Increasingly, Halong Bay’s push to ramp up tourism is driving more and more people out of the twice-designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The activity that the bay sees is now at eye-watering levels, with estimates for its busiest year to date, 2018, bringing in 12 million tourists. To put this into perspective, that’s more than the population of Belgium, yet still Halong’s provincial government of Quang Ninh continues driving for more. Tourist festivals, more cruises and the completion of the city’s amusement park, Sun World Halong Park, are pushing the bay to its limit, leading several thousands of tourists to seek alternative destinations in the north of Vietnam.
Fortunately, they don’t need to look far. Just to the south of Halong Bay lies Lan Ha Bay and the Cat Ba Archipelago, currently a UNESCO biosphere reserve but applying to join Halong Bay as a joint World Heritage Site. More tour agents are suggesting the up-and-coming Lan Ha Bay as a fantastic alternative to its touristic neighbour, leading more people to ask, where is Lan Ha Bay? Here, the Escape Sails blog gives you the rundown on how to get to Lan Ha Bay and the sorts of wonders you can find around it.
Where is Lan Ha Bay?
So, is Lan Ha Bay close to Halong Bay? The answer is yes. The two bays are situated directly next to each other in the northeastern corner of Vietnam and are considered two parts of the same site because of it. There is an invisible line that runs through the water and around some of the limestone rocks separating the two adjacent bays, where two almost identical seascapes are divided into the two provinces they belong to; Quang Ninh province for Halong Bay and Hai Phong province for Lan Ha Bay. One look at the ‘line’ will tell the story of two provinces that have dealt with their natural assets in two very different ways. Even at the border, the northern side is notably full of tourist boats while the southern side enjoys the peace and freedom that it was graced with at its birth.
From Hanoi to Lan Ha Bay takes about 2 hours, which is one of its big advantages over Halong Bay, lying about 4 hours away. Half of the travel time means more time on the cruise, with Lan Ha Bay day cruise from Hanoi able to offer up to 8 hours on board, compared to the 4 hours regularly offered on a day trip to Halong Bay.
Compare Halong Bay vs Lan Ha Bay for more information.
What is the Best Way to get to Lan Ha and Halong Bays?
The culture of tourism that has grown around Halong Bay has meant that booking onto a cruise with transport from the capital is by far the easiest way to make the trip. The vast majority of cruises’ daily passengers come from Hanoi, utilising the shuttle bus service that every company offers for a small, additional fee. The bus arrives at your hotel in the morning time, usually around 7:30 to 8:00, heading eastwards across the Red River Delta and ending in either Halong city for cruises to Halong Bay, or Hai Phong city for day cruises to Lan Ha Bay.
For more adventurous tourists, there is the option of heading to the harbour to book a tour in person. Even in this age of convenience from Hanoi, this is still not uncommon, but it usually ends up with opportunistic hawkers selling substandard tour tickets to foreigners. Take your time by booking in Hanoi or online, where you can peruse all of the options at your own pace and in a completely pressure-free environment.
What is Around Halong and Lan Ha Bays?
In the close vicinity of the Halong Bay area in northeastern Vietnam, you can find a few other destinations awaiting your exploration.
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the jewel in the crown of Lan Ha Bay. As by far the biggest island throughout the 367 that comprise Lan Ha, Cat Ba Island offers a wealth of activities and is a popular stop for 3-day cruises, which visit on the second day to enjoy Viet Hai village, Cannon Fort, Hospital Cave or the Cat Ba National Park. The island is a trove of verdant scenery and reclusive beaches, making it an excellent stopping off point after a Halong and Lan Ha day tour from Hanoi.
View from Ngu Lam Peak in Cat Ba Islands
Bai Tu Long Bay
The entire Halong area actually has one more bay in its furthest flung corner. Bai Tu Long Bay lies east of both Halong and Lan Ha bays, but still attracts a lot of tourists due to the tourism push by Quang Ninh province, who advertise it as the quieter Halong Bay. While it is indeed quieter, it still pulls in a lot of passengers and its waterways are far more clogged than those of Lan Ha Bay.
Bai Tu Long Bay - Vung Vieng Floating Village
Passengers cruising around Halong or Bai Tu Long bays use harbours within Halong city. A drive through the city reveals some of the potential activities here, including a ride on the cable car or Ferris wheel, an exploration of its temples or a climb to the top of its Poem Mountain. The city hosts several festivals based in ancient Vietnamese culture, and a visit to any of these comprises some of the best things to do near Lan Ha Bay for anyone interested in vital Vietnamese history.
Halong City - View from Poem Mountain