Halong Bay has long been considered the gem of Vietnam tourism’s crown, and it totally deserves that renown. Established as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the dramatic landscape is picture-perfect, although these days, it can be hard to see with all the crowds. But did you know the Gulf of Tonkin is actually made up of three bays?

Neighboring Lan Ha Bay to the south offers all the beauty of its better-known big sister, but without the pesky crowds or pollution. It’s also home to Cat Ba National Park, which we explore via kayaks and bicycles to find hidden beaches, wild nature, and charming fishing villages.

Bai Tu Long Bay, to the east of Halong Bay, is the least discovered of the three, offering a relatively untouched region with a flourishing forest and marine conservation area just waiting to be discovered. The area is half the size of Halong, yet with double the amount of limestone karst formations, the view is just as beautiful. 

Although we love Halong Bay, we believe in following the road less traveled and supporting sustainable products. That’s why our Topas Originals and Topas Family packages feature Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay cruises, to not only take you further into the region, but to give you a taste of the Vietnam that existed before mass tourism. 

Read on to discover more information about this destination below and how you can add it to your upcoming trip to Vietnam. Or, browse our tours of Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay for more ideas. 

Cat Ba Island Trekking and Tours

Cat Ba Island: The Largest Island in the Gulf

The Gulf of Tonkin consists of three bays: Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay. Unassuming Cat Ba Island dominates much of Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam, and offers more to do than all the other islands combined. History buffs can climb colonial forts or delve into caves that doubled as hospitals during the wars while culture lovers can explore villages on land and sea.

Most Lan Ha Bay tours contain visits to the lush Cat Ba National Park which covers most of the island for rock climbing and trekking as well as stops on the plentiful strips of pristine beaches hugging every island’s coast within the Cat Ba archipelago. There’s also a hidden area of Cat Ba cut off from the rest of the island by the national park. There’s no road access, so the only way to discover this unusual community is on a Lan Ha Bay cruise.

Lan Ha Bay Kayaking and Cruising

Taking pictures of the scenery without other cruise ships in the frame is a tough challenge in Halong Bay, but in Lan Ha Bay it’s the norm. Without those other pesky ships getting in the way, you can really absorb the jungle-topped mountains, emerald green waters, and bright blue skies that the area is famous for. Lan Ha Bay weather is pretty stable, with the best time to visit between October and June to avoid most risks of tropical storms that arrive from the Philippines from July to September.

In addition, relaxation comes easy when solitude is at hand, and Lan Ha Bay is especially great for kicking back and doing nothing at all. Private cabins, the dining room, or the sundeck are all perfect places to recharge and unwind, whether you have time for a 1-day Lan Ha Bay tour or 5.

Lan Ha Bay Tours
Travel in Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam

Off-the-Beaten-Track in Bai Tu Long Bay

For those who have more time to spare, Bai Tu Long Bay is a wonderful option to choose when deciding on a cruise or Gulf of Tonkin experience. As it is more remote, (4-5 hour drive away from Hanoi as opposed to a 90-minute transfer to Lan Ha bay and 2-hour ride to Halong Bay), there are less cruise operators and tourists exploring the region, meaning the water is clearer, the beaches even quieter, and the nature, unparalleled.

Our Bai Tu Long Bay package is perfect for families and children, including tons of opportunities for kayaking and swimming in this little paradise of Vietnam.

An Array of Outdoor Activities

Kayaking? Check! Swimming? Of course! Sun-bathing? Definitely! All the essential outdoor activities associated with a cruise in northern Vietnam are possible in all three of our above-mentioned destinations. Be your own captain on a one- or two-person kayak and glide above the mirror-like surface of the water, paddling around limestone karst islets to hidden white sand beaches and floating villages. Float in the year-round warm waters and feel the sun kiss your skin while sipping a cocktail on the beach or sun-deck.

Discover centuries-old tales and legends of the area while visiting caves and Viet Hai Village on Cat Ba Island. Or soar above the Gulf of Tonkin in a seaplane, getting a bird’s eye view of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination that few rarely get to see. If this sounds like your idea of a perfect holiday, check out our Ultimate Gulf of Tonkin package to get the best of the best!

Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay

Browse some of our destination-focused itineraries for inspiration, or get in touch with one of our amazing travel designers to start planning the adventure of a lifetime.

Our Gulf of Tonkin Tours

4 days From 7,900,000 VNĐ

Trip type: Culture

6 days From 12,100,000VNĐ

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6 days From 15,300,000 VNĐ

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10 days From 20,200,000 VNĐ

Trip type: Culture