Most people who visit Vietnam have Halong Bay on their list of must-visit destinations. But what many don’t realize is that Halong Bay has become a victim of its own success as it is filled with hundreds of cruise boats and visited by thousands of tourists every day. And most cruise boats in Halong Bay are on the same schedule so you’ll encounter crowds at every stop along your cruise.
One of the best-kept secrets of Vietnam are the two neighboring bays that offer the same stunning scenery as Halong Bay, but without the crowds. Bai Tu Long Bay sits just to the east of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay is just to the south.
So while Halong Bay gets all of the press, there are actually much nicer areas to enjoy a cruise in this region of Northern Vietnam. If you prefer visiting more off-the-beaten-path destinations then a cruise in Lan Ha Bay is a perfect non-touristy alternative to Halong Bay.
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Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam: How to Choose the Best Cruise
Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay: Which is Right for You?
You’re probably wondering if you should choose a cruise to Lan Ha Bay or Halong Bay. They are very similar so it can be difficult to decide which one to visit.
Halong Bay is actually quite close to mainland Vietnam so you’ll arrive in the bay rather quickly after boarding your boat. There is also fierce competition between the hundreds of cruise companies operating in Halong Bay so cruise prices are cheaper, but you get what you pay for. So if you are short on time or working with a tight budget then a Halong Bay Cruise may be right for you.
We have covered some of our favorite Halong Bay cruises in another post on our site.
However, if you choose a cruise in Halong Bay you’ll constantly be surrounded by hundreds of other boats. You’ll also find that Halong Bay cruises operate on essentially the same schedule. For example, if your cruise is scheduled to visit Ti Top Island for sunset, at least 20 other boats will be stopping there at the same time too.
Lan Ha Bay is just south of Halong Bay so you’ll find that the scenery is every bit as spectacular, but it doesn’t yet have the international fame of Halong Bay. Lan Ha Bay is also farther from the mainland which means it is more isolated and much less developed from a tourism perspective. As an added bonus, Lan Ha Bay has dozens of picture-perfect white sand beaches tucked into its 400+ islands.
If you choose to cruise around Lan Ha Bay, you’ll find far fewer boats, far fewer crowds, and cruise boats that offer a more luxurious experience. When relaxing on your sun deck you’ll be able to gaze upon the towering limestone cliffs instead of countless other boats blocking your view. And smaller boats mean larger suites and a more personalized experience on board.
Getting to Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha Bay Cruises depart from two main harbors. Either departure point is about 2-2.5 hours from Hanoi:
- Got Pier (Vietnamese: Bến Gót) on Cat Hai island is the same harbor that you can catch the ferry for Cat Ba island.
- Tuan Chao Marina (Vietnamese: Bến Tuần Châu) on Dao Tan Chau island to the north which is where many Halong Bay cruises depart from.
The easiest way to travel from Hanoi to your cruise departure point is to let your cruise company arrange the transfer.
Almost all cruises offer a transfer service from Hanoi. Some will include it in the cost of the cruise while others will charge for it separately. It is typically $20-30 USD per person each direction for the transfer service.
If you prefer a private transfer it can easily be arranged by your cruise company or your hotel in Hanoi. Either way, plan on spending about $80 USD for a 1-way private transfer between Hanoi and La Ha Bay.
When to Visit Lan Ha Bay
Boats operate year-round in Lan Ha Bay and it’s hard to say with certainty what the best type of year is to visit.
In the summer months of April to September, the weather will be warmer and wetter. There is a higher likelihood that you’ll have rain during your Lan Hay Bay cruise, but the warm temperatures will make swimming in the bay and lounging on the boat deck at night more enjoyable.
The winter months of October to March are cooler and drier. You’ll be less likely to encounter wet weather, but the water may be too cold for swimming. Hiking and cycling on Cat Ba Island will be much more enjoyable in the cooler weather, but you may find nights to be surprisingly cold so make sure to bring a light jack with you if you’re visiting Lan Ha Bay in the winter.
