Less known than Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay have proved in recent years to be a very beautiful destination in North Vietnam.
Located south of Ha Long and east of the big island of Cat Ba, Lan Ha Bay is still protected and out of sight. This makes it a perfect destination for travelers wishing to discover a more discreet face of Vietnam.
Still preserved from mass tourism, this bay includes also a myriad of islands and islets of all shapes (more than 400), creeks and other caves that will delight all adventurers. Of a wild nature, this Eden, covering more than 7000 hectares, offers the opportunity to engage in sports activities, giving a beautiful part to hikes, trekking, or climbing walls.
But where Lan Ha really stands out is by its impressive number of secret beaches where you can relax. With some 139 listed islands where it is possible to enjoy the sun and to swim in complete tranquility, you will have the choice!
Diving enthusiasts will not be outdone either in Lan Ha Bay. The bay has many coral reefs and turquoise waters that are conducive to wonder. There are indeed no less than 200 species of fish, 500 species of molluscs, and 400 species of arthropods of all kinds, without forgetting marine animals such as seals and dolphins. The spots of Van Boi, Van Ha or the islands of Sen, Cu and Monkeys are the most popular for aquatic discoveries.
Finally, Lan Ha Bay offers a window into the amazing way of life of the floating fishing villages, a Vietnamese tradition not to be missed under any circumstances. Pearl farming, seafood and shellfish farms are all places to visit during a visit to Lan Ha.
In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about Lan Ha bay!
View of Lan Ha bay and a floating village (photo credit: Lan Ha Cruise)
Why visiting Lan Ha bay rather than Halong?
First of all, let’s remember that this region of Vietnam has not one, not two, but three bays: Ha Long, the best known, but also Bai Tu Long, and finally the one we are interested in here, Lan Ha bay.
Of these three bays, Lan Ha is both the smallest and the most little known, but also the one with the most authentic character. Less touristic, less populated, more affordable, cleaner and just as charming as its two sisters, Lan Ha has everything to please.
Lan Ha Bay is the ideal destination to avoid the flood of tourists crowding the ships, caves and creeks of Halong Bay, while keeping only the good things, and above all, allowing for a greater share of adventure.
Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with visiting Ha Long Bay! But Lan Ha is a fantastic choice that will give you the opportunity to enjoy junk cruises in a more authentic setting.
You will have to give up the attractions of Ha Long such as the Ti Top Island viewpoint or the Sung Sot Cave, and consider that you will enjoy less discovery excursions, and much more from your ship and the tranquility reigning in Lan Ha.
A beautiful scenery of Lan Ha bay (credit: Lan Ha Cruise)
What is the best season to discover Lan Ha bay?
Naturally, the weather in Lan Ha Bay is comparable to the one in Ha Long Bay.
Thus, and like most destinations in North Vietnam and its coast, the two most beautiful seasons are spring (March and April) and autumn (September to November). We can then enjoy the best sunshine of the bay, as well as clear water, both conducive to an exceptional seaside stay. During this period, the maximum temperatures oscillate between 23 and 26°C with nights of a light freshness quite appreciable.
The period from May to August is rainy and very hot. Typhoons can also hit the coasts of North Vietnam at this time, especially in August. Sometimes, cruise ships may stay at dock while the storm continues its way… Keep this in mind if you decide to discover the Bay during this period. The very hot summer weather will certainly make you want to go swimming in the Bay instead of hiking in the mountains. Despite the risk of heavy rain, it is an interesting choice for those who prefer a seaside stay in North Vietnam.
During the period from December to March, the temperatures in the Bay are very cool. Don’t be surprised: North Vietnam has a real winter! You will have to cover yourself well to fight against the cold and often to shelter from the rain. The weather is indeed very humid and the small rain accompanies most of the winter days.
Thus, the best time to visit Lan Ha Bay will depend on your expectations and your mood. If your heart tells you to go swimming and enjoy the sun, prefer the period from April to September. To enjoy milder temperatures, but risk a gray sky, go around October to March/April.
A beautiful sunrise over the bay (credit to Lan Ha Cruise)
How to get to Lan Ha Bay?
The access point to the bay of Lan Ha is Cát Bà, the largest island in the region.
