Ha Long Bay is definitely the most must-see destination on a trip to Vietnam. This growing natural site, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the dream of travelers from all over the world. To fully appreciate the beauty of its magical landscapes, it is strongly recommended to take a cruise with one night on board a junk to give time to navigation time and to enjoy the sunrise and sunset over this majestic setting.
Under the generic term Halong Bay, we must in fact distinguish 3 sectors which each have their own particularities: Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s natural gem
Halong Bay is the best known of the 3 bays, its fame is worldwide and has served many times as the backdrop for many films such as ‘Indochine’ by Régis Wargnier or the latest ‘King Kong’.
Halong Bay forms the largest marine karst complex in the world and it is in this phantasmagorically shaped limestone maze that most cruises take place. For a cruise in Halong Bay, you have the choice of several types of boat ranging from modestly sized and comfortable boats to imposing boats with spacious and comfortable cabins, some with balconies with Jacuzzi. Small, charming units have only one cabin for an unforgettable romantic trip. Most boats follow the same route and anchor overnight in the same spot for safety reasons. A kayak trip with a visit to a floating village and a visit to a cave such as the famous “Cave of Surprises” are often included in the cruise.
Known worldwide, Halong Bay is the most visited of the 3 bays, which can put tourist pressure on some places. But rest assured, the magic still operates!
Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island
Lan Ha Bay is much less touristy than its big sister Halong Bay. Narrower, more compact, Lan Ha bay cannot accommodate large units. Only small-sized boats can navigate the emerald waters studded with surprisingly shaped karst islands and islets covered with jungle.
The cruise takes on a more intimate feel than in Halong Bay. Kayaking with a visit to a floating village is also the flagship activity in Lan Ha Bay with the added bonus of the possibility of docking on small isolated coves for swimming and lazing around.
The cruise in Lan Ha Bay combines perfectly with the discovery of Cat Ba Island. The latter is the large island of the eponymous archipelago comprising 367 islands and islets recognized as a biological reserve by Unesco. You can hike there in its national park characterized by its subtropical vegetation which is home to more than 50 animal species including a rare species of endemic monkeys: the golden-headed langur. Cat Ba can also be the subject of a seaside holiday with its beautiful beaches or a more sporty holiday including cycling or climbing.
Bai Tu Long bay, a raw beauty
Bai Tu Long Bay, officially designated as the 38th ASEAN Heritage Park, is the furthest bay from the coast. Its remoteness from the coast necessitates a longer cruise, 3 days and 2 nights, often combined with a cruise in Halong Bay. As a result, it is the less crowded bay.
Bai Tu Long Bay is home to Bai Tu Long National Park, a protected area area established in 2001 that includes both a land area and an aquatic area. The national park includes five types of ecosystems: rainforest, limestone forest, littoral forest, coral zone and shallow water zone. The park presents a great biological diversity with 251 species, including 19 species of mangrove, 17 species of algae, 29 species of marine worms, 149 species of molluscs, 22 species of crustaceans and 15 species of echinoderms. The coral area is home to 409 species including groupers, bass, crabs, snails, abalone and algae.
Although Bai Tu Long Bay has fewer karst formations than its neighbor Halong Bay, it is no less spectacular. We particularly appreciate the island of Ban Sen, very wild and hospitable, and of course the magnificent island of Quan Lan. An off-the-beaten-path destination where you can enjoy long, pristine white sand beaches, picturesque local life facing the sea, friendliness of the people and seafood feasts.
Which itinerary is best for which bay?
For Ha Long Bay, it is feasible to choose any itinerary length and be extremely happy with what you saw. Of course, the more time you get to soak in the scenery, the better.
As Bai Tu Long Bay is quite far away, we would recommend to opt for at least 2 days and 1 night whilst cruising there, but 3 days and 2 nights would be even better if you have the time.
Lan Ha Bay also requires at least 2 days and 1 night as it is simply too far for a day trip. 3 days and 2 nights would give more time and flexibility for more activities.
And now you have found the ideal bay for your dream cruise in Vietnam and have a great trip!