Each year, millions of tourists are drawn to Vietnam from the far corners of the world, their minds firmly fixed on seeing the legendary beauty of Halong Bay, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What they may not know is that the Gulf of Tonkin is actually home to three bays, Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay. Geologically, they are all similar, with the famed dramatic landscape of karst formations and limestone cliffs. each bay has its own charm, but they share that breathtaking Vietnamese beauty. Let’s go one by one.

Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay

1. Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, literally means “Descending Dragon”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and sizes. These karsts create a breathtaking seascape that has made Hạ Long Bay famous worldwide.

Among them some stands out, having the most amazing limestone karsts formation.  

Sung Sot Cave is the largest and most beautiful cave in this heritage’s center. The cave gathers a tremendous system of stalactites and stalagmites in various shapes, presenting the superlative creation of mother nature. The trail to Sung Sot Cave is through a forest canopy with rocky steps, making an ultimate excitement when climbing to the top.

Titov Island is another famous stop that you should not miss when discovering Halong Bay. The island is embraced by a crescent-moon shaped beach on one side and a steep mountain slope on the other side. Visitors can go to the beach to enjoy the calm water and white pale sand or take the challenge of over 400 steps to the mountain deck to observe the 360° view around the island.

Other visit-worthy caves are Dau Go, Bo Nau and Trinh Nu.

2. Bai Tu Long Bay 

Bai Tu Long is a bay of Quang Ninh - Vietnam, consisting of hundreds of large and small islands, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, directly northeast of Halong Bay. While it may be Halong’s lesser-known neighbor, it is without a doubt, equal in beauty.

Visitors to Bai Tu Long will notice that the landscape is identical to that of Halong Bay, and that it is more of an extension of Halong rather than a neighbour. Just like Halong Bay, throughout Bai Tu Long there are giant limestone karsts jutting out of the tranquil green waters. However, in Bai Tu Long the karsts seem slightly taller, the concentration of them feels somewhat denser and the number of tourists are fewer. All of this adds to the wonderful feeling of being somewhere almost undiscovered, allowing visitors to truly contemplate their surroundings in peace.

Bai Tu Long has many attractions to visit: Cong Do area, Vung Vieng fishing village, Da Xep Park, Cong Dam area, Thien Canh Son cave and Tra Gioi beach.

3. Lan Ha Bay 

Located south of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay is by far the smallest of the three primary bays in the area. It comprises around 400 limestone islets spread over 76 km2. As a geological extension of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay is equally as beautiful although it is less visited, less inhabited and therefore has the extra appeal of being a more peaceful place.

This isolated paradise is an ideal beach location, with hundreds of undisturbed white sand beaches. While the beaches are fairly small, they are surrounded by towering limestone karsts that give visitors lots of privacy.

One unexpected activity that is possible in Lan Ha Bay is rock climbing! Some cruise operators offer the option to climb some of the ancient limestone karsts that are dotted around the bay, giving visitors the chance to see Lan Ha Bay from a very different perspective. Though it can be physically challenging, it is also extremely satisfying to climb your way to the top. Some of the must visits in Lan Ha Bay are.

Cat Ba Island - The largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago, Cat Ba Island is one of the main features of Lan Ha Bay. It is a tourist hub for the Halong Bay area as many tourists who choose not to opt for a cruise use Cat Ba as their base to explore this bay area, and can also have a great time exploring Cat Ba’s jungle and caves and enjoying its beautiful sunsets.

Monkey Island - Cat Dua Island, more famously known as Monkey Island, is famous for two things, firstly for its monkeys and secondly for its wonderful view of the bay. Monkey Island features on many cruise itineraries and can also be accessed by tour from Cat Ba Island. The peak of the island offers some of the best views of Lan Ha Bay and is reached by a short trek from the beach.

Cannon Fort - Overlooking Lan Ha Bay like a watchful parent, the Cannon Fort is the perfect place to get a stunning panoramic view of the bay. The Cannon Fort sits on top of a 177-meter-high hilltop and is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Luon Cave - One of Lan Ha Bay’s famous caves, Luon Cave can be found on Bo Hon Island. It has much to offer with its charming natural scenery and exploring it is one of Lan Ha’s greatest experiences. Exploration is done by kayak or a small boat and tourists can choose to kayak alone or to take a tour in a local boat. Inside Luon Cave the air is cool, the water calm and the atmosphere peaceful. Monkeys can often be seen running around the cave.