So the first step is to go to this island. Although it is possible to go there from Ha Long / Bai Chay (access point to the bay of Ha Long).
There are 4 bus departures per day from Hanoi. If your hotel is located in the Old Quarter of the capital, the bus will pick you up at your hotel. If not, you will have to go yourself to the company office. It will take about 2h30 to get to the ferry landing stage which will take you to Cat Ba Island. The crossing takes about 20 minutes. You will be able to go on the upper deck of the ferry to admire the view. In the high tourist season (in the hot summer period when many Hanoians come to Cat Ba Island to find fresh air), you could take a fast boat (instead of the ferry). This will depend on the choice of the bus company and the waiting at the ferry.
Once on the island, you will continue by bus or motorcycle to reach the town of Cat Ba located in the south of the island. Our colleague will welcome you and take you to the Ben Beo pier where our junks leave from.
It is also possible to reach Cat Ba Island from Haiphong. It is necessary to take a fast boat (hydrofoil) from the pier of Behn Binh. The trip takes 45 minutes and goes directly to the city of Cat Ba. The fare for this trip is about 180,00 dong (8 usd).
What to do in Lan Ha Bay? The best activities
Enjoy a breathtaking view of the Bay from the “Cannon Fort”
Located on the island of Cát Bà, accessible after a short climbing session, Fort Cannon is a remnant of the French colonial period, built in 1942 to serve as an observation point and military defense. Enormous cannons, trenches, shelters and fortifications will take you back to the heart of Vietnamese history, the fort having been used until the 1970s.
Built on the top of a 177-meter high hill, Cannon Fort overlooks Lan Ha Bay, and offers the best view of the entire island, allowing you to admire the sea at 360°, a particularly striking panorama at nightfall, when the bay’s small houses and fishing boats light up.
- Opening hours: from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., every day.
- Entrance fee: VND 50,000/adult; VND 20,000/child + VND 5,000/person to enjoy the observatory.
- Access by Electric Car: VND 50,000/person
View from Fort Cannon
Kayaking in Lan Ha bay
With its hundreds of small beaches and islets, Lan Ha Bay is undoubtedly one of the best places to practice kayaking, so this activity is included in all Lan Ha Bay cruises tours.
Paddle through the landscape of lush green islets, tunnels, lakes, floating villages, or stop to relax on the white sand of a small deserted beach…
While kayaking along the cliffs of Bo Hon Island you can admire tand pass through Luon Cave. Surrounded by steep slopes, its emerald water and its permanent calm make it a memorable stopover in the open sea. Like many other caves in Halong Bay and its surroundings, Luon Cave offers a spectacle of raw nature and a perfect refuge to enjoy a bit of fresh air after enjoying a good breath of iodine and sunshine.
On board your kayak, you can discover the surroundings at your own pace.
Kayak attached to a floating house, Lan Ha bay (credit: Lan Ha Cruise)
Visiting Nam Cat Island
Nam Cat Island is the ideal destination for travelers with a taste for adventure.
Keeping all its primitive charm, the island of Nam Cat will know how to delight you. Its 500 meters long white sand beach stretched along a remarkably calm sea is perfect for swimming, fishing or diving in complete safety.
Also, on the island of Nam Cat you will have the possibility to spend nights in bungalows, designed in an environmentally friendly style.
Make new friends on Monkey island
Also nicknamed Cat Dua Island because of the pineapples that grow everywhere on it, you will reach the island of the monkeys shortly after you leave the port of Ben Beo in the south of Cat Ba Island.
On the spot, you will find a cute little beach where about thirty monkeys freely wander around, joking to say the least. Enjoy the mischief of these monkeys always fond of apples, bananas, candies or other delicacies that you will have to share with them, and watch the spectacle of their acrobatics while enjoying the sun and swimming. Nevertheless, these monkeys are also little thieves. We advise you to leave your belongings (phone, wallet and any other precious object) on your boat.
Relaxing on turtle island
Located opposite Van Boi beach, not far from the villages of Viet Hai and Hon Chuong, the small island of Hon Rua evokes the shape of a turtle swimming on the surface of the water.
