Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay: What should you choose?
As Halong Bay welcomes more and more tourists and pleasure boats, it is legitimate to wonder if it is worth visiting…
Located around Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay seems to be a very good alternative for your stay in Halong Bay.
In this article, we explain the differences between the two parts of the bay and why choosing Lan Ha Bay appears to be the most judicious.
Feel free to contact us for organizing your exploration of Halong bay.
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Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay: geographical and administrative differences
Halong Bay is divided into two zones: Halong and Lan Ha.
Each zone is managed by a different province: Halong Bay is managed by Quang Ninh Province, while Lan Ha Bay is administered by Hai Phong Province.
The Halong zone covers a much larger area, and it is this part that is most often referred to when mentioning Halong Bay. However, today, this part is somewhat a victim of its success, with a very (too?) large number of pleasure boats registered there.
Aerial view of Halong bay, Vietnam
Lan Ha Bay can be visited independently, either from the Pha Got port or from the small port of Ben Beo in the south of Cat Ba Island. In short, large cruise ships depart from Pha Got, while small junks, often made of wood, depart from the port of Ben Beo.
Lan Ha bay from above. Crédit photo: Parfum d’Automne
In addition to the administrative division and geographical difference,
the two bays differ in terms of the activities available and the type of experience offered.
Lan Ha bay: enjoying the Bay in peace
Let’s start first with the significant difference between the two parts of the bay: much fewer boats sail in Lan Ha Bay.
Over 10 million tourists per year visit Halong Bay, and most of them cruise in the waters of the main area… If you choose this bay, you must be prepared to see dozens of boats around yours. Furthermore, today, Halong Bay boats look more like large cruise ships than the small junks of the past.
On the contrary, in Lan Ha Bay, only 135 boats are registered with the Hai Phong Province and thus authorized to sail in Lan Ha Bay waters. However, only 60 of them are allowed to anchor and spend the night there.
The relatively low number of boats sailing in these waters, compared to the main Halong Bay, allows travelers to fully enjoy the enchanting atmosphere of Lan Ha Bay.
Landscape in Lan Ha bay. Photo: Parfum d’Automne
Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay: differences in activities
The difference in terms of experience is not everything, and it is possible to engage in different activities between the two bays.
Best activities to do in Halong bay
Let’s start with the main bay. This is the one that houses the largest caves in the bay and some of the iconic rocks that you see on postcards.
Caves in Halong bay
If you choose the main Halong Bay, you will certainly visit one of the four immense caves in the bay: Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace), Dau Go (Wonders), Sung Sot (Surprise), Trong, and Trinh Nu (Man and Virgin).
These caves are beautiful, but the visit may be marred by the influx of tourists inside.
Surprise Cave in Halong bay, Vietnam
The iconic rocks of Halong Bay
The main Halong Bay might be preferable if you absolutely want to see the iconic rocks featured on postcards and travel guides…
You can witness the Hon Trong Mai rocks, translated as “fighting cocks,” and Dinh Huong (Incense Burner), which is depicted on the 200,000 VND bill.
Les rochers appelés “combats de coq” dans la Baie d’Halong
The pearl farm of Halong Bay
This might be the souvenir you can bring back from your stay in Halong Bay. A very famous pearl farm is located near the Surprise Cave mentioned earlier. This farm is called Tung Sau.
This pearl farm covers an area of nearly 30 hectares with around 3,000 cages containing pearls. Visitors can learn about the manufacturing steps, from breeding to pearl extraction. You will also be informed about the types of pearls cultivated: Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls, or South Sea pearls…
Of course, at the end, a few jewelry pieces will be presented for purchase.
The main pearl farm in Halong bay
Best activities to do in Lan Ha bay
Les paysages entre les deux baies sont les mêmes… la zone baie d’Halong est plus étendue et accueille par conséquent plus de pitons karstiques. Mais l’expérience de croisière dans la baie de Lan Ha apparaît de meilleure qualité au regard du calme qui s’y trouve et des activités proposées.
Sailing on a traditional junk in Lan Ha Bay
While Halong Bay now hosts only large pleasure boats, you can sail on authentic traditional junks in Lan Ha Bay.
You will depart from the port of Ben Beo, south of the island, if you book a stay on a characterful traditional junk.
For a group of friends, we recommend the Four Seasons boat. It is a traditional sailboat with four cabins: 3 air-conditioned cabins with a large double bed and a bathroom, and 1 air-conditioned cabin with two single beds and a bathroom. The living room and dining area are also air-conditioned and open to the landscape. You can relax or enjoy the sunset on the upper deck with sun loungers.
Our Four Seasons boat in Lan Ha bay
You will enjoy staying aboard this traditional wooden junk, with which you will discover places in Lan Ha Bay that are less accessible to other boats. The crew will take great care of you, and you will savor delicious cuisine made from fresh ingredients.
Discovering the life of fishermen in Lan Ha Bay
Like the traditional junks that have disappeared from Halong Bay, fishing villages are also no longer found in this bay. Halong Bay thus resembles more of a tourist “park” without real life inside.
Once again, this is not the case in Lan Ha Bay. Indeed, according to the information we have, more than 300 families live in Lan Ha Bay on floating houses.
If you choose a cruise in Lan Ha Bay, you will not only discover landscapes (400 karst peaks in Lan Ha Bay) but also catch a glimpse of local life on the water: vendors, shellfish fishermen, fishers, those who supply drinkable water to the dwellings, and more.
Fishermen in Lan Ha bay. Photo : Mathieu Arnaudet
Discovering hidden beaches and coves
Lan Ha Bay may not have caves as beautiful (and overcrowded) as Halong Bay, but it does boast very beautiful beaches and coves. By sailing or kayaking, you can discover them and perhaps stop for a little sunbathing.
You won’t be disturbed by other travelers!
You can also explore Van Boi Beach, serving as a luxury retreat in Lan Ha Bay, surrounded by majestic cliffs. Known for its almost undisturbed tranquility, the Van Boi resort is ideal for a moment of relaxation away from the crowd, noise, and hustle. The waves are gentle, providing a perfect setting for diving into the heart of the coral.
While travelers jostle for space on Titov Beach in Halong Bay, Van Boi is a great alternative for a peaceful beach experience in Halong Bay.
Small beaches in Lan Ha bay. Photo: Mathieu Arnaudet
Here are the main differences to keep in mind when making your choice. If you want to capture the iconic shots of the bay, you might want to stay in Halong Bay. However, if you prefer authenticity and tranquility, Lan Ha Bay awaits you for an unforgettable stay!
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