lan ha bay cruise from cat ba
North Vietnam,  Vietnam

Lan Ha Bay Cruise from Cat Ba

To see the beauty of Vietnam’s northern coast, without the hoards of tourists, unregulated cruise ships, multiplying hotels, gigantic resorts and all the trash you will find nowadays at Ha Long Bay you can visit Lan Ha Bay instead. Part of me wanted to keep this a secret since the more people know about it the fuller and less beautiful this bay will become as well.

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Lan Ha Bay Cruise from Cat Ba

To see Lan Ha Bay in a slower way you have to start from Cat Ba Island. Depending on where you book and with which company the cruises take different routes and schedule their activities for slightly different times to avoid running into each other and overcrowding places.

I booked my cruise through my homestay, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Not only did I have to reschedule on the day I was originally supposed to go due to a headache, but they got me a great price as well!

Around 8 AM a motorbike showed up at the homestay to pick me up, since I was staying in the residential area they didn’t send the bus that was picking up everyone else. I joined the rest of the group at Cai Beo harbour where we got tickets to pass the turnstile and board the small connecting boat that would drop us off at the bigger (60 people capacity) cruise boat.

At about 8:30 AM, we departed the harbour and the captain steered the cruise ship through the landscape of the bay. At this time it started raining heavily, which meant nobody was outside on deck. However, my homestay mom had lent me her raincoat and I enjoyed the peace and quiet on the roof of the boat. We drove through many tree-covered limestone islands, floating villages and small fishing and transport boats.

The rain made everything feel very tranquil and picturesque. One and a half hours later the rain cleared up and the boat anchored near the Sang-Toi Cave. We were paired up and boarded Kayaks to explore the area around the caves, right on the border between Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay. I didn’t take my phone, but my Kayak buddy did and he took some pictures during the trip.

Back on the boat, we had lunch with a selection of seafood and local Vietnamese food… and for some reason also french fries.

After lunch, we anchored near Ba Trai Dao Beach (Three Peach Islets). Surrounded by more islands, some with beaches, we could take the Kayaks out to explore the islands or go for a swim. I chose to do both. On one of the islands, you can crawl through a cave and find a hidden beach!

The last thing to do for me on this tour was to jump from the roof of the three-story high ship. Back in 2019 at Ha Long Bay, I said “next time”, but since this time was “next time” there was no getting around it. I did it. I won’t do it again XD

Once everyone was back on the ship we had the opportunity to take a hot shower, before the cruise headed back to Cat Ba by a different route than in the morning. I got myself a coconut coffee as a reward for getting over my fear of heights and enjoyed the landscape of Lan Ha Bay on the way back.

At around 4 pm we got fruits, cookies and tea on the roof deck. Depending on the time of year this is when you can also watch the sunset. Sadly that time is not at the end of March.

We arrived back at the harbour at 5 pm and were dropped off back at our accommodations (or got onto a bus to Hanoi in some cases).

For my Lan Ha Bay Day Cruise from Cat Ba, I went with Serenity Cruises*.

Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay?

If you are pressed for time and want to see as much as possible in as little time as possible you can take a two-day, one-night cruise of Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. That way you don’t miss out on the beautiful coast! From Ha Long you can move directly to Ninh Binh after the cruise to continue your journey.

If you have three days or more, to spare, do yourself a favour and take a bus and speedboat from Hanoi to Cat Ba and then take a Lan Ha Bay cruise from there.

Comparing both cruises is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are fruit, but one is more juicy. (In this case, the Lan Ha Bay cruise is the orange.) I preferred Lan Ha Bay for the same reasons I almost didn’t want to write this article: There are fewer ships, fewer people and fewer tours operating in this area. So if everyone tells everyone to come here instead of Ha Long Bay it’s not going to stay like this for much longer.

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