Widely considered one of the unmissable tourist attractions in Southeast Asia, Halong Bay has been capturing the imagination of travelers with the ageless beauty of its limestone formations for many years now. Because of this, in some ways, the bay has become a victim of its own success, and these days so many tour boats ply their trade in its waters that there is seemingly no way to escape the ubiquitous tourist masses.
Only there is. Two ways, to be precise; two bays offering the same otherworldly views and attractions but minus the crowds, both a stone’s throw from Halong Bay. Lan Ha Bay lies immediately to the south, but in this article we will instead look to the northeast of Halong Bay – the location of another oft-ignored stunner of a bay, Bai Tu Long.
Overview of Bai Tu Long Bay
Can you really find that elusive peace and quiet in an area this popular with mainstream tourists, one so firmly planted on the international traveler’s radar? As soon as you venture 30 km northeast from Ha Long towards the Chinese border, you step into another world – even though, from the standpoint of geology and in terms of the landscapes around you, there won’t be much difference at all. Where Bai Tu Long trumps its world-famous cousin is that as a travel destination, it is still in its infancy – meaning far fewer tour boats and tourists.
Covering a primary area of roughly 158 km2 but also stretching further afield across a larger buffer zone, Bai Tu Long Bay houses a variety of ecosystems and is made up of hundreds of islands and islets. While a few of them have recently started to receive more attention from tourists, the grand majority of these islands are still as pristine as when Mother Dragon and her children created them with their emerald teeth (well, at least according to the traditional lore).
Sheltered from international throngs by the simple fact that it lies further away from the main tourist wharf than Ha Long and is therefore harder to fit into a quick, efficient trip around Vietnam, Bai Tu Long offers unlimited opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and trekking – all within the picturesque and tranquil settings of the Vung Vieng fishing village, the Ban Chan beach, the Ang Du area or the Thien Canh Son Cave. If you like to keep things off the beaten track, this is an ideal destination for you.
Is Bai Tu Long a Part of Halong Bay?
Not more than an afterthought to Halong Bay in the popular imagination, Bay Tu Long Bay is in fact a separate bay, with clearly delineated borders which set it apart from the neighboring tourist giant (the same is true for Lan Ha Bay, another overshadowed beauty in the area).
That said, it needs to be noted that geologically speaking, Bai Tu Long is a seamless extension of Halong Bay, and for this reason it exhibits a landscape identical with that in Halong Bay. Ever since Halong Bay shot to popularity in the latter stages of the 20th century and received the nod as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tour operators have been lumping the attractions of the 3 bays under a single Halong Bay brand, oftentimes cruising their tourist boats across the greater Halong Bay area without even informing their clients that strictly speaking, they aren’t in Ha Long anymore. Not that it would make any difference to the passengers – the 3 bays are all marvelous!
Is Bai Tu Long Better than Halong Bay?
This is clearly a matter of taste, and simply depends on what you are seeking. Halong Bay is nothing short of sensational; for many it is the highlight of their holiday in Vietnam. However, consider yourself warned that sadly, the beauty of the place is threatened as the ethos of leaving only your footprints has not quite got through to tourists in this part of the world, and garbage is becoming an issue here.
Bai Tu Long Bay, on the other hand, is just as beautiful and exciting as Ha Long, but visibly less polluted and less crowded. Just like in Halong Bay, throughout Bai Tu Long there are giant limestone karsts jutting out of the tranquil green waters – the only difference being perhaps that in Bai Tu Long these outcrops are slightly taller and more densely concentrated. With much fewer tourists around, all of this builds up a wonderful feeling of being somewhere undiscovered and truly pristine.
If you’re having a hard time choosing the one bay you’re going to visit, then have a look at our in-depth comparison of the three bays at your disposal here: Ha Long, Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long.
When to Visit Bai Tu Long Bay?
The weather is obviously the main factor to consider when choosing the most attractive time to visit the north of Vietnam. It gets somewhat chilly here in January and February, whilst May typically marks the arrival of southern monsoons which last until September. March – April and September – October are therefore the best choices for your trip; neither too hot nor too cold, with clear skies above your head.
Need more information about the best time to visit the bays? Check out our Halong Bay weather guide!
What to Do in Bai Tu Long?
There is much to see and do from your cruise boat! But besides cruising itself, there are tons of activities to keep you on your toes during your trip.
Swimming in the jade green waters of the bay is a must. Active travelers will jump at the chance to enjoy the bay’s rock climbing, bouldering, and cliff jumping. There are some great areas for kayaking here and your guide will be able to take you to exciting hidden coves, lagoons and tunnels.
And here’s a quick rundown of our favorite attractions in Bai Tu Long, Vietnam:
Bai Tu Long National Park
A flourishing forest and marine conservation area, the National Park covers 61.25 km2 and an even larger aquatic area of 96.58 km2. It is home to an impressive array of flora and fauna, including the leopard cat and the large Indian civet.
Thien Canh Son Cave
A large cavern with three main chambers on the island of the same name; access to Thien Canh Son Cave is via a hidden path through a dense forest canopy next to a cliff face. The formations inside the cave are commonly likened to various everyday items, lotus blooms, a baby elephant or seals. There’s a nice beach here as well, making it an ideal stop off point for a few hours of exploring.
