In Vietnam’s spectacular Gulf of Tonkin, travel doesn’t just mean following the itinerary. These days, you have more options for exploring all three bays – Ha Long, Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long – your own way. Riveting seascapes will always be the highlight, whether you’re coming for a romantic cruise, active adventure, or something completely different. Here are seven unique ways to experience Vietnam’s most beautiful bays.
Delightful day trips
If you only have a day to spare, you can still take in the world-famous seascapes in Ha Long Bay, thanks to excellent new roads that make the journey from Hanoi under just two hours. Book with a reputable company such as L’Azalée Cruises for a value-packed five-hour excursion on the water. A delicious Vietnamese lunch is served on board as you cruise past Ha Long’s magnificent karsts. There’s time for a cave visit and even a bamboo boat tour of a floating village before catching the sunset on your way back to the harbour.
Scenic seaplane tours
It’s up, up and away — in under two minutes — when you’re strapped into Hai Au Aviation’s VIP seaplane tours. To really take your Ha Long trip to new heights, climb in for one of the scheduled 25-minute seaplane tours that depart each day. After a speedy check-in, you’ll be treated to a thrilling takeoff on the water and breathtaking view of the jungle-covered karsts and sparkling waters below. Seaplane tours give an entirely different perspective on Vietnam’s most lauded UNESCO Heritage Site. Don’t forget to charge your camera!
If there’s one thing everyone must do when in the Gulf of Tonkin, it’s having your own self-guided kayaking experience on the water. Depending on what you choose, you may like to wake up early to paddle around the floating villages and pearl farms in Ha Long Bay, or push off just in the late afternoon to watch the sun sink behind the karsts. Better yet, venture into Lan Ha Bay to explore pristine lagoons and empty beaches. In Lan Ha Bay you’ll find amazing lagoons where you can paddle peacefully to nothing but the sounds of birds and insects.
TIP: Au Co Cruise goes further than many other boats in the bay with two-night cruises to Lan Ha Bay and back. If you need a hand, the ship’s smiling staff will help you kayak to secret spots such as Ba Ham Lake.
For many travellers, spending 24 hours on a traditional wooden junk is still the quintessential Vietnam experience. There’s nothing like waking up and stepping outside to the fresh sea breeze and an inspiring panorama of turquoise water, tiny fishing boats and rocky karsts. Choose a cruise such as Bhaya Classic to tick off all the essential boxes: warm and elegant cabins, delicious Vietnamese food, and insightful excursions. Couples looking for a truly private getaway can charter the single-cabin Bhaya Legend, a boutique cruise designed with flexibility and comfort in mind.
You don’t have to be on the water all the time to get up close with the best of Lan Ha Bay. Only a short drive from Hanoi, Cat Ba Island is quickly becoming a favourite spot for adventure lovers and beach bums, who come for the island’s striking beauty and soothing shores. Book a homestay on Cat Ba and spend your days visiting farming villages, hiking to the hilltop cannon fort, and cycling along pretty lanes. You can even go rock-climbing on the karsts, or sleep under the stars on a deserted beach on a multi-day tour.
Recently developed and alive with night markets, amusement parks and entertainment complexes, Halong Marina Urban Area is giving travellers a new reason to stay in Ha Long City. With the famous bay in easy striking distance, why not book a modern hotel in the city and explore all that Ha Long has to offer at your leisure? Royal Lotus Halong Resort welcomes families and groups with a prime location near the action, two fabulous swimming pools, and tasteful rooms and villas with views of the karsts across the water.
If your main goal is to have the bay all to yourself, then skip Ha Long Bay and opt for a cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay just northeast – instead. This lesser-explored bay has slightly smaller karsts than Ha Long and Lan Ha, but it makes up for it with endless unspoiled views of the sea and sky. You won’t find anything to complain about as you chug through Bai Tu Long’s stunning seascapes, watching flocks of birds and row after row of karsts pass on the horizon. Claim a lounger on the sun deck and order a Vietnamese coffee to really take it all in.
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