafarers to the safety of land, travellers can still explore the area by rowing boat or kayak to see local industry such as fishing, net weaving, and pearl processing. Viet Hai Village also has a museum detailing the history, local customs, and traditions of the area.


Also important to mention is the accessibility of Lan Ha Bay. From Hanoi, it takes just under 2-hours to reach Got Pier in Hai Phong, the starting point for cruises and even ferries departing for Cat Ba Island. And if you fly directly into Hai Phong from other cities in Vietnam such as Da Nang, Hue, or Ho Chi Minh City, it will only take you 20-30 minutes by taxi to reach Got pier, making it one of the country’s truly best kept and convenient secrets.


Have we convinced you yet? Start planning your dream escape to Lan Ha Bay now with some of our recommended packages below. Or, contact us here at for more support on building the perfect itinerary.  

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