Ban Chan Beach
Very much an “off the beaten track” area, the white sand fringed by idyllic sea at Ban Chan Beach makes this one of the most coveted beaches in the entire region. Surrounded by rugged rocks and lush green forest, it is a wonderful setting to enjoy a swim, kayaking or a beach barbecue.
Vung Vieng Fishing Village
One of the last remaining of its kind, Vung Vieng Fishing Village is an important stop-off point for any visitors hoping to get an insight into traditional Halong culture and life. Although Vung Vieng is no longer inhabited full-time, the floating village is preserved for tourists to walk around in and learn about the deep-rooted Halong traditions.
How to Get to Bai Tu Long Bay
While not as quick to get to as Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long is still within relatively easy reach for anyone wishing to explore it. In practical terms, the main difference is that your trip will take slightly longer and that you will start your cruise at a different harbor – the Hon Gai Port in Halong City.
How to Get to Bai Tu Long from Hanoi
The capital of Vietnam is the most obvious start for anyone going to Bai Tu Long Bay, and there are several means of transport at your disposal if you’re traveling from Hanoi.
Every year, millions of international tourists first set their foot in Vietnam after they land at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport – the second biggest transportation hub in Vietnam. Whether you’re heading to Bai Tu Long directly from Noi Bai or from the center of Hanoi, your journey will most likely take you through Halong City – the location of the Hon Gai Port, your ship’s departure point. Reaching Hon Gai typically takes just over three hours, and your options are public buses and private cars or limousines.
Transportation to Bai Tu Long – In a Nutshell
- Embarkation point: Hon Gai Port (Halong City)
- From Hanoi city center: 136 km – bus / car (3h15’)
- From Noi Bai Int’l Airport: 157 km – bus / car (3h20’)
- From Cat Bi Int’l Airport: 79 km – car / taxi (2h)
Best Cruises in Bai Tu Long Bay
There is a rather dizzying range of cruises to choose from if you’re heading for the Halong Bay area, so how do you actually pick the best one out there? Just opt for one of these tried-and-tested cruise liners – all featuring luxurious cabins with panoramic views and private balconies, and make sure your adventure in Bai Tu Long is really nothing short of spectacular! See a full list of Bai Tu Long Bay Cruises here.
|No. Cabins||Cruise Capacity||No. Decks|
|Paloma Cruise||22||44 people||4|
|Signature Cruise||12||40 people||3|
|Garden Bay Legend Cruise||10||24 people||3|
|Dragon Legend Cruise||24||48 people||4|
|Emperor Cruise||8||16 people||3|
So How Much Does a Bai Tu Long Cruise Cost?
Depending on your cabin choice, prices start from roughly USD100-200 per person. To have a look at a more detailed price list and to book directly through our site, go to our hand-picked list of Bai Tu Long Bay Cruises.
Bai Tu Long as Seen by Travel Bloggers
Ready to set sail for Bai Tu Long? Before you make the final decision and actually choose it over Ha Long, see what popular travel bloggers thought of Bai Tu Long!
The scenery in the bay is next to none. The memory that always pops back into my mind is that of a sensational sunset over the rocky landscape. This was one of the most romantic settings to experience sunset for sure. This place has engraved itself in my mind as one of the most beautiful of destinations in Vietnam. From beautiful islands, extraordinary caves, fishing villages to stunning spots for swimming and kayaking, Bai Tu Long is simply a must-visit-place.
Jolene and Andrzej Ejmont from Wanderlust Storytellers
One of the best decisions I made during my Vietnam trip was choosing an overnight package and spending 1 night on a boat. When the cruise started (from Halong Bay), I saw numerous ships all around. I was worried that the bay would be crowded with these cruises and my ‘view from the cruise’ would be another boat and not the actual landscape. As soon as the cruise moved towards Bai Tu Long, the crowd thinned out. Not only did we explore magnificent caves and floating villages, but we also had the opportunity to go kayaking during sunset. Bai Tu Long will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so close to Hanoi and yet, a world apart.
Madhurima Dutta from the Other Side Forever
We loved Bai Tu Long Bay for its quiet – dropping anchor each evening you aren’t surrounded by thousands of boats like in Ha Long Bay, so we found it to be a less touristy, more exclusive form of cruising the region. We also loved the kayaking portion of it because it was just such an exquisite area to explore. Our guide took us into a deserted cove and the small group of us were left in almost perfect silence, surrounded just by the soaring limestone karsts and chirping birds in the trees. It was like we were suspended in time!
James and Lee from the Travel Scribes
When we think about Bai Tu Long, we most remember how stunning the scenery was and how much we were able to connect with nature (and disconnect from everything else!). We loved just sitting together on the deck of the ship, watching the changing views of the karsts as we floated by. It was so uncrowded and peaceful; exactly what we were looking for!
Jen and Ryan from Passions and Places
The first thing (and last thing) that stays with you on a trip to Bai Tu Long is the striking landscape. It’s like something out of a fantasy film; breathtakingly beautiful and unlike any other place on Earth. We also really loved the peace and tranquillity of the dawn, Vietnamese coffee in hand, as mist swirled between the pinnacles. One morning we were accompanied by hundreds of dragonflies as the rising sun shimmered through the mist; a moment we’ll always remember.
Danielle and John from Two for the World
Bai Tu Long in Vietnam is a fantastic choice for a laid-back cruise in the greater Halong Bay area – away from the crowds but in the midst of some proper fun. If you can already picture yourself there, then just choose from among these Bai Tu Long Bay cruises and welcome onboard!