Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay: What Sets Them Apart

Many travelers to Halong often think that all the bays in the region look the same, and any famous destination will do. However, Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay, though neighboring, have distinct differences that make them memorable for visitors.

Before delving into specific details, take a look at the table below for a basic comparison of the three bays:

Halong BayLan Ha BayBai Tu Long Bay
Location180km from Hanoi, the center is Halong BaySouth of Halong Bay, near Cat Ba islandEast of Halong Bay, near Cam Pha city
Move fromTuan Chau PortGot Ferry Wharf, Tuan Chau portHon Gai Port
Places – Outstanding activities– Thien Cung cave, Sung Sot cave, Me Cung cave…
– Ti Top Island, Soi Sim Island…
– Kayaking through Luon and Ba Hang caves
– Cua Van fishing village, Ba Hang
– Dark and Bright Cave
– Cycling in Viet Hai village (Cat Ba Island)
– Kayaking in Tra Bau area, Van Boi island
– Cai Beo fishing village
– Thien Canh Son Cave
– Kayaking in Cong Do and Cong Dam areas
– Vung Vieng fishing village

In a nutshell, consider Halong Bay as the central region, with Lan Ha Bay to the left and slightly below, and Bai Tu Long Bay to the right and slightly above.

Halong Bay boasts numerous caves, iconic islets, and a wide range of entertainment and resort services. Lan Ha Bay, being close to Cat Ba Island, is often explored through Cat Ba tours. Bai Tu Long Bay, on the other hand, is more pristine and tranquil, making it an ideal destination for those on cruise trips seeking a quieter experience.

Halong Bay – Majestic and Vibrant

How to get to Halong?

Halong is approximately 180km from Hanoi, with a travel time of 3.5 to 4 hours (including a 20-minute break). Travelers can reach Halong by bus, private car, or by joining a Halong tour for convenient transportation.

For those arriving at Noi Bai Airport (Hanoi), renting a private car or booking a Halong tour with airport pick-up is a viable option. Alternatively, landing at Cat Bi Airport (Hai Phong) and traveling the 88km distance (approximately 2.5 hours) to Halong via a pre-booked or rented car is another option.

Upon arrival in Halong, visitors can proceed to Tuan Chau Island and embark on a scheduled boat tour or a Halong cruise (based on a 2-day 1-night or 3-day 2-night itinerary).

Notable Features of Halong Bay

Halong Bay has been proudly recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site since 1994, with a reconfirmation in 2000. Since then, it has welcomed millions of domestic and international tourists annually. With the development of attractions like Sun World Halong Park, the Quang Ninh Museum, and the Dolphin Show, Halong Bay has gained even more popularity.

Covering an area of around 1553 km², with nearly 2000 islands of various sizes, the core area is approximately 335 km² with 775 islands. However, only a select few islands are permitted for tourism activities. The rest are preserved for scientific and research purposes. Here are some of the most prominent sights and activities in Halong Bay:

  • Surprise Cave: Situated on Bo Hon Island, Surprise Cave is a top attraction in Hạ Long tours due to its size and grandeur. While the entrance may seem ordinary, as you venture deeper, the stunning beauty of the cave will undoubtedly leave you in awe. Formerly known as “Grotto des Surprises” by the French explorers, Surprise Cave lives up to its name.
  • Luon Cave: Also located on Bo Hon Island, Luon Cave is about 1km away from Surprise Cave. It is a popular spot for those on a Hạ Long 2-day 1-night tour, especially for those who want to paddle kayaks. The cave is unique for its arched vault, 60m in length, with a height ranging from 2.5 to 4m depending on the tide. Due to its restricted height, only small boats or kayaks can pass through.
  • Ti Top Island: Ti Top Island, also known as Titov Island, is named after the renowned Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. The island was named in honor of his visit alongside President Ho Chi Minh in 1969. Beyond its historical significance in the Vietnam-Russia friendship, the island’s charm captivates tourists. With a crescent-shaped stretch of white sand, it provides a delightful space for visitors to relax after a refreshing swim. The island’s summit offers panoramic views of the majority of Halong Bay.
  • Pearl Farm: Situated in the secluded waters of Tung Sau, the lone pearl farm in Halong Bay has become a fascinating destination for both domestic and international tourists on Halong Bay tours. Here, visitors can witness the entire process of cultivating pearls, from implantation to harvest, and the creation of exquisite jewelry.

Lan Ha Bay – Tranquil Beauty

How to get to Lan Ha Bay?

