In this age of mass travel, we are all looking for ways to travel off the beaten path. Popular places are popular for a reason but sometimes the crowds and overwhelmed infrastructure feels like too much. That is why you should opt to visit Lan Ha Bay instead of Ha Long Bay when in Vietnam. In this article, we will explain why Lan Ha Bay should be on your bucket list.
Lan Ha Bay is situated south of Ha Long Bay and it’s a great alternative for those seeking a more serene experience. You won’t be compromising on anything as Lan Ha Bay is just as spectacular as its neighbor – 300 limestone karsts can be admired and there is the added bonus of seeing white sand beaches and many species of fish, corals and marine animals.
Cruising through still waters without another boat in sight is just magical, to say the least. There is this unspoilt quality to Lan Ha Bay which takes you back to what Ha Long Bay was like before the arrival of mass tourism and party boats. The bay is near Cat Ba Island and so it makes for a great addition to that island, which is known for its national park and villages.
Of course, the best way to explore these remote waters is to book a tour with a reputable cruise company. You will want to book at least a two night journey as the one night trip doesn’t quite give you enough time to soak in all of the natural beauty. If you are looking for the best luxury cruise company in Lan Ha Bay then we recommend going with Heritage Line.
Cruising Lan Ha Bay with Heritage Line
Heritage Line is more than just a cruise company: they are artisans. They craft ships in a remarkable way – focused on stunning decor, outfitting and attention to detail. The ambience onboard is epic and the range of activities on offer through their itineraries makes your trip unforgettable.
There are two options for Lan Ha Bay cruising with Heritage Line: one or two nights. Both of these trips take guests to hidden corners of the bay, to Cat Ba Island to discover charming local villages, kayaking adventures, beach visits, and stopping off for swims and boat jumps into the water.
The one night, two day itinerary is called “Hidden Worlds”. You will board the Heritage Line Ginger and enjoy a relaxing voyage along with some delicious culinary treats onboard. Ginger embarked on its first trip back in June, 2018 and has been running cruises ever since (except during COVID).
Staying in a cabin with a private balcony, you will enjoy views of the karsts and waterways – as well as the benefit of friendly staff who will treat you with exquisite food and hospitality. And not to worry – the rooms are very spacious! You will have your own bathroom, bathtub and walk-in shower. Other cruise ships in Ha Long Bay/Lan Ha Bay don’t offer private balconies.
The two night, three day itinerary is called “Senses of Lan Ha” and this is the better option. Guests will have more time to relax onboard and take in the incredible natural surroundings. Ylang (the name of the two night boat) is an extraordinary ship which takes your cruising experience to the next level, with a more detailed itinerary and the use of a large spa area.
Highlights of Cruising through Lan Ha Bay
The biggest highlight of cruising Lan Ha Bay vs Ha Long Bay is the fact that not many (if any) day boats come out this way. Many of the day boats that leave from Cat Ba Island, for example, are filled with young backpackers who are looking to party. Their presence in Ha Long Bay not only leads to more water congestion and noise, but sadly a bit of rubbish too.
Lan Ha Bay, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem as the few ships that come out this way follow more responsible and sustainable tourism practices. So you can book your cruise safe in the knowledge that your trip won’t be spoiled by unwanted party-goers. When you anchor for overnight stays in Lan Ha Bay, the sense of peace and tranquility is just magnificent.
This sense of tranquility is taken up a notch with Heritage Line’s “Senses of Lan Ha” cruise – on the first night you moor at a secluded area and enjoy a Tibetan “singing bowl meditation”. This will put you straight to sleep – it might be the best night’s sleep ever! Waking up the next morning to see the sunrise from your balcony, you will realize that you are in paradise.
Kayaking is a popular activity in the bay too and Heritage Line have you covered. Grab one of their kayaks and paddles, and head out to the labyrinth of karsts and waterways. The best spots in Lan Ha for kayaking are the islets of Ba Trai Dao, the Trau Bau area and the Ba Ham Lake.
Another popular activity on Lan Ha Bay cruises, not exclusively offered by Heritage Line, are the Tai Chi sessions on the terrace decks. If you are an early riser then this is the activity for you! For those who don’t know, Tai Chi is a series of gentle breathing, stretching and exercise performances which help increase blood flow and puts your mind in a relaxed meditative state.
