Halong Bay vs Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay: Which Bay is Best?
Almost every traveler passing through Vietnam has either already been to Halong Bay or dreams of visiting. It’s status as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site means that Halong Bay has been a popular choice for many travel bucket lists for many years. But Halong Bay is not the only bay worth knowing in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The Halong Bay world heritage site is actually made up of three neighboring bays: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. Halong Bay is undeniably the most famous and well-known of the three routes but Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long should not be overlooked. Here we explain the main differences between the three famous bays to help you choose the right Halong Bay itinerary to suit your needs.
What’s the difference between Halong, Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha?
Geologically speaking, they are all one and the same. Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are actually extensions of Halong Bay, though they sit in different provinces. Halong Bay has been the most visited area up until this point, mostly due to its proximity to the coastline of Halong City, making it the easiest area to reach. Lan Ha Bay is slightly further south of Halong Bay, whereas Bai Tu Long Bay requires travel even further to the east.
Both Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are currently less visited than Halong Bay, although interest in these two places is surging as they do have a lot to offer travelers.
As they are less visited and less touristy, both Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha remain more unspoiled than a Halong Bay, each of them keeping a feeling of wilderness and remoteness. Lan Ha Bay is much smaller than Halong, whereas Bai Tu Long Bay takes up a whopping three quarters of the Halong Bay world heritage site. Visiting Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha will also give you less chance of running into other cruise boats, as there are less boats currently cruising in these areas compared to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Asia for a reason. People come for the towering limestone karsts, which are very densely packed in this area, giving travelers the feeling of sailing through a forest of stone. For this reason some feel that Halong Bay is more beautiful than Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha.
Halong Bay is also home to some of the best natural features of the region: both Surprise Cave and Titop Island. Surprise Cave is aptly named as it is one of the most stunning caves in all of Vietnam. Exploring this cave will lead you deep into the heart of one of Halong Bay’s islands. Whereas Titop Island has stunning panoramic views of the whole bay, that just cannot be beaten.
Halong Bay is the top choice for those who want to go to Halong Bay to be able to say that they have been to the official world famous heritage site and seen the beauty of it with their own eyes.
Lan Ha Bay
There are at least 139 beaches in Lan Ha Bay alone, making it the ideal site for swimming and sunbathing. Lan Ha is also a perfect choice for adventurous travelers as it provides the perfect location for deep-water bouldering, trekking, rock climbing and kayaking. There are also many caves to explore in Lan Ha, that are less visited than those in Halong. Visitors to Lan Ha Bay have the option of visiting Cai Beo Floating Village, which can be a valuable cultural experience.
Lan Ha Bay is the option for those who wish to explore the Halong Bay region through many different activities and unique experiences.
Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay is sometimes referred to as ‘The Other Halong Bay'. Despite the fact that it’s much larger than Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long remains an off-the-beaten-track alternative for those who wish to avoid the crowds of Halong Bay, as it’s less touristy, cleaner and just as beautiful. Another perk of visiting Bai Tu Long is that many of the cruise operators here have strong ties with the local inhabitants of the floating fishing villages, meaning that guests can happily visit their villages and converse with the locals.
Bai Tu Long is the place to be for the traveler who is looking for a tranquil, relaxed and undisturbed experience but still with some options for activities.
Cruises to Bai Tu Long Bay: Dragon Legend Cruise, Dragon Pearl Junk.
Right now, Halong Bay is universally the most popular choice. This much is clear by the amount of visitors and cruise operators that are in the area day by day. As there is higher competition in Halong Bay, visitors may be able to fish for a better deal for their cruise. Regardless of which bay you choose to cruise, either one will take your breath away and you won’t be able to tell where one bay starts and the other begins.
But the ideal choice would be to choose a cruise that visits all three!
Trip Length: How long should you go for?
For cruises to each bay travelers can choose from one of three options: a day trip, a 2 day 1 night trip or a 3 day 2 night trip.
The 2 day 1 night option is by far the most popular option as it gives travelers a good overview of the bay, with enough time to enjoy some local food and activities, see a cave or two and maybe a beach.
For a 3 day and 2 night cruise, most operators will transfer you to a day boat after the 1st night and take you out to see more of the bay and partake in more activities. This option gives you more time to appreciate your surroundings and see a little more than you would on a 2 day cruise.
Note: Day trips usually last around 4 to 6 hours and are usually only recommend if the individual does not have time to visit for longer.
Which itinerary is best for which bay?
For Halong Bay, it is feasible to choose any itinerary length and be extremely happy with what you saw. Of course, the more time you get to soak in the scenery, the better.
As Bai Tu Long is quite far away, we would recommend to opt for at least 2 days and 1 night whilst cruising there, but 3 days and 2 nights would be even better if you have the time.
Lan Ha Bay also requires at least 2 days and 1 night as it is simply too far for a day trip. 3 days and 2 nights would give more time and flexibility for more activities.