Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay: Which is better to visit in 2024?

When I visited Vietnam, I travelled from south to north, and the further north I got, the more I heard people talking about choosing between Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay.

As a travel blogger, I didn’t want to choose one or the other, so I took a day cruise which went to both and I loved both of them.

In my opinion, both have their advantages and disadvantages, so to help you choose which bay is right for you, I’ve put together a complete guide comparing the two.

Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay

Since there are pros and cons of both Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay, I’ve split my comparison into 7 categories. They are landscapes, price, activities, crowds, accessibility, cruise options and weather.

Landscape

The landscapes in Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay are both very very similar to each other. Both mainly consist of emerald water with limestone islands and islets topped with rainforests.

In all honesty, I couldn’t tell the difference at all. They both looked the same to me and if it wasn’t for the captain of the boat telling us which one we were in, I wouldn’t have known.

Even though Lan Ha is in the Hai Phong Province and Ha Long is in the Quang Ninh Province, the transition is seamless. Unfortunately, both are quite polluted with lots of rubbish in the water, but that is just what most of Vietnam is like sadly.

If you take a look at these two photos I took below, can you tell which one is which? Admittedly, the foggy day probably doesn’t do either justice, but the conditions were the same in each bay so it’s still a fair comparison.

The left one is Halong Bay and the right one is Lan Ha Bay. Did you guess correctly? I genuinely think both images look like they were taken in the same place.

Obviously, there are iconic spots in Ha Long Bay such as Tuan Chau Island, but in general, there are few differences in the appearance of them both.

Before I visited Ha Long Bay, I kind of thought it was just a small bay like Maya Bay in Thailand, but the reality is, it’s absolutely massive. And so too is Lan Ha Bay.

So when it comes to landscapes, the two bays are very similar and both offer equally as stunning views.

Landscapes Winner: Draw

Price

While the views in both bays are pretty much identical, the prices are not.

Ha Long Bay is significantly more expensive. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of only a few in Vietnam, so perhaps this is a factor. It’s also unofficially considered a wonder of the world.

Another reason is probably because it has been featured in lots of movies such as James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies.

Lan Ha Bay is a lot cheaper than Ha Long Bay because it has not become a mainstream tourist attraction yet. It’s popular amongst those backpacking Vietnam because it’s cheaper, but outside of us budget travellers, it’s not become a hit yet.

Floating fishing village nestled in the calm waters of Ha Long Bay, with mist-shrouded limestone karsts towering above

You can expect to pay around $40-60 for a Ha Long Bay day cruise, and even more, if you want an overnight cruise, whereas a Lan Ha Bay day cruise only cost me just over $25 (600k VND).

It’s also much cheaper to stay on Cat Ba Island (Lan Ha Bay) than it is to stay in Halong town.

If you choose a cruise which goes to both, it’s usually around the same price as a Ha Long Bay cruise, so if you have the time, I would recommend visiting both.

Price Winner: Lan Ha Bay

Activities

Since both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay are so similar in appearance and landscape, most of the activities you can do in the two bays are the same too.

Swimming, jumping, and snorkelling are the core fundamentals of any trip to the famous bays. Then you also have kayaking which is a big part of any day too – some tours even go fishing. Kayaking was my favourite part.

The good news is that even though there are sharks in Vietnam, there aren’t any in the bays because the water is too shallow.

Man kayaking in the yellow kayak in Ha Long Bay, surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs and calm waters

There are two main differences when it comes to activities. In Halong Bay, you can go rock climbing and you can also explore lots of caves. Both of these you can do in Lan Ha Bay but it’s not anywhere near as popular.

On the other hand, there are two things you can do in Lan Ha Bay that you cannot do in Ha Long Bay. The first one is trekking. There are lots of trekking opportunities in Lan Ha Bay. The second one is to stay in a bungalow over the water.

Cat Ba Island is where most people use as the base for Lan Ha Bay and there are lots of opportunities to stay with locals in their bungalows.

Obviously, there are different “attractions” along the way too such as the iconic Bai Chay Beach and Sung Sot Cave in Halong Bay, but then Lan Ha Bay has Monkey Island and the Floating Fishing Village.

Young man standing triumphantly atop the rugged peaks of Monkey Island in Lan Ha Bay, with a panoramic view of the sea and islands in the background
Monkey Island, Lan Ha Bay.

So when it comes to things to do, if you are only interested in doing the fundamentals like swimming and kayaking, you can do these in either, but if you have more specific interests, then you might prefer one or the other based on what there is to do.

But since Halong Bay has more iconic things to do, I’m going to give the activities category to it.

Activities Winner: Halong Bay

Crowds

Like the price category, there is a massive difference in the level of crowds in Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay. As I said earlier, the first is not as popular as the second, by a significant margin.

When I took my cruise to Lan Ha Bay, there were maybe 40 people on the boat and at each of the stops, there was only one other boat at a maximum.

Tourists on a boat enjoying the view of the dramatic limestone karsts of Lan Ha Bay from the deck

Compare this to Halong Bay where most boats are larger with a few hundred people on them, and there are lots of boats at every location throughout the bay.

If you hate crowds, you won’t enjoy Halong Bay, simple as that. I can imagine Lan Ha Bay getting more popular over the next few years, especially with the rise of the “hidden gems” craze which everyone focuses on – but for now, there are far fewer people.