Getting to Lan Ha Bay from Hanoi
The most common route to Lan Ha Bay is from Hanoi: travel from Hanoi to Haiphong, take a boat to Cat Ba and then to Lan Ha Bay. There are plenty of tour companies in Hanoi who will organize a bus and boat trip from Hanoi all the way to Cat Ba Island, so you won’t have to worry about the transition points. For example, Cat Ba Express is a highly recommended company.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit?
Vietnam is a country you can visit year-round but March/April is typically the best time to go as the temperatures are lovely and there is very little rainfall. This time of year also coincides well with the Lan Ha Bay season – October to April. The weather in Vietnam is much hotter in the summer months and this heat and humidity tends to create some big downpours.
From November, 2021 international tourists are allowed back in the country in the aftermath of the pandemic. Though Vietnam is technically open to international travel, the destinations are very limited at the moment. The most open place is Phu Quoc Island, while other cities such as Danang or Hoi An are just restricted to a handful of resorts.
They are hoping to start opening up a bit more by January and fully re-opening for vaccinated tourists by June 2022, though with Omicron this may be pushed back. So you still have every reason to join a Lan Ha Bay cruise with Heritage Line in late 2022/early 2023. Their Lan Ha Bay, Ha Long Bay and Mekong River cruises are scheduled for a re-launch in July 2022.
Doing Both Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay
For those who really want to experience both Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay, you can always choose to do two cruises (if you have the budget for it). Ha Long Bay is notoriously crowded. However, you might find it more peaceful and less crowded if you travel to Vietnam soon – before the country fully reopens when the pandemic has either disappeared or becomes endemic.
And of course, there is no better company to book with than Heritage Line. They just know the area so well and have the best boats, most incredible itineraries and the friendliest staff. Their two night, three day cruise called “Jewels of Halong Bay” on their Jasmine boat will truly take your breath away (especially if you time this cruise before the mass return of tourists).
The cruise begins with a couple of hours of sailing onboard the 23-cabin Jasmine ship through stunning landscapes that have made Ha Long Bay famous. Then you will arrive at Cua Van floating fishing village and learn all about their way of life and aqua-cultural activities, before heading to Tien Ong Cave – an incredible cave structure that dates back to 10,000 BC.
The next couple of days include Tai Chi classes, full-board dining, a visit to the largest cave in Ha Long Bay called Sung Sot, exploring a floating pearl farm, sailing to Ti Top Island where you can swim at a beautiful beach and plenty of free time to sunbathe, swim, kayak, relax and enjoy the scenery.
By doing both a Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay cruise, you will be able to gain a fuller appreciation of the area and will be able to say which bay is better. Although sometimes destinations are just different and can’t be called better than the other. Prices for the Heritage Line Ha Long Bay cruises are cheaper, so this might be the better option for budget travelers.
Need to Know Before you Go
Vietnam is a warm destination so you will want to pack some lightweight, breathable summer clothing. You should also pack a fairly warm jumper for night time and a light raincoat just in case it rains. If you are prone to seasickness, you might want to pack some seasickness pills to prevent you from feeling uneasy. Although, the waters in Lan Ha Bay are very calm.
If you plan on doing some more traveling around Vietnam, especially if you want to hire motorbikes (which is a classic Vietnamese experience), then you should bring a robust backpack (not a suitcase) and a decent day bag which you can carry on your back when riding motorcycles. Vietnam is a true backpacking country and it just doesn’t look right with a suitcase!
This country is a lot bigger than you expect, so keep that in mind when planning your travels from place to place. If you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and want to head up north to Ha Long Bay, you will need to make a few stop offs along the way – especially if you are traveling by bus or private van. You can always grab a cheap flight with the domestic airlines though.
One place you should visit is Hoi An. This is a magical little town with stunning old architecture, an amazing river running through and some of the best coffee in Southeast Asia. You could hang out for days one end here in the little coffee shops, riding around on bicycles, enjoying the amazing street food and just soaking up the wonderful vibe of the town.
Another great spot, especially if you arrive in the north, is Sa Pa. The rice fields around this area are spectacular and there are some amazing eco-resorts to stay at like Topas Ecolodge. Topas is rated as one of the best boutique ecolodges in the world. This would be the perfect place to hire a motorbike for a couple of days and go exploring until your heart’s content.
Vietnam offers an endless array of attractions and Lan Ha Bay is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden gems. Don’t let the craziness of the world put you off booking your cruise in 2022. Travel has always had its challenges but the reward of experiencing new cultures, making new friends and seeing remote corners of the world is simply priceless!