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6 Best Alternatives To Halong Bay

Halong Bay has cemented itself as one of the prominent tourist destinations in northern Vietnam. A multitude of towering