Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay vs. Lan Ha Bay
When it came to seeing Ha Long Bay, one of Vietnam’s (if not one of Southeast Asia’s) most popular sights, the choices of how to do it were overwhelming to say the least! Day trips, overnight boats, multi-day boats, budget boats, party boats, the list goes on! I’ll just warn you here (so you can pick your jaw off the floor by the end of the article) that prices for overnight trips start from $80. This seemed extortionate for Southeast Asia where we could spend less than $10 for all 3 meals in a day, or could enter museums for no more than $1 usually!
Whilst we were weighing up countless options, we came across the idea of going to Lan Ha Bay instead. People have been doing this for a little while now, as it offers much quieter, yet very similar views to the famous Ha Long Bay. We’d read that whilst you can expect to share the bay (and the views) with 200 boats in Ha Long Bay, in Lan Ha, you could expect only around 5 other boats! Usually, the least touristy option is a no brainer for us, but this was a tough one. Having almost a whole bay to ourselves meant missing out on seeing the ‘actual’ Ha Long Bay.
Booking Our Trip to Lan Ha Bay
There were still more decisions to be made, so to make things simpler, we visited Lily’s Travel Agency in Hanoi. Usually, we book everything ourselves, but by 11 months into a year long trip, we wanted an easy option! We’d also heard the agency was honest, had fair prices, and didn’t try to sell you stuff you didn’t want, so we were sold and went in for a chat.
We told them what type of trip we wanted, and our budget. We compared options for both bays. Both seemed a similar price, and both picked you up from Hanoi, and included bus transfers. Some visited both bays (a good compromise perhaps?!), but we eventually decided to do Lan Ha Bay with Sunlight Cruises. It was within our price range, the cabins looked basic, but nice, and the itinerary looked good. The prices increased for nicer cabins, or a nicer bus for the transfer, but we weren’t too fussed about either.
We were picked up from our hostel, and transferred to a bus, and then a ferry to arrive a few hours later on our boat just in time for lunch. Our boat had just 9 people on board, as opposed to some of the bigger boats that go on to Ha Long Bay.
Everyone was lovely, we had a good mix of backgrounds and ages, and all got to know each other over lunch. There were also a mix of dietary requirements on board, and the staff bent over backwards to make sure everyone had enough to eat! One girl, bless her, had about 3 different dishes brought personally to her because she couldn’t eat from the main shared dishes in the middle. We were really lucky, as we could enjoy views whilst eating our meals. This company are one of the only ones with an outdoor table to serve meals – so we had hit the jackpot!
The bay was quiet and tranquil, and the views were stunning as we sailed to find a spot to begin kayaking. We had a few hours to go off and kayak, stay on the boat, or swim at the beach. It took me and Joe a fair while to get coordinated with our paddling, but once we got it – we got it! Well, after we hit a sand bank in the middle of the sea, and had to get out and push.
There was no limit on where we could kayak – it was brilliant! We went under eroded rocks, into deserted beaches, or areas of water with absolutely no other living soul around, just towering limestone cliffs either side of you.
Sunset Over Lan Ha Bay
Just before sunset, we got back on board. We were excited as our guide had warned we might not see a good sunset in December, but because it had been a clear day, it was looking promising! They had a happy hour on for drinks (not THAT happy compared to the rest of Vietnam, but it could have been worse!).
We enjoyed cocktails, and listened to music whilst watching the most incredible sunset. The limestone cliffs could be seen as the sky darkened then turned the most amazing colours. Once the sun had set, we went inside for a cooking class. We learned how to make fresh spring rolls like the locals do, and got to eat our finished results. I won the best spring roll competition, but if you asked Joe he would tell you otherwise…
At night, there were a couple of options, you could chill out, try your hand at squid fishing, enjoy the bar, or the number one Vietnamese pastime (you guessed it), karaoke. Our tour guide gave us little option for the last one. For a small lady, she had a big set of lungs on her! She insisted we each did a song. For Joe’s and my turn, we did an awkward rendition of ‘Feliz Navidad’ for our new Argentinian friends. Christmas songs don’t really count as singing, right? By the end of the night though, we were all huddled round a mic belting out ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
Last Day on the Boat
The last day, there was a short bike ride arranged within a national park on Cat Ba Island to visit a local village. Joe and I stayed on the boat to soak up the last few hours floating around this beautiful bay. When the others got back on the boat, we checked out of our cabins, and enjoyed one last lunch together.
So! Was Lan Ha Bay the right choice for us?
BIG YES! We loved how peaceful the bay felt, and that we could enjoy the view without hundreds of boat masts in the way. No Ha Long FOMO here!
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