When planning a trip to Vietnam, one of the most talked-about places is Ha Long Bay. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the Bay has become one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations. If you ever get the chance to witness the spectacular karst formations towering over the sea, the hidden caves, and remote islands that look like they came out of a dream, you’ll know why this stunning natural sculpture is one of the most sought-after destinations in Southeast Asia. However, you probably know that, at Passport Symphony, we’re always showcasing destinations off-the-beaten-track that aren’t nearly as famous but just as beautiful as some of the most popular tourist attractions. This article isn’t different. Here, we’ll show the pros and cons of these two beautiful bays in Vietnam and try to answer the question- “Ha Long Bay vs Lan Ha Bay; which one should you visit?
Ha Long Bay – The Bay of the Descending Dragons
Ha Long Bay holds an important part in Vietnamese folklore and you’ll often hear people referring to it as “the Bay of the Descending Dragons”. According to local tales, thousands of years ago, God sent a family of dragons to Ha Long Bay to defend it from invaders. The dragons’ spat out hot rocks which created a fortress off the shore with a goal to defend Vietnam. Throughout time, the rocks formed into karst and vegetation started growing, giving us perhaps Vietnam’s best candidate for a natural wonder of the world.
How To Get There?
Ha Long Bay is located in Northern Vietnam and is the perfect option for a day trip from Hanoi or the small town of Ha Long. The bay is 170 kilometers from Hanoi and you can get there in 2-3 hours by bus. Most cruise ships depart from Tuan Chau Port and you’ll find a lot of buses from Hanoi that will take you straight to the port.
What To See?
One of the most beautiful places that are a part of Ha Long Bay is Hang Sung Sot Cave; a cave known for its stunning stone formations that are said to look like colorful sentries that line up making flickering patterns under the sunlight. If you’re a fan of caves, you should also consider visiting Me Cung Cave; one of Vietnam’s most picturesque caves that’s also known as “The Bewitching Grotto”, the beautiful Virgin Cave, or even the infamous Hospital Cave that was used as a hospital for the rebels during the Vietnam War.
And if you’re looking for a different, more authentic experience, Cua Van floating fishing village will give you a glimpse of traditional life, with rustic boats and huts floating in the sea with the majestic karst landscapes in the emerald sea in the background.
Famous Islets and islands
There are some well-known islets and islands around Ha Long Bay. The most famous one is perhaps Dinh Huong; a picturesque islet that’s featured on the back of Vietnam’s banknotes. You should also take a bit of time to visit Titov Island. Named after Russian Cosmonaut, Gherman Titov, this tiny island merges aspects of the traditional way of life with a sprinkle of modernity for the present-day tourist. The island offers views of some of the most incredible landscapes in Northern Vietnam but at the same time, it also has a solid tourist infrastructure.
Another very touristy place is Fighting Cocks Islet. As you might guess from the name, the two islets look like a pair of fighting roosters defending their territories and is one of the most photographed places in Ha Long Bay.
Finally, don’t forget to check out Cat Ba Island. Home to a stunning national park that’s home to more than 30 different mammals, beautiful beaches, and historic places like Cannon Fort, the island is perhaps the most famous destination on the bay.
A summary of Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a lively, touristy area with something in store for everyone, ranging from solo and budget travelers to families and people that seek luxury. Hundreds of boats, from small boats to luxury cruisers sail off to Ha Long Bay every day during the season, and overall, the tourist infrastructure in the region is solid.
Without a doubt, Ha Long Bay is one of the 10 most beautiful bays in the world.
The bay is also historically significant. With a history that stretches over 500 million years it’s one of only a few examples of marine-invaded tower karst in the whole world.
Beautiful islands and beaches and spectacular caves.
Solid tourist infrastructure (that for some might even be a con because this attracts more tourists).
Just like every other famous destination of its caliber, Ha Long Bay is very crowded.
More than 300 operators run cruises in the high-season but all of them are required to follow a fixed route and tourists are not allowed to hop on and off and explore independently.
The Vietnam Management Board chares additional fees for every tour (i.e. entrance fee, sightseeing fee, etc.) which can make exploring the bay more expensive.
