Google ‘Vietnam’ or pick up any travel guidebook on the country and I guarantee you’ll more than likely come across ‘Ha Long Bay’ on a long list of things to do.
Situated near the Chinese border, Ha Long Bay is one of the places that just sells itself. Thousands of towering limestone cliffs soar over clear emerald waters, making for one of the most beautiful natural scenes in the world – especially at sunrise or sunset. And I’ve not even gotten to the huge mesmerisingly-lit caves hidden throughout the bay.
But despite the stunning scenery (or more accurately because of it), Ha Long Bay is plagued with many of the similar symptoms we now see afflicting many nature-based tourist spots. Ha Long Bay is teeming with crowds all throughout the year and squeezing on a boat jetting across the water has become a necessary evil for all those Insta-worthy photos.
But what if there was a place with every bit the magic and allure of Ha Long Bay but without all the commotion?
Enter Bai Tu Long Bay, the overshadowed little brother of Ha Long Bay, lying even further northeast of Vietnam and nearer to the Chinese border.
An Uncanny Resemblance to The World-Famous Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay – Photo by andrea_creissels via Instagram.
The limestone karsts that are iconic of Ha Long Bay can be found protruding out of the waters of Bai Tu Long Bay as well. Sans the development and huge population of tourists however, the clear waters and unpolluted biodiversity of Bai Tu Long forms the impression of being more… well, natural than its bigger brother.
Though not necessarily so, the vegetation appears lusher, and the waters, a more crystal clear. The relatively untouched nature of Bai Tu Long Bay gives it a distinct charm, one that doesn’t make it any less beautiful than Ha Long Bay.
Things to Do and Caves to Explore
Bai Tu Long has its own hidden caves and meandering rivers to explore, and one of the best experiences you can have is rowing a kayak on the very pristine waters of the bay.
Hidden away in the heart of Bai Tu Long Bay is Vung Vieng Fishing Village, a tranquil place where you can find yourself that kayak. Established in the 19th century as a mooring for fishermen, it has been a home for many generations of fishermen, with the marine biodiversity serving as the main source of livelihood.
Vung Vieng Fishing Village – Photo by tiagorpalma via Instagram.
Today, it sees an increasing stream of tourists looking to experience an “authentic” Vietnamese fishing village experience, with the village renting out kayaks which allow you to cruise along the tranquil waters. The village’s surge in tourism is due to a slowly increasing number of boat tours and cruises that are popping up in Bai Tu Long Bay along with an interspersing of resorts throughout the area.
There perhaps isn’t a better time to visit Bai Tu Long Bay, right when it’s on the cusp of breaking out as a hot travel spot.
Bai Tu Long or Ha Long?
Bai Tu Long Bay – Photo by mwatsonnyc via Instgram.
Ultimately, it’s your choice – join the throngs of tourists that has engulfed Ha Long Bay and leave with the quintessential Hanoi experience, or opt for the bay less travelled and bask in the serenity and (rather) untouched nature of Bai Tu Long.
Truthfully, it doesn’t have to be either or, and both bays are beautiful, and each gives you a little bit of something the other lacks. Additionally, Bai Tu Long doesn’t have to be compared to its more popular counterpart; its beauty can, and should be enjoyed for what it offers.