The legendary Gulf of Tonkin, bounded by both Vietnam and China, covers three bays: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay. Composed of thousands of islands rising from turquoise water, the Gulf of Tonkin creates a truly amazing seascape.
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In fact, there are about 4,000 islands in the sea of Vietnam, and 3,000 of those are in the Gulf of Tonkin. Resulting from millions of years of erosion, the islands feature numerous grottoes and caves, lagoons, and coral reefs which display an amazing range of biodiversity. The abundant fisheries resources of the Gulf of Tonkin have supported the livelihood of Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen for centuries.
The aquamarine Gulf of Tonkin covers three bays: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay.
The aquamarine Gulf of Tonkin covers three bays: Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay. From an administrative point, they are three separate parks, each with its own entrance fees, but from a geological and geographical standpoint, they are a whole! Halong Bay is by far the most well-known by tourists from all over the world. However, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay have exactly the same scenic beauty as Halong Bay.
Halong is a lock on every tourist's Vietnam travel itinerary and if it’s not, it should be. Often described as one of the natural wonders of the world, the stunning bay is home to a multitude of beautiful islands and striking limestone towers. The core of the bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The mystical Halong Bay tells the story of a dragon descending from the mountain, and as it plummets into the waters, its lashing tail furrowed the massive land leaving only its sharp crests.
Cruising in Halong Bayis on every traveler's list
If you’re an extrovert, solo traveler, or are traveling with a group of friends, Halong is the one for you. Formed over 20 million years by the tropical coastal climate, the inspiring landforms are accessible by a fleet of impressive traditional junks that let you see Ha Long Bay in all its natural glory. Sailing in a traditional junk off the Ha Long coast inspires a journey of tales and regional folklore that invokes fortresses, dragons, and jewels. These sweep you away to the very best hidden lagoons, gorgeous beaches, and magnificent grottos the Bay has to offer. Spending time on beautiful beaches like Titop Island Beach, Three Peach Beach and Tuan Chau beach with a couple of beer cans would be a great choice. Sung Sot and Dau Go caves are perfect for exploring the incredible interior of the natural landmarks, which are home to magnificent rock formations as well as swarms of bats.
Read more about avoiding scams for Halong bay cruises
Bai Tu Long Bay occupies three-quarters of Halong Bay World Heritage site, is a stunning embodiment of the area, with peaceful serene azure water surrounded by a variety of striking, tree-topped limestone towers. Bai Tu Long has become one of the top off-the-beaten-track destinations in North Vietnam. If you don't like crowds or want to experience a peaceful atmosphere, Bai Tu Long Bay would be a place for you. The local tourism industry hasn’t exploited Bai Tu Long Bay yet meaning it still carries a quiet wild beauty.
Peaceful Bai Tu Long
Exploring the lesser-known caves in Bai Tu Long might be the most exciting experience. You never know what you’ll find and it’s hard to imagine just how beautiful and breathtaking they are. There is no light and paths like Sung Sot Cave or Thien Cung Cave in Halong Bay. You have to figure it out yourself! If you’re on your own now you’ll feel like a professional explorer. Of course, this area is pretty large so there are many caves waiting for you to discover.
Popular sites often included on Bai Tu Long Bay cruises are Vung Vieng fishing village, Thien Canh Son Cave, and Hon Co Beach. The more remote attractions such as Co To Island, Quan Lan Island, or Ngoc Vung Island, well known among Vietnamese tourists, are harder to reach by waterway. The area is also home to the large Bai Tu Long National Park, one of seven Vietnamese national parks, which has both a terrestrial zone and an aquatic zone.
Vung Vieng Fishing Village
While Bai Tu Long bay is in the Northeast of Halong, south you find Lan Ha bay away from the majority of tourist boats. As travelers are now tending to switch from Halong Bay to Lan Ha Bay in increasing numbers, this place now is firmly in the developing phase; everything is just getting started.
There are around 400 karst limestone islands in various interesting shapes in the bay. All islands in Lan Ha Bay are verdant, even just a tiny island. Without noisy karaoke tourist boats, only the sound puter putter of small fisherman boat engines can break up the serene stillness.
Cat Ba is a pretty big island in the area. This is a perfect place for outdoor activities. For example, you can go trekking in the islands’ national park, climbing to the top of Bai Tho Mountain, relaxing on the island’s beaches, or just soaking up the stunning scenery.
Lan Ha Bay Floating Village
Lan Ha Bay is also called a “kayaking paradise”. You can paddle go through an interesting cave known as Hang Luon (Luon Cave), Hang Sang Toi (Dark & Light Cave). Passing through the natural entrance, you will see a tranquil round lake, surrounded by luxuriant trees and different-sized stone walls. There are weeping fig trees shading the inside and many orchids displaying their sweet-scented flowers; a secret treasure for nature-lovers.
Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay
Monkey Island is an attractive point as well. The island has a nice sandy beach and the main attraction – as you can imagine – are the cute monkeys.
One may regard Halong Bay as a "successful businessman" and Bai Tu Long Bay as a "traditional Vietnamese woman with her hidden charm", then Lan Ha Bay would be a "young energetic guy". But anyway, each of them will make you glad you took the trip. Just to be sure, while you are in, all of your computer desktop wallpapers come to life. Many cruise tours are available to explore this extraordinary environment, including trips departing from the capital city of Hanoi (approximately three and a half hours away). These excursions offer a variety of experiences such as kayaking, exploring limestone caves, nature walks, visiting local fishing villages, and swimming in the refreshing emerald gulf waters.
Image Sources: Internet.