Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay – How to Choose Your Cruise?

Written By: Andrzej & Jolene

When cruising in Vietnam, should you visit Halong Bay cruise or the lesser-known Bai Tu Long Bay in Vietnam? This post will help you decide!

Halong Bay in Vietnam is so popular that it sees over 6 million annual visitors. The once pristine bay is now often so dirty that holidaymakers refuse to swim in it.

But there is a solution, and Bai Tu Long Bay might just be the answer for you!

In this post, we will compare popular Halong Bay vs the quieter Bai Tu Long Bay.

Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay

halong bay surprise cave

Are you looking for a cruise that will simply take your breath away?

A cruise that will take you on a journey to the enchanting wonderland of limestone islands surrounded by turquoise and emerald green waters?

Many travelers head to Halong with the idea that they will get to enjoy a peaceful cruise experience, and then they leave with mixed feelings after trying to cope with the staggering number of tourists who had the same idea in their mind.

Which one Should you Choose for your Cruise?

We outline the pros and cons of each, with tips on how to pick the best Ha Long Bay Cruise Company for your Vietnam holiday.

Halong Bay vs Bai Tu Long Bay

Let’s take a closer look at Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay so that you can use this to your advantage when you get around to selecting your cruise company.

1. Touristy Halong Bay

ha long bay vietnam first views

Halong Bay is undoubtedly one of the most popular of places to see in Vietnam.

As a result, a rather staggering number of tourists end up having to compete for spots in the bay.

As a result, your view out of the Junk Boat window might be of just another boat.

You might also possibly find the water pollution pretty disappointing and you might end up getting frustrated with the masses of crowds around the popular sights.

What will you love about Halong Bay?

halong bay floating village
  • Halong Bay is in my opinion more beautiful in comparison to Bai Tu Long Bay, simply because the limestone islands are more densely packed in this area.
  • Halong Bay also has some beautiful sights to see. Some of the most popular are Surprise Cave and Titov Island. The journey through the cave, as the name suggests, will take you on an amazing adventure deep into the heart of one of the islands.
  • Here you will be left speechless whilst gazing around into the colourfully lit rugged cave interior. As to the Titov Island, this place will surprise you with stunning 360-degree views over the bay. This is one of the highest peaks in the bay and the best viewpoint to check out hundreds of islands from a birds-eye-like view.

What might you not be so fond of in Halong Bay?

  • Here, the hustle and bustle of tourism are quite pronounced. The islands themselves are densely positioned to one another, creating limited space for hundreds of cruise boats crowding around the main attractions. This, unfortunately, creates congestion in some parts of the bay and can take away from the feeling of peace & relaxation.
  • The water is polluted and it might be common to see trash from the boats floating past your window.

Wondering how to get to beautiful Halong Bay? This post can help you plan your transfer.

2. Peaceful Bai Tu Long Bay

bai tu long bay cruise day boat

This might be the first time you are hearing about Bai Tu Long Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay is situated northeast of Halong Bay. Bai Tu Long Bay is basically Ha Long Bay’s unknown brother.

It is in fact, a perfect alternative to Halong Bay; a quiet place to enjoy some romantic time with your loved one, away from the heavily touristic sites.

What will you love about Bai Tu Long Bay?

bai tu long bay vietnam sunset
  • Bai Tu Long Bay is Halong Bay’s big brother. This area covers a staggering three-quarters of the whole UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bai Tu Long Bay is still running under the tourism radar, which means that this bay is much less congested by boats and the waters of the bay are much cleaner from pollution.
  • Bai Tu Long Bay is a peaceful oasis for both visitors and locals alike. Thanks to the cruise companies’ strong connection to the local culture and their way of life, you will be able to visit the floating villages for yourself as well.
  • Bai Tu Long has some beautiful attractions that can visit, including Cong Do area, Vung Vieng fishing village, Da Xep Park, Cong Dam area, Thien Canh Son cave and Tra Gioi beach.

What might you not be so fond of in Bai Tu Long Bay?

  • The islands of Bai Tu Long Bay are not as densely packed with Islands in comparison to Halong Bay, leaving a larger body of water in between the sections.
  • During windy weather, there is less protection from the waves, which in turn can cause the boat to rock a bit more. Results? Yup, a minor case of seasickness.

Things to consider before you go on the Cruise

luxury halong bay cruise

Choosing the right cruise operator

Considering that Halong Bay is much more popular than Bai Tu Long Bay, it obviously has many cruise operators.

