Lan Ha Bay presents nature’s full palette

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Located on the eastern side of Cat Ba Island and the southern side of the world-renowned Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay is part of Quang Ninh Province, boasting 400 islands and more than 100 small and pristine sandy beaches. In May 2020, this marvelous area was recognized as part of the exclusive Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World. A visit to Cat Ba Island is incomplete without touring Lan Ha Bay.

Lan Ha Bay seen from the above. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Huy Trung

WHERE TO GO

Cat Ba National Park

Located in Cat Hai District, this unique park is one of Vietnam‘s biggest special-use forests and has been designated an UNESCO world biosphere reserve since 2004. It houses an immense variety of marine ecosystems and terrestrial and submerged forests, in addition to a multitude of rare plants and animals. Adventure seekers can choose from numerous activities such as 4-8-hour mountain hikes or 2-hour strolls alongside cyclists, drivers, and motorcyclists.

Excursions will lead you to the Kim Giao Forest, Ngu Lam Peak with its breathtaking views, nighttime wildlife spotting, cave exploration, and ultimately, the village of Viet Hai. Admission fees are VND40,000 for adults and VND20,000 for kids.

Viet Hai Village

Nestled within Cat Ba National Park, in Cat Hai District, and connected to Lan Ha Bay, lies Viet Hai Village. Previously only accessible via a winding road through the forest, keeping it isolated from the outside world, now it is a popular destination for both domestic and international travelers, with nature-centric bike tours and trekking adventures.

Monkey Island

Situated in the heart of Lan Ha Bay, Monkey Island is the second largest island of Cat Ba and used to be known as Cat Dua Island due to its vast number of pineapple trees. Home to more than 20 monkeys, these friendly creatures can often be found at the beach, interacting with tourists. While their demeanor is typically pleasant, it is important to take caution when approached as they may unintentionally cause harm or snatch items.

Luon Cave

Luon Cave is nestled among a small cluster of islands and can only be accessed from the sea via the 4-meter-wide, 3-meter-high and 100-meter-long cave entrance. It is enveloped by four mountains and it contains a tranquil lake brimming with fossilized freshwater snail shells—which is a rarity in Lan Ha Bay. It makes for an extraordinary kayaking experience and travelers can admire the serenity of Luon Cave's interior after sailing past its entrance.

Visitors can partake in a kayaking journey, gliding through the entrance of Luon Cave. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Anh

Van Boi Beach

Perched amongst a protruding part of the mountains, Van Boi Beach lures sightseers with the lure of water- based activities like swimming and boating, providing spectacular panoramic views that feature powder-soft white sand beaches, sharp blue seas, and an atmosphere of tranquillity.

Cai Beo fishing village

Cai Beo fishing village, one of the largest in Vietnam, is made up of hundreds of floating households.

Located in the Cat Ba Archipelago and Cat Hai District, the Cai Beo Fishing Village was proclaimed a national relic by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2009. This large fishing village is home to more than 500 households that are involved in both fishing and cage fish farming in the bay. Travelers can get to the Cai Beo Fishing Village from Cat Ba Island by traveling approximately 20 kilometers and seeing a collection of villages scattered across the water, which creates a small cityscape.

Light Cave – Dark Cave

Dark and Light Cave, located around twelve kilometers from Beo Wharf, is a must-visit destination for those looking to relax in Lan Ha Bay. Spanning seventy meters of the mountain, visitors would need to row in a bamboo boat or kayak to explore. Many day boats also travel here to ferry tourists for the day. Overnight yacht guests particularly enjoy this spot for its tranquility.

Sports activities

Tourists, particularly foreigners, are drawn to climbing as a favorite activity, with numerous spots located throughout Lan Ha Bay islands, mainland areas, and around Cat Ba, providing an exhilarating adventure among formidable cliffs.

Kayaking is a favorite sport among foreigners. Photo courtesy of Lux Cruises

If you're looking to enjoy swimming or kayaking while visiting, it's recommended that you rent a boat or join a kayak tour to explore the bay. These boats often guide you to more tranquil waters close to the shore, adding convenience and safety for your time in the water. Popular locations include Dark Cave – Bright Cave, Luon Cave, and Ba Trai Dao Beach. When it comes to swimming, it's important to note that it's only permitted at designated spots. For your peace of mind, make sure to wear a life jacket if you're going out farther into the water.