Take advantage of a stopover on the spot to take a leap in its crystal clear waters. Not far away, on the road to the fishing village of Cua Van, you can also see the islet of the Bell Tower.
Cycling to Viet Hai Village
Surrounded by mountains, with about 80 houses accommodating some 400 inhabitants, most of them fishermen or farmers, the village of Viet Hai has only been supplied with electricity for the past 10 years and is an excellent example of traditional life in a Vietnamese village.
It is the ideal destination for lovers of ecological and cultural tourism and travelers seeking authenticity or privileged contact with the local population.
The village of Viet Hai is accessible by electric shuttle or bicycle. You will be able to discover the village school, the vegetable gardens, and may visit a family who will teach you how to make rice wine.
Biking towards Viet Hai village (credit: Lan Ha Cruise)
Getting as close as possible to the floating villages
Near the Ben Beo port, you will find the floating village of Hang Vem, the oldest and most remarkable of the whole Lan Ha Bay. This village consists of about 300 floating houses, where families live mainly from fishing and fish farming.
Accessible by small boat or kayak, this floating village is one of the most charming treasures of Lan Ha Bay.
It will undoubtedly leave you with a memorable memory and an unparalleled change of scenery.
Floating houses seen from the sky (credit: Lan Ha cruise)
Snorkelling at Van Boi station
While travelers jostle each other on Titov Beach in Halong Bay, Van Boi Resort serves as a luxury retreat in Lan Ha Bay, surrounded by majestic cliffs.
Known for its almost undisturbed calm, Van Boi resort is ideal for a moment of relaxation away from the crowds, noise and hustle and bustle. The waves are soft, which offers a perfect setting for diving in the heart of the coral.
Visiting Lan Ha bay with Lan Ha Cruise
Mrs. Huong, director of the Lan Ha Cruise travel agency, decided several years ago now to sail her boats in Lan Ha Bay to help you discover fascinating places located off the marked roads used by large tourist boats.
The quality of the welcome on board and the meals, as well as the originality of the itineraries of the tours in the Bay, make Lan Ha Cruise a reference agency for your discovery of Halong Bay.
Four Seasons boat: for families and group of friends
Characteristics: 26m long, 6m wide. 4 cabins (3 cabins with a double bed and 1 cabin with two single beds), a saloon, a sundeck.
The junk Four Seasons is a traditional sailing boat with four cabins: 3 air-conditioned cabins with a double bed and a bathroom and 1 air-conditioned cabin with two single beds and a bathroom. The lounge and dining room are also air-conditioned and open to the landscape. You will be able to rest or enjoy the sunset on the upper deck with deckchairs.
This Four Seasons junk is ideal for a family or groups of friends (8 adults or 10 people including 2 children maximum).
The Four Season Boat (credit: Lan Ha cruise)
Majonq boat: a private and romantic cruise in Lan Ha bay
Characteristics: 21 m long. 6 m wide. A large cabin with 1 double bed and 2 single beds.
The boat Majonq is a private junk with only one cabin for couples or small families. The boat can accommodate a maximum of 4 people (three beds are available: one double bed and two single beds).
You will have the pleasure to stay aboard this traditional wooden junk offering the possibility of sailing. You will discover places in the Bay that are not easily accessible to other boats.
Our crew will take care of you and you will enjoy a tasty cuisine made with fresh products. We invite you to spend a convivial moment with the crew!
The Majonq boat (credit: Lan Ha Cruise)
Fishermen boat: the most authentic experience
The story of this boat was born from the meeting between Mrs. Thu Huong and an elderly couple who lived from fishing on one of the last traditional sailing junks in the North of Halong Bay. At the beginning, a few clients would embark with them for short trips in the bay, for their greatest pleasure.
Mrs. Huong then decided to build a junk based on the same model in order to introduce the beauty of the Bay to the foreign travelers.
Unique of its kind, this small 7-meter sailboat allows you to sail in a very original way close to the inhabitants and the fishermen. As there is no way to sleep on this small junk, you will experience a night in a floating house or in a guest house in the village of Viet Hai (depending on your choice).
These tours aboard the fishing junk are perfect for independent travelers and those who prefer authenticity to comfort!
The fishermen boat (credit: Lan Ha cruise),