Northeast of the worldwide famous Halong Bay is Bai Tu Long Bay - a hidden gem yet to be popularized in Vietnam for those who prefer an escape from the city noises and hustles. Bai Tu Long Bay inherited Halong Bay’s wild and magnificent beauty, yet distinguished itself from the latter by carrying a more reserved, quaint vibe. Let’s see what the Bay has to offer in our article below!
Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Bai Tu Long Bay is a hidden gem in northeastern Vietnam that still retains the untouched beauty of nature. The Bay shares a border with Halong Bay in the southwest and the sea in the east, while its northeast side borders Co To Island District.
Bai Tu Long Bay has a total area of 157.83 square kilometers, consisting of hundreds of islands. These islands are limestone islands and schist rocks. Like Halong Bay, these islands have interesting shapes that, together with the pure water, form a breathtaking picture showing fully nature’s romantic, yet edgy beauty. However, the Bay has been pretty much overlooked by tourists up until recently, so it still preserves intact the wild features from thousands of years ago along with a quaint atmosphere.
Bai Tu Long Bay possesses a diverse landscape and ecosystem
Bai Tu Long Bay has impressive biodiversity with many typical ecosystems such as mangrove ecosystems, coral reef ecosystems, and tropical forest ecosystems. Especially, Bai Tu Long Bay National Park is one of the most representative marine conservation areas of Vietnam. The Bay’s marine fauna includes 391 species, among which is the sea-cow that has been classified as one of the world’s rare species that needs protection. With special values in terms of biodiversity and history, as well as an extravagant landscape, Bai Tu Long Bay continues attracting thousands of visitors every year.
Bai Tu Long Bay’s birth is a fascinating Vietnamese legend that connects to our long history of wars to protect the country. Legend has it that in ancient times, the Jade Emperor asked Mother Dragon and her children to descend to Earth to help the Vietnamese in their various fights against invaders. The dragons spitted out pearls, which turned into islands that stopped and destroyed the invaders’ boats. After the war, the dragons decided to stay on Earth. Where the Mother Dragon descended is now Halong Bay, and where the young Dragons descended is now Bai Tu Long Bay (the word “Long” means “dragon” in Vietnamese).
Bai Tu Long Bay has two distinct seasons: summer (April - October) and winter (November - March). The average temperature is from 15 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius. The best time to visit Bai Tu Long is during its winter, especially January and February. From May to September, you shouldn’t consider traveling here since there can be heavy rain and storms.
The most popular transportation to Bai Tu Long Bay is the bus since it’s reasonably priced and quick. From Hanoi, you can catch a bus to Cam Pha City (Quang Ninh Province) - the nearest city to the Bay - from Gia Lam Station or My Dinh Station. Tickets will be from VND 120,000 to VND 220,000 for a 4-hour drive.
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Bai Tu Long Bay isn’t as touristy in comparison to its neighbor - Halong Bay - so most major accommodations are located there. Still, you can find some decent hostels near the Bay in Cam Pha City, Quang Ninh Province:
A traditional cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay
If the best way to appreciate Halong Bay’s scenery is by using cruises, the same goes for Bai Tu Long Bay. There are many options: one-day, 2 days and 1 night, or 3 days and 2 nights. Most of the cruise tours will depart from Hon Gai Port, Ha Long City, and take you to see famous attractions in Bai Tu Long Bay like Thien Canh Son Cave or Vung Vieng Fishing Village. Traveling by cruise, you’ll get to enjoy the unpolluted air while taking in the dazzling view of the Bay’s oddly-shaped islands.
One of many eccentric views in Bai Tu Long National Park
A must-see attraction of Bai Tu Long Bay for nature-lovers is Bai Tu Long National Park. The park is the sixth of Vietnam’s national parks, comprising of many islands with a rich system of flora and fauna. The most frequently visited of all is Minh Chau Beach (Quan Lan Commune, Van Don District), which is regarded as the most beautiful beach in the Gulf of Tonkin for its poetic shore. Apart from that, you will also get to see the wild charm of large and small islands, such as Ba Mun, Dong Ma, Sau Nam, Tra Ngo Lon… where animals and plants are living harmoniously in their natural environment. Another thing you can do here is to visit the villages of the Tay, Dao Do, or San Diu ethnic communities. The locals are very welcoming towards guests and will let you explore their way of life.
Vung Vieng fishing village
Bai Tu Long Bay has two popular fishing villages: Cong Dam and Vung Vieng, though the latter is more well-known. These small villages preserve quite well their traditions and way of life despite the increasing number of tourists. Coming here, visitors will experience Vietnamese northern fishermen's life and learn about their traditional culture. Some highlights are seeing where they raise fishes, kayaking, and trying fresh seafood.
Thien Canh Son Cave
When we talk about Bai Tu Long Bay, we cannot miss its two breathtaking caves - Thien Canh Son and Tien Ong. Tien Ong Cave has thousands of stalactites of different shapes, which will wow anyone who steps their foot inside. The cave is considered an archaeological relic where many traces of prehistoric residents exists. On the other hand, Thien Canh Son Cave has an attractive yet mysterious look, especially, after conquering its highest peak, you can catch a mesmerizing panoramic view of Bai Tu Long Bay.
All coastal areas of Vietnam are blessed with mouthwatering seafood, and Bai Tu Long Bay is no different. Some yummy seafood that you must try are geoducks, flower crabs, peanut worms, etc. Gat Gu cake - a specialty dessert of Quang Ninh Province - is a dish you shouldn’t miss as well. Gat Gu cake is a version of Banh Cuon with no filling and a softer, more bouncy texture, hence the name “Gat Gu” (meaning “to nod”).
Bai Tu Long Bay is a great alternative for those who love the mystic and untamed nature of Halong Bay, yet prefer a less-traveled destination. With its amazing landscape and hospitable locals, Bai Tu Long Bay will surely become a beloved address for wanderers worldwide. For more information on other mesmerizing destinations in Vietnam, don’t forget to check out our Vietnam travel guide.
© Written by Ngan Mai for itourvn.com