Crowds Winner: Lan Ha Bay

Accessibility

Since Vietnam is not as adapted for tourism yet as the likes of Thailand, it’s never exactly easy to get from place to place. But it’s also why Vietnam isn’t expensive so it’s part of the fun.

Getting to Halong Bay is definitely the easiest of the two. There are lots of tours available from Hanoi which take you to the bay and include your cruise. There are also lots of buses to Halong town where you can stay for a few nights and book your cruise.

Tourist posing in front of the calm sea at Cat Ba Island with limestone mountains in the distance.

Lan Ha Bay, on the other hand, requires a ferry from Hai Phong to Cat Ba as well as a bus. But in all honesty, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I went to Cat Ba from Ninh Binh so it was around 7 hours of travel in total, but it went pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, there is no Uber in Vietnam to easily take you from A to B.

But thanks to the large number of cruise options, you can easily visit both Halong and Lan Ha Bays. This leads me nicely to my next point…

Accessibility Winner: Halong Bay

Cruise Options

As Halong Bay is more popular, it naturally has more cruise options to choose from. There are genuinely hundreds of different cruises to choose from. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to find the right one.

Cruises range from standard cruise boats which take you from stop to stop, to full luxurious ships with spas, hot tubs and everything. Make sure to research thoroughly before booking one.

There are night cruises available too, which include an overnight stay in Halong Bay. I haven’t taken one of these myself, but everyone who I have spoken to about them has said they aren’t worth the extra money – they say you go to the same spots, just slower.

Traditional wooden boat floating on the tranquil emerald waters of Ha Long Bay, surrounded by towering limestone hills.

In terms of Lan Ha Bay, it’s pretty much exclusively day tours which last from the morning until dinner time. It’s a long day but it’s worth it as you get to do so many amazing things. The highlight for me is climbing Monkey Island and getting this view.

There are also fewer options for Lan Ha Bay, and there aren’t as many luxurious options. Most tours are basic and simply take you from place to place – although mine included a delicious lunch too.

Cruise Options Winner: Halong Bay

Weather

Since both bays are roughly in the same area, the weather is usually the same in both. When I took my trip, I didn’t notice any difference in Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay in terms of weather.

The weather in Vietnam can change pretty quickly, and the forecast is usually wrong, even only a few days in advance, so unfortunately there’s no way of really knowing if the weather will be good or not.

Throughout my trip, I remember asking tour guides what the weather would be like for the rest of the day and they always said they didn’t know. I assumed locals would have better weather forecast apps than Google, but apparently not.

Serene waters of Lan Ha Bay under a cloudy sky, lined with limestone karsts.

I visited Lan Ha and Halong Bay in February and as you can see from my pictures throughout this post, it was pretty foggy and cold, but it was still an incredible experience.

The best time of year to visit this part of Vietnam is from October to December. But with good weather conditions, come an even higher number of crowds.

Weather Winner: Draw

Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay Summary

Now that I’ve gone into detail about each category, here is a quick overview of the winners of each category.

CategoryWinner
LandscapeDraw
PriceLan Ha Bay
ActivitiesHalong Bay
CrowdsLan Ha Bay
AccessibilityHalong Bay
Cruise OptionsHalong Bay
WeatherDraw
Overall WinnerHalong Bay

On paper, Halong Bay is the winner over Lan Ha Bay. But I don’t think it’s as straightforward as the categories which Lan Ha Bay won are arguably more important than those of Ha Long Bay. Crowds and price vs accessibility and cruise options…

The truth is, it’s so hard to choose between Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay. Both bays are paradise and have their own perks and drawbacks as I said in the introduction.

Hopefully, the category breakdown can help you choose which one is best to visit for you because everyone is different at the end of the day.

If you want my two cents, I would recommend visiting Lan Ha Bay to save money and avoid crowds. But if you really really want to say you’ve been to Ha Long Bay, then visit Ha Long Bay.

FAQs

Below are some questions relating to Lan Ha Bay vs Halong Bay along with my answers to each question.

Is it worth going to Lan Ha Bay?

Yes, it’s worth going to Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha Bay is basically Ha Long Bay without the high prices and large crowds. It’s very difficult to notice a difference between the two bays as they are basically identical.

What is the difference between Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay?

In terms of appearance, there is little difference between Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. The main differences come in terms of price and crowd levels, but in terms of landscape, the two are very similar.

Is Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay better?

It depends on what you want as they are both very similar in appearance. If you want to say you’ve been to Halong Bay, then it is better. If you prefer to save money and avoid crowds for a similar experience, then Lan Ha Bay is better.

Can you swim in Lan Ha Bay?

Yes, you can swim in Lan Ha Bay. There are lots of opportunities to swim in the emerald water as there are many beaches, most of which cruise boats cannot dock at, so you need to swim from the boat to the beach.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a complete and in-depth comparison of Halong Bay vs Lan Ha Bay.

I genuinely believe if you went on a cruise with no insights from the captain who visited both bays, you wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart.

This is why I say visit Lan Ha Bay unless you really want to say you have been to Halong Bay.

It avoids crowds and saves you money – speaking of which, make sure you have Revolut for Vietnam to save money every time you withdraw cash.