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Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha is another beautiful bay that lies south of Cat Ba Island. According to most geologists, Lan Ha is a part of the Greater Ha Long Bay area but this part of the Bay has its own distinguishing features. The area is a lot more tranquil and less frequented than Ha Long Bay and of course, has its own pros and cons (as you’ll see below).
How to get to Lan Ha Bay?
The closest city to Lan Ha is Haiphong. The city is approximately 150 kilometers east of Hanoi and 50 kilometers south of Ha Long. You can get a bus or a private car from both, Hanoi and Ha Long, or you can even depart via ferry from the ports of Ha Long.
What to see?
Lan Ha Bay is home to more than 300 islets with serene waters, white-sand beaches, and some of the best snorkeling and diving options in Northern Vietnam. And with so many islands and islets, there are a lot of exciting opportunities for kayaking enthusiasts. However, that’s not all.
As beautiful as the islets look from far away, you’ll never discover the region’s natural beauties until getting off the boat and exploring Lan Ha Bay’s forests. In addition to this, rock climbers will find a lot of exciting opportunities especially around Moody Beach, the Pirate’s Belly, and the so-called Screw Loose.
Nature lovers will also love Monkey Island, one of the most popular tourist spots in the bay. However, if you plan to visit Monkey Island, note that monkey bites aren’t a rarity and the monkeys are used to having their way. In this part of the bay, you’ll also find a lot of beautiful caves, like The Toi and San Cave, and the Dark and Bright Cave, famous for the mesmerizing limestone structures at and the unique natural habitat.
Last but not least, The Viet Hai Fishing Village is one place that can’t be overlooked. You’ll find the village about 6 kilometers away from Viet Hai Harbor and here, you can go kayaking, rent a motorbike and explore the area, or just observe the old, traditional houses and rice fields and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.
A summary of Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay is an up-and-coming, more peaceful, and less frequented version of Ha Long Bay. The tourist facilities and boats aren’t as numerous as the ones in Ha Long Bay but this isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, especially for people who want more privacy and like getting off the beaten track.
The bay lies south, relatively far from the most frequented part of Ha Long Bay and closer to most of the last remaining authentic fishing villages.
Lan Ha Bay has a high concentration of limestone mountains which the sea surface partitioned into smaller gulfs and bays, most of which remain untouched even today.
The bay hides some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in Vietnam.
Planning an itinerary in Lan Ha Bay is a lot easier because visitors have more flexibility in exploring the area and they don’t have to strictly follow a tour guide.
The cruise and accommodation prices are lower compared to Ha Long Bay
Smaller area, fewer islands, less things to do.
Tourist infrastructure isn’t on the level of the one at Ha Long Bay.
Best Time To Visit
You’ll find tour operators running throughout the year but the best time to visit is March-April and October- November. This way, you’ll avoid the crowds of June-July and December-February (when most people go on vacations) and you’ll still catch some nice weather. As Lan Ha is a part of the Greater Ha Long Bay, there aren’t any differences in the climate and the best time to visit.
Ha Long Bay vs Lan Ha Bay- Which One To Choose?
Ha Long Bay vs Lan Ha Bay becomes a frequently asked question as the latter one gains more popularity but at the moment, Ha Long Bay is still the front-runner by a long shot! However, at the end of the day, it all depends on what you want from your vacation. As you could see from this article, Ha Long Bay definitely has more to offer but it’s also a lot more touristy and you have to rub elbows with other tourists all the time. Lan Ha Bay, on the other hand, is still a beautiful place and a perfect choice if you want to get off the beaten track and explore a less-known part of Northern Vietnam. So, the final choice is yours!
Useful resources for visiting Vietnam
Looking for cheap flights to Vietnam? KLM has some of the most affordable flights in the region and you can get an additional 20% off on all KLM flights to Vietnam with this coupon.
For budget accommodation options in Vietnam, this Booking special offer gets you 15% off on all hotels in Vietnam.
For the best travel insurance deals on the market, I recommend you check out World Nomads.
Finally, don’t forget to sort out your visa before traveling to Vietnam. You can obtain one through Ivisa for only $45 USD. It’s one of the rare reliable online visa providers for Vietnam.
What do you think of this comparison of Ha Long Bay vs Lan Ha Bay? Did you ever visit any of these two bays? Which one would you want to visit more? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
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