Therefore, you might be able to get better cruise deals, as well as have a larger selection of choices of boats.

Saying that our recommendation would be to choose the cruise boat that will visit both, Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay.

Not all cruise companies are allowed to venture into Bai Tu Long Bay, so your experience will be so much more peaceful (but most likely slightly more expensive as well).

How many days do you want to cruise for?

relaxing halong bay cruise

We found that in order to venture into Bai Tu Long Bay, we had to choose either a 2-night or 3-night cruise.

We personally enjoyed a 3 day/2night cruise and found that it was just the perfect amount of time to enjoy and really soak up the beauty and atmosphere of the two bays.

The 3-day/2-night cruises are more preferred because they give you time to enjoy the scenery during the day, relax at night with a cocktail and enjoy even more sightseeing during the following day.

Again, it gives you the chance to explore even more of the amazing places and go to the remote parts of the bays as well.

You could alternatively also choose a 1-night cruise or even a day cruise.

Just be aware that these cruise boats won’t have enough time to venture away from the crowds, however, you will still get to see the beauty of Halong Bay (if you don’t mind crowds).

Double-check what’s included with the cruise

It is important to know whether food, activities, and transfers will be included in the cruise costs.

Some cruises might come across as dirt cheap, but when inclusions are compared to other companies you will quickly realize that you won’t save any money on those cruises after paying for the extras!

We prefer boats that include all food, activities and transfers, that way you can sit back and enjoy the cruise experience without having to fork out extra dollars around every corner.

Our Personal Recommendation

halong bay author bio

Our recommendation would be to choose the 3-day 2-night cruise that includes both the bays of Halong Bay, for its extraordinary sightseeing; as well as the stunning Bai Tu Long Bai, for its clean, emerald waters & beautiful sunsets. Do your research.

Send the company a quick email to ask them which bays they will cruise to.

Have a beautiful trip and enjoy the beauty of this spectacular part of Vietnam!

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About Andrzej & Jolene

This guest post is brought to you by Andrzej & Jolene from Wanderlust Storytellers, a widely successful family travel blog. They love sharing their passion for travel with people all around the globe. Follow them at: WanderlustStoryTellers / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / YouTube

Leave a Comment

11 thoughts on “Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay – How to Choose Your Cruise?”

  1. Bai Tu Long bay is a good place for you to discover Vietnam. It is not touristic like Halong bay. You need to go further than Halong bay. Almost cruises are docked at Hon Gai pier for Bai Tu Long bay route. It takes you much time to go there but you will have more time to enjoy the bay. It is also ideal for kayaking or swimming.

  2. Hi,
    I went with Signature Cruises on a 3-day 2-night cruise and they went to both Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. I agree that Halong Bay has more densely packed limestone islands and perhaps more beautiful, but it is also more crowded. On the other hand, Bai Tu Long Bay was definitely devoid of tourists. There were no other boats in sight, so it was really relaxing. Another thing that can make or break your trip is the weather. If you’re into photography and the skies are cloudy, it doesn’t make for great photos.

  3. The blog is absolutely fantastic. Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need. Thanks for such a continuous great postings.

  4. We were in Vietnam in March and were so sad about the state of Ha Long bay and the entire area. When we were about 15 minutes our on the water, the boat in front of us started dumping their trash. We were all just sick watching everything just being dumped into the water. Such a shame and no way I would swim or eat anything from these waters. The views are beautiful in places but so much trash and plastic floating in the waters.

    The second issue is what is happening in the town of Ha Long. So much construction and no regards for the environment. Mountains are being removed and the bay is filling with silt. It’s sad to see what greed and ignorance is doing to this formerly beautiful place.

  5. I am scheduled to be in Vietnam in December and your post just helped me come to a decision to do both bays. Thanks for all of the information. It is a great help.

  6. Awesome Blog and the best thing is I have found some relevant news from your blog. The collection of amazing pictures is a total add-on. Thanks For it. keep up the good work.

  7. looks very fantastic place! i would go once in life if ever get a chance to visit here. Your images is showing everything that how enjoyed your trip. Thanks for this lovely blog post.

  8. Sadly I haven’t visited Vietnam yet, and I guess if the tourist numbers stay like they are now (or increase), I will never get to see the Halong Bay. It’s good to know there’s an alternative.. So thank you guys!

  9. It is one of the favorite destinations of mine. I wish that I could travel here. Also thank you so much for sharing your travel experience. Appreciate it for your great contribution to share this exotic destination information.