Lan Ha Bay is located in the northern coastal region of Vietnam. Known for its striking limestone islands and emerald waters, Lan Ha is often compared to the neighboring famous Ha Long Bay due to the similarities in scenery. Here is everything you need to know for your visit to Lan Ha Bay.
We recently had the chance to take an overnight cruise in Lan Ha Bay. Its stunning beauty took us by surprise, so as a result, we felt a strong urge to share our experience and compile an in-depth travel guide for this destination.
Furthermore, Hai Phong, the city Lan Ha belongs to, is my hometown. This adds an extra layer of connection and some sense of pride and appreciation for its beauty.
Where Is Lan Ha Bay Located?
Lan Ha Bay lies to the east of Cat Ba Island, which is under the authority of Hai Phong city. Spanning over 7,000 hectares, the bay has over 400 karst islands in various shapes and sizes, each covered with lush vegetation.
Part of the larger Ha Long Bay Archipelago, Lan Ha is the southern neighbor of Ha Long Bay and belongs to a different province. It also boasts stunning limestone outcrops, emerald waters, and a variety of activities. However, Lan Ha is generally still less visited and less crowded than its neighbor.
Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay Comparison
Overall, both bays offer very similar scenery and travel activities. However, there are some distinct differences between the two that could influence your decision on which one to visit.
Ha Long Bay
- Ha Long Bay is internationally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its spectacular scenic beauty and unique geological features. It is often considered one of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam.
- It is larger compared to Lan Ha Bay, with over 1,600 islands and islets. It also boasts more caves available for exploration.
- Ha Long Bay is much more famous and well-known globally; hence it tends to attract more tourists. This can result in a more crowded experience, particularly during peak travel seasons.
- Ha Long Bay is situated further north compared to Lan Ha Bay, near the city of Ha Long. It is under the administration of Quang Ninh Province.
Lan Ha Bay
- Lan Ha Bay, located to the south of Ha Long Bay, is part of the larger Ha Long Bay ecosystem but is distinguished as a separate area due to its different management jurisdiction. The bay is under the administration of Hai Phong City.
- Lan Ha Bay is part of Cat Ba Archipelago, and in September 2023, the UNESCO extended the heritage title to also include Cat Ba Archipelago.
- Although smaller in size, it is home to around 400 limestone islands with equally beautiful scenery. Some might argue that it offers a bit more untouched and picturesque landscape.
- Lan Ha Bay is generally less crowded and more off-the-beaten-path compared to Ha Long Bay, offering a more peaceful and intimate experience. At least at this moment.
- It is conveniently located near Cat Ba Island, which is known for its national park and biodiversity.
Why You Should Visit Lan Ha Bay
Despite their geographic proximity, it is not possible to tour both Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay within a single cruise journey at the moment due to administrative boundaries. In terms of choosing which bay to visit, it largely depends on your preferences. If you’re looking for a more tranquil, less touristy experience, Lan Ha Bay could be a better choice.
In fact, when deciding between the two bays, we asked our relative who works in tourism in Vietnam for his opinion. He said we would have a better experience with Lan Ha Bay.
Besides seeing the beautiful landscapes, you can also take a number of outdoor activities:
- Cultural Experience: Some tours will take you to local fishing villages where you can get a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese coastal life.
- Activities: Many tours and cruises offer additional activities such as kayaking, swimming, hiking, and cycling on some of the islands.
Within our overnight cruise in Lan Ha, we were able to go cycling on Cat Ba Island and visit Viet Hai fishing village. The village was somewhat secluded and the scenery was lush and tranquil.
Best Time to Visit
You can visit Lan Ha Bay all year round, and the best time to visit depends on your preferences.
May to October
If you prefer warm, sunny weather for swimming and outdoor activities, the months from May to October are ideal. However, summer months do experience occasional typhoons, and it is essential to check weather conditions ahead of your trip. Besides, it can be very hot and humid from June to August.
November to April
These months usually offers the most comfortable weather for travelers with cooler temperature, although swimming may not be as enjoyable. During this period, the region experiences less rainfall, making it perfect for explorations and sightseeing. However, it can get a bit chilly, especially from December to February, so pack accordingly if you plan to visit during this time.
With that said, it’s worth noting that the weather can be unpredictable, and conditions can change quickly in both seasons. You should always check the weather forecast before traveling to either Lan Ha Bay or Ha Long Bay.
Getting to Lan Ha Bay involves different modes of transportation, as it is located off the northeastern coast of Vietnam. Generally, you can reach it either via Cat Ba Island in Hai Phong or via Tuan Chau Port in Quang Ninh.
From Cat Ba Island in Hai Phong
If you depart from Hanoi, the first leg of your journey will be getting from Hanoi to the coastal city of Hai Phong. There are regular bus and limousine services that run this route. The trip should take a little under 2 hours.
From Hai Phong, you can take a ferry to Cat Ba Island from Got ferry terminal (phà Gót). At the moment, I don’t recommend the ferry because the terminal is frequently congested with cars being held in line for hours. It is a very frustrating situation for many locals. Alternatively, you can take a cable car from Cat Hai (another island in Hai Phong) to Cat Ba.
Once on Cat Ba Island, you can find boat tours that will take you to Lan Ha Bay. Personally, I think you should only take this route if you also plan to explore Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park.
From Tuan Chau Port in Ha Long, Quang Ninh
For a quicker and smoother trip, I recommend booking a Lan Ha Bay cruise with a starting point in Tuan Chau Port, Quang Ninh. Please note cruises departing from Tuan Chau are likely overnight. Day tours often depart from Cat Ba Island.
First, travel via the highways from Hanoi or Hai Phong to Tuan Chau. The trip may take a little over 2 hours. Then, cruise operators will use high-speed boats to pick up guests from the port and transfer them to where Lan Ha Bay cruise ships are moored.
You may find a variety of Lan Ha Bay cruises catering to different budgets and preferences, from luxury liners to more budget-friendly options. These cruises also offer different itineraries, allowing you to choose the experience that best suits your schedule.
Other Travel Considerations
Both Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay are facing challenges in preserving the scenery and protecting the environment. Rapid tourism growth has led to pollution and negative impacts on the local ecosystem, resulting in measures to regulate the number of visitors and promote sustainable tourism practices.
Nowadays, it’s quite common to hear of trash floating in the bays, sadly. The source of it is believed to be from careless tourists, cruise ships and fishing villages.
Another issue we encountered on our cruise trip was noise pollution. One of the ships anchoring in the designated area for the night hosted onboard entertainment, which included loud music and performances until very late. It was disheartening to see how a single ship could disturb and ruin the natural peaceful ambiance of the bay.
I think as visitors, we can try and choose tour operators that prioritize sustainability. For us, we will certainly avoid cruise ships with loud music and entertainment on the deck that can disturb the bay’s ambiance.
With its stunning limestone islands and calm emerald waters, Lan Ha Bay is just as beautiful as Ha Long Bay. In fact, with slightly less crowds, Lan Ha arguably offers a more serene and intimate experience.
We strongly recommend an overnight cruise when visiting Lan Ha Bay to fully relax and soak in its enchanting beauty. Be sure to select a cruise operator with a strong reputation and positive reviews for a memorable journey. We enjoyed every minute on the Ginger cruise by Heritage Line, and would gladly repeat the experience from time to time.