If you’re coming from Hanoi, take the Hanoi – Hai Phong expressway, which takes approximately 2 hours to reach the Got Harbor in Hai Phong. Lan Ha Bay is located about 16 km from Cat Ba Island, so many Cat Ba tours include visits to Lan Ha Bay. In this case, you’ll depart from Got Harbor or head to the Cat Hai cable car station, take the cable car to Cat Ba Island, explore Cat Ba, and then take a boat from Cai Beo Pier on Cat Ba Island to visit Lan Ha Bay.

Alternatively, if you opt for a Cat Ba cruise, you can depart directly from Got Harbor to the bay. However, some new itineraries may start from Tuan Chau Port, so you can follow directions similar to those for reaching Halong Bay.

For travelers from the southern provinces, you can fly to Noi Bai or Cat Bi airports, similar to visiting Halong Bay, with destinations being Got Harbor or Tuan Chau Port.

What Makes Lan Ha Bay Special?

Compared to Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay is smaller but still captivates tourists on Lan Ha Bay tours.

This coastal bay boasts around 400 limestone islands and 139 untouched, pristine beaches, making it an ideal destination for water activities such as swimming, snorkeling, diving, and paddleboarding.

The distinct feature that sets Lan Ha Bay apart is its peaceful atmosphere, with fewer tourists and residents, creating a cleaner and more serene environment. If Halong Bay is like a lively, youthful girl, Lan Ha Bay resembles a gentle, quiet, and more secluded lady.

Must-Visit Places in Lan Ha Bay:

  • Monkey Island: Monkey Island is about 1 km from Cat Ba Town. Almost every Cat Ba tour includes a visit to Monkey Island, known for its monkeys and a beautiful, unexploited white sandy beach, perfect for outdoor activities and relaxation.
  • Three Peach Beach Island: Located to the east of Cat Ba Island, Three Peach Beach Island is about 4 km from Viet Hai Harbor or 20 km from Tuan Chau Port. The beach on this island is renowned for its romantic and pristine beauty, ideal for sunbathing, photography, and sports activities.
  • Cat Ba National Park: Cat Ba National Park covers 26,240 hectares, including both land and sea areas. The core zone, part of which borders Lan Ha Bay, is rich in diverse ecosystems, including marine, island, and mangrove ecosystems. It offers a fascinating exploration for Cat Ba tourists and science enthusiasts.
  • Dark and Light Cave: Situated on the boundary between Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay, Dark and Light Cave is a unique destination. The Dark Cave is long and affected by tides, making it impassable, but you can explore the Light Cave. Its structure is similar to Luon Cave in Halong Bay, and you can only traverse it by small boat or kayak.
  • Viet Hai Village: Viet Hai Village is nestled in the high mountains of Cat Ba National Park. With its original beauty and unique local culture, this village becomes an ideal retreat for tourists on a Cat Ba 3 days 2 nights tour, looking to relax and explore the island on a bike.

Bai Tu Long Bay in its Pristine Beauty

How to get to Bai Tu Long Bay?

Bai Tu Long Bay is situated to the northeast of Halong Bay, so the journey from southern provinces to Hanoi and then to Halong is similar to that of Halong Bay. However, cruise ships to Bai Tu Long Bay depart from the Hon Gai passenger port, not the Tuan Chau port. Therefore, you travel from Halong City through Bai Chay Bridge, follow the QL18 route, turn onto Tran Hung Dao Street, and continue to Le Thanh Tong Street to reach the passenger port for cruise departures in Hon Gai.

What Can You Explore in Bai Tu Long Bay?

Bai Tu Long Bay encompasses about ¾ of the World Heritage Site of Halong Bay, making it the largest among the three bays, though it may be less famous.

The reason for Bai Tu Long Bay’s lesser-known status is not due to its lack of beauty or appeal, but rather because it has been developed into a wildlife conservation area, restricting tourism activities to protect the ecosystem. Even swimming is prohibited in this area. However, this conservation effort has preserved the pristine beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay, making it one of the most beautiful and prideful bays in Vietnam. Here are some activities you can enjoy on a Bai Tu Long Bay tour:

  • Admire the landscape of Thien Canh Son Cave: Thien Canh Son Cave may be smaller than the Surprise Cave in Ha Long Bay, but its collection of stalactites in various shapes, resembling elephants, lotus flowers, and flocks of birds gathering, will undoubtedly delight visitors.
  • Explore the life of fishermen in fishing villages: Vung Vieng Fishing Village, Cap La Fishing Village, and Cong Dam Fishing Village are some of the small fishing villages in Bai Tu Long Bay. Among them, tours often take you to Vung Vieng Fishing Village to experience the peaceful life, traditional fishing, and rich aquaculture, as well as the romantic beauty of nature in this area.

So, we have summarized the similarities and differences among these three ‘sister’ bays. We hope you can choose the ideal destination for your upcoming vacation and exploration.