LAN HA BAY & CAT BA ISLAND
Halong Bay has long been a buzzword for Vietnam tourism, but this has come as somewhat of a mixed blessing. The investment in Halong Bay is greater than in any other natural hotspot in Vietnam, but with better facilities and countless cruise companies comes many millions of tourists. Each year Halong Bay welcomes more tourists than the last. If you like experiencing things away from the crowds, you need to think twice about visiting the destination. But here’s a secret: Halong Bay isn’t the only seascape.
Neighbouring Lan Ha Bay offers all the beauty of its better-known big sister, but only receives a fraction of the visitors. This means emptier beaches, fewer cruise ships, and better outdoor activities. Lan Ha Bay is also home to Cat Ba, one of the biggest islands in northern Vietnam, offering historical, cultural, and natural allure. Still not convinced? The journey between Hanoi and Lan Ha Bay takes half as long as the journey between Hanoi and Halong Bay.
So if you like minimizing your transfer time, sitting on quiet beaches, and feeling like you have the bay to yourself, then Lan Ha Bay is the one for you. Here are the highlights:
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.
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.
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