How Long to Spend in Lan Ha Bay
In our opinion, you should plan on spending 3 days and 2 nights in Lan Ha Bay. Some of the cruise companies offer sailings that are just 2 days and 1 night, but it’s a very rushed itinerary.
In our opinion, you should plan on spending 3 days and 2 nights in Lan Ha Bay.
Lan Ha Bay is much further south than Halong Bay so it will take your boat longer to get there. Since you’ll spend most of your first day sailing south to Lan Ha Bay and most of your last day sailing north back to the pier, you’ll really want at least 1 full day in the middle to truly appreciate the beauty and serenity of Lan Ha Bay.
Plus you’ll be able to spend more time exploring the bay by kayak or cycling/hiking on Cat Ba island (depending on what activities your cruise itinerary includes).
The Best Cruises in Lan Ha Bay
Ylang by Heritage Cruise Line is the newest premiere cruise line sailing around Lan Ha Bay. Their maiden voyage was just in the summer of 2019 and you’ll love that everything on the boat is sparkling new.
There are just 10 rooms on the Ylang Cruise Ship, which means you’ll have a more intimate and personalized tour of the bay. All of the suites are much larger than you would expect on a boat, with comfortable seating areas and spacious bathrooms. The beds are also quite large, with luxuriously soft bedding and plenty of fluffy pillows.
The Ylang cruise has a focus on health and wellness so you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy morning tai chi and evening meditation. The boat also boasts an extensive spa and a team of therapists onboard offering treatments ranging from reflexology massages to simple manicures and pedicures.
When you’re not relaxing onboard you’ll have loads of opportunities to keep you busy during your cruise including a bike ride on Cat Bay island to a local village where you can sample rice wine, a hike through Cat Ba National Park, and multiple opportunities to kayak in Lan Ha Bay.
If you want to pamper yourself while simultaneously enjoying the beauty of Lan Ha Bay then this is the perfect luxury cruise alternative to Halong Bay.
The Ginger is the Heritage Line’s sister boat of the Ylang, and you can expect the onboard experience to be every bit as luxurious. But whereas the Ylang cruise focuses on health and wellness, the Ginger cruise is all about food!
The top deck dining room offers 360-degree views of Lan Ha Bay and at the center is a live-cooking zone where you’ll be able to watch the chef prepare your meals. And in addition to the typical Lan Ha Bay activities of hiking, swimming, cycling, and kayaking, you’ll have the opportunity to join a cooking class onboard the boat.
If you have a passion for cooking or even just a love of fine cuisine then the Heritage Line Cruise is probably the best Lan Ha Bay cruise for you!
As one of the best luxury cruise companies operating in Lan Ha Bay, Perla Dawn Sails should be high on your list. The boat has 18 cabins onboard ranging in size from 27-square meters for the Junior Suites to the expansive 45-square meter Grand Suites.
Perla Dawn Sails offers both a 2-day/1-night and a 3-day/2-night cruise of Lan Ha Bay. For either itinerary, you’ll depart from Cat Hai Port and sail through the magnificent limestone karsts north of Cat Bay island before arriving in Lan Ha Bay.
During your cruise on the Perla Dawn Sails, you’ll visit a secret lagoon on a local bamboo boat, go cycling on Cat Ba island, kayak in Ba Ham Lake, and enjoy a delicious dinner on a floating farm in the middle of Lan Ha Bay.
This cruise is one of the best in Lan Ha Bay and is bound to be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your trip to Vietnam.
Another 5-star cruise in Lan Ha Bay, Azalea Cruises has 26 well-appointed cabins, delectable cuisine, and a superb onboard crew. Azalea was one of the first cruise lines to visit Lan Ha Bay and their experience shows.
On your cruise, you’ll visit a 100-year old French lighthouse on Da Chong islet and treck through Trung Trang cave on Cat Ba island. You’ll have the opportunity to explore Lan Ha Bay in the water and on land. You’ll go swimming at Tra Bau, cycling to the local village of Viet Hai, and kayaking through the bay’s limestone islets.
