Sanctuary of SERENITY

Lan Ha Bay boasts a much more laid-back vibe than nearby Ha Long Bay.

By Le Diem on October 15,2019 10:09 AM

Sanctuary of SERENITY

PHOTOS QUYNH TRAN

Lying in the southern reaches of iconic Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay has emerged from being a hidden gem to catering to many more tourists in recent years. Its similar marine landscape to Ha Long Bay and tranquility, compared to its busy and bustling neighbor, are what attracts tourists looking to relax in a serene setting.

Some two hours from Hanoi by road, Lan Ha Bay can be easily visited in a single day but if you have more time then sleeping aboard a cruise is the best way to enjoy its beauty. Still unknown to many, there are much fewer cruises in Lan Ha Bay than in Ha Long Bay yet different options from three to five stars are still available. Orchid Cruises, one of the most famed local cruises, launched its latest premium line recently, providing a luxury experience in Lan Ha.

Sanctuary of SERENITY

Lying on a comfy bench while the boat slowly cuts through the water is like straying into a unique world in the middle of the ocean surrounded by limestone karst islands under a bright blue sky. Lan Ha boasts about 400 islands and islets of various shapes and sizes. Different from Ha Long Bay, most are still untouched, with thick green trees and vegetation. Viewed together, they more closely resemble a long mountain range. Another difference is Lan Ha’s many nice golden beaches with small waves lapping ashore. Its crystal waters allow divers to discover colorful coral reefs near the beaches of Van Boi and Van Ha and surrounding the islands of Sen, Cu, and Monkey.

Taking different routes, every cruise on Lan Ha takes visitors to different sites. Floating and fishing villages are obviously must-see spots.

Among them, Cai Beo floating village stands out as one of the most ancient villages in the country. People settled there to hunt and fish about 7,000 years ago, hundreds of stone and ceramic artifacts discovered by archaeologists reveal. Villages still rely on the sea and live on floating houses just like their ancestors, and their local community consists of streets, neighborhoods and houses used as schools, restaurants, and guesthouses. Dogs bark at boats passing by, while children play next to mothers preparing food, presenting a peaceful image of local floating life unchanged for thousands of years.

Sanctuary of SERENITY

Another charming village is Viet Hai on Cat Ba Island. Surrounded by the sea and limestone ranges, the village was separated from the outside world for a long time. Dropping in to Viet Hai to take a walk or a cycle around, you can see immense rice fields where local people and buffaloes go about their daily work, with thatched-roof earthen houses and primitive forests in the background.

Lan Ha’s islands are obviously another major attraction. One of the most popular is Monkey Island. As its name suggests, the island has some 20 different kinds of monkeys bred by forest management agencies and also features a diverse ecological system of plants and birds as well as two nice beaches.

Meanwhile, thanks to its beauty and tranquility, Nam Cat Island has recently joined the list of popular new destinations in Lan Ha. Lying in the center of a group of islets and with a 500-meter-long beach, Nam Cat features a host of exotic landscapes. Several bamboo bungalows with thatched roofs for guests and wooden walkways add to its enchanting atmosphere. The island still doesn’t cater to many visitors, so offers a true escape amid beautiful natural surroundings.

Kayaking is the best way to discover little areas where boats can’t go. Paddling through islets provides glimpses of lagoons, caves and creatures like lizards who call the limestone karsts home.

Back on the boat is the perfect place to contemplate a magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Tonkin while enjoying the outdoor Jacuzzi on the top deck.

Those looking for something more can take a cooking class on most boats. A few secrets of local ingredients and the making of delicious Vietnamese dishes will win your heart and stomach over. One is spring rolls, among Vietnam’s most popular dishes, with rice paper rolled with ingredients such as vermicelli, coriander, mushrooms, minced pork, little prawns, green onion, carrot, and egg, and then fried. You can then enjoy your “own dish” at an elegant dinner in a romantic setting with wine and candles twinkling in the dark night.

After dinner comes some squid fishing. With lights shone to attract the squid and some fishing rods dangled in the water, it requires just one skill - patience - and a little luck. A lucky few have caught as many as 30 squid in one sitting, making for a delicious meal the next day. The best time for squid fishing is the spring, around February and March. Squid fishing also gives your mind time to rest and recall the beauty of a trip around Lan Ha Bay.

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