WHAT TO EAT

Seafood is the star of dishes offered in Lan Ha Bay, ranging from horseshoe crab and geoduck clam to grouper, mantis shrimp, shrimp, and snails. Gifts such as horseshoe crab pairings range in price from VND 500,000 – 700,000 ($21.05 – $29.50) while mantis shrimp can be purchased for around VND200,000 – 250,000 per kilogram.

In the past, guests would dine in raft houses, but now, they can opt to eat on the beach of Cat Ba Island or coordinate BBQ meals on different isles such as Monkey or Tu Do Island. To ensure a pleasant stay in the bay, it is recommended to ask for prices before buying, especially during peak months May – August.

WHERE TO STAY

Tu Do Island features a beach on both sides.

As of late 2022, Lan Ha Bay has ceased the operation of informal resorts in order to better protect its marine ecosystems. Today, tourists can stay in local hotels with attractive bay views, such as Flamingo Cat Ba Beach Resort and Hôtel Perle d'Orient Cat Ba – MGallery. These two premier resorts are conveniently connected by a road along Cat Co Beach. Flamingo Cat Ba Beach Resort has three buildings, 756 guest rooms with scenic views of the bay, and exciting activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, and kayaking. Nightly rates start at VND2 million ($84.20).

Hôtel Perle d'Orient Cat Ba – MGallery offers a luxury experience and features attractive amenities such as a restaurant, a bar, a rooftop pool, a spa, and a beach. Prices for a night's stay begin at VND3.5 million ($150.35). Additionally, Freedom Island Retreat on Tu Do Island provides an exciting opportunity to explore and experience a beach with two sides of the sea, separated by a small strip of sand.

Visitors can have unique encounters with the nature of Lan Ha Bay by opting for an overnight cruise on one of its many yachts, such as Heritage Cruises Binh Chuan, Mon Cheri, Scarlet Pearl, Stellar of the Seas, and Paradise Grand. These modern vessels offer complete guest services and typically last for two days and one night or three days and two nights, with a cost of VND2.5 million per person per night ($105.30).

Overnight cruises on Lan Ha Bay from above. Photo courtesy of Lux Cruises

Viet Hai fishing village is perfect for nature enthusiasts. It lacks large hotels, so visitors can opt for homestays like Viet Hai Lan, Lan, Lotus, Whisper Nature bungalow, and Long Phuong motel. Room prices range from approximately VND200,000 to VND700,000 ($8.40 to $29.50).

WHEN TO GO

From May to August, Lan Ha Bay enjoys the pleasant conditions of the northern summer season with its calm seas, bright skies, and inviting winds, making it the prime time for outdoor activities such as swimming, cruising, and bay explorations. This period sees the largest influx of tourists. In the months of September to November, the gentle waves of the bay provide a serene atmosphere for those seeking tranquility and peace. Temperature at this time remains cool and so swimming is still possible. The remaining times of the year are highly suited for individuals hoping to appreciate nature, go on forest trails, and fill their lungs with fresh air.

Lan Ha Bay is adorned with a lush green hue. Photo courtesy of Quy Coc Tu

HOW TO GET THERE

Travelling to Lan Ha Bay is primarily done by boat and Cat Ba Island is the fastest way to get there. Beo Wharf, located in the island's centre, is where ferry tickets can be bought, costing VND80,000 ($3.40) for adults and VND40,000 ($1.70) for children. For those travelling in large groups, it is possible to rent private boats, with costs varying according to the group's size and the type of boat required.

For groups of 10 to 20, boat rentals range from VND1.6 million to VND5 million ($67.40 to $210.60), while for larger groups of 25 to 50 people, prices range between VND2.2 million to VND7 million, depending on boat type and visiting time.

Beo Wharf serves as the embarkation point for cruise ships to explore Lan Ha Bay. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Anh

There are several routes available for visiting Lan Ha Bay:

1. Route 1: Beo Wharf – Fishing Village – Monkey Island

2. Route 2: Beo Wharf – Monkey Island – Turtle Island – Viet Hai Village – Ba Trai Dao Islet (Three Peaches Islet) – Dark Cave – Light Cave

3. Route 3: Got Wharf – Gia Luan Commune – Tra Bau Village – Ang Ong Cam Island – Dark Cave – Light Cave

4. Route 4: Cat Ba Tourist Center Pier – Cat Ong Island – Thien Ung Pagoda

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