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 most remote 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 cruises in Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, 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 some of our suggested itineraries for more ideas. 

Cat Ba Island Trekking and Tours

Cat Ba Island: The Largest Island in the Gulf

The Gulf of Tonkin constitutes three bays: Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay. Unassuming Cat Ba Island dominates much of the latter 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. Culture vultures can explore the floating villages – some of the biggest in the Gulf – and colorful markets. 

Nature enthusiasts can head deep into the national park, which covers most of the island. And beach bums can simply find a strip of sand and call it a day. There’s also a hidden corner 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.

Take to the Beaches Away from the Crowds ​

How about a private beach for you and your fellow cruise passengers? There are countless pockets of golden sand throughout the bays, but most are protected and you can only enjoy them from afar. 

Of the few that are actually accessible, those in Lan Ha Bay remain the most peaceful and pristine. They’re also the cleanest.

Lan Ha Bay Tours
Travel in Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam

Navigate the Waters far from the Cruise Ships

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 (hopefully!) that the area is famous for. Relaxation comes easy when solitude is at hand, so Lan Ha Bay is also 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’re at the end of your trip or have only just started.

Relish in an Array of Outdoor Activities

Kayaking? Check. Swimming? Check. Squid fishing? Check. All the essential outdoor activities associated with a cruise in northern Vietnam are possible in Lan Ha Bay, but with fewer people and cruise ships, they’re all the more enjoyable. Be your own captain on a one- or two-person kayak and explore Lan Ha Bay close to water level. Go lower still with a swim in designated swimming zones that are clean and safe. And when the sun goes down and the night sets in, join the crew for a spot of night fishing. Other activities include fishing village visits to explore how life works on the bay and pearl farm tours to see how local farmers make precious stones from oysters.

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.

Suggested Itineraries

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