If you really want to spoil yourself then spring for one of the Exclusive Suites. These massive cabins have a balcony, private jacuzzi tub, and in-room bar. And the wrap-around windows provide expansive views of Lan Ha Bay.
While Azalea Cruises offers a 2-day/1-night option we recommend their 3-day Lan Ha Bay cruise – you won’t be disappointed!
V’Spirit Premier Cruise is another great option for exploring Lan Ha Bay. While the rooms are not as spacious as those on the boats we have previously mentioned, you’ll have more than enough space to relax during your cruise. Plus you’ll love the immaculate wooden paneling throughout and the jacuzzi tub for a soak after a long day of exploring.
All of their cabins have balconies so you can relax in the privacy of your own suite as you float past the limestone cliffs of Lan Ha Bay. Or if you’re feeling social, head to the top deck where you’ll find plenty of sun loungers.
On this cruise, you’ll explore Dark and Bright caves, bicycle to Viet Hai village on Cat Ba island, kayak to the beaches of Ba Trai Dao island, and more. After a day of exploring you’ll be ready for a cocktail or two at V’Spirit Premier Cruise’s daily happy hour.
Meals are superb and you’ll love the friendly and accommodating staff members. As a mid-range option, V’Spirit Premier Cruise is a great choice for families looking for the perfect Lan Hay Bay cruise. You can choose the 2-day/1-night cruise option, or stay and enjoy the scenery for 2 nights onboard.
Calypso Cruises is perhaps the most affordable overnight cruise of Lan Ha Bay. Rooms are about the same size as those on V’Spirit, but the least luxurious of all the cruises we have covered here. Don’t worry, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the same locations as the other more expensive Lan Ha Bay cruises but for half the price.
With a large sundeck filled with lounge chairs and a beautiful dining room, you’ll love enjoying the views of Lan Ha Bay in the many relaxing areas onboard. If you want to beat the Halong Bay crowds but you’re on a tight budget, Calypso Cruises is the best inexpensive Lan Ha Bay cruise option.
You can choose the 2-day/1-night cruise option, or stay for 3-days/2-nights. And it’s definitely worth springing for one of the rooms with a balcony!
What to do in Lan Ha Bay
Different boats offer different excursions around Lan Ha Bay but you’re likely to do a bit of kayaking in the many coves and exploring Cat Ba Island.
Most cruise ships offer an early morning Tai Chi lesson on the top deck. This is usually followed by a leisurely breakfast. Then the morning and afternoon schedules vary depending on your boat.
You may be taken to a beautiful, peaceful bay for some kayaking, or to one of Lan Ha Bay’s small beaches for an afternoon of relaxing. Many boats also stop at Cat Ba Island where you’ll hike in the national park or bicycle to a local village.
The most popular activities on Lan Ha Bay cruises include:
- Exploring Bright and Dark Cave: These beautiful grottos are technically part of Halong Bay, but are right on the border of Lan Ha Bay and are a common day-one excursion. They are accessed through sea caves in the tall limestone cliffs. You’ll visit either by kayak or on a local bamboo boat.
- Kayaking: The section of the bay that you explore by kayak varies from boat to boat, but almost every Lan Ha Bay cruise itinerary includes some kayaking. Ba Trai Dao island, Tra Bau, and Ba Ham Lake are popular areas for this activity due to their sheltered nature and beautiful scenery.
- Visiting a floating fishing village: Ben Beo fishing village (sometimes also called “Cai Beo”) is one of several floating fishing villages in the area. You’ll see locals tending to fish farms, repairing boats, and just going about their daily chores.
- Biking around Cat Ba island: You’ll cycle to the small village of Viet Hai where you’ll learn about the process of making rice wine and even try some from the latest batch.
- Hiking in Cat Ba National Park: This national park covers over 40-square-miles of Cat Ba island and is home to the worlds most endangered primate, the golden-headed langur. There are a variety of hiking trails in the park but the most likely activity to be included in your cruise itinerary is a visit to Trung Trang cave.
We hope you have an incredible experience cruising around Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam!
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