Which Bay is Right for You ?
Picture yourself cruising through emerald green waters, cocktail in hand. Moments ago you saw the sun dip beneath the encircling karst mountains and now you’re absorbing a transcendent sky – an explosion of pinks, purples, and oranges.
As your cruise ship glides through the waters, the scenery slowly morphs around you offering different vistas from different angles. Is this Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay? The truth is that it could be either.
Halong Bay gets all the attention, but few can tell the two landscapes apart. Indeed, some of the images that you see when you put “Halong Bay” into Google are actually Lan Ha Bay, and vice versa.
But as an increasing number of tourists descend upon Halong Bay each year and restrictions around the UNESCO World Heritage Site tighten, Lan Ha Bay is emerging as a fresh alternative. However, as a developing destination, Lan Ha Bay is still finding its feet. There’s no definitive favorite. Read on to see which one is right for you.
A note on Bai Tu Long Bay. The Gulf of Tonkin is divided between three bays: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay. The three bays are administered separately, with Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay belonging to Quang Ninh Province and subject to the same provincial regulations, while Lan Ha Bay belongs to Hai Phong Province. That’s why cruises in Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay remain quite similar, whereas cruises through Lan Ha Bay are different.
Which One Offers the Best Views and Photos ?
The karst islands are super picturesque in Halong Bay, which is one reason why it has overshadowed Lan Ha Bay for so long. They are taller and more imposing than anywhere else in the gulf, and offer scenes resembling giant turtles, sleeping dragons, and birds engaged in fierce battle. However, the sheer number of cruise ships in Halong Bay can make it difficult to enjoy the scenery or to snap a good photo, as you’ll always have a boat creeping in the frame.
Lan Ha Bay is smaller, but the area around Cat Ba Island is arguably the most impressive of anywhere in the Gulf of Tonkin. Booking cruises in Lan Ha Bay ensures visits to the remote Cat Ba National Park as well as exclusive access to Ho Ba Ham Fisherman Village where there is a grotto that you can kayak inside. Additionally, Ba Trai Dao is an absolutely breathtaking area to relax on an isolated beach, swim, kayak, and rock-climb.
Winner: Lan Ha Bay hands down.
Where are the Best Activities ?
Visitors to Halong Bay have been steadily increasing for two and a half decades and a wealth of sites and activities have emerged to meet the demand. The caves, floating villages, beaches, pearl farms, kayaking spots and viewpoints are well-equipped to take tens of thousands of visitors each day. The problem is, they take tens of thousands of visitors each day…
Halong Bay offers a greater number of activities and itineraries, but the reality is that most cruise ships stick to the same four or five sites. So, unless you shell out extra cash for a cruise that has paid for a better itinerary, you’ll be shuffled through crowded attractions, sometimes to an unpleasant degree. Lan Ha Bay has fewer sites, but they receive only a fraction of the visitors, making for a more relaxing experience with the same cultural relevance.
Winner: While Halong Bay may have more things to do, Lan Ha Bay wins this round due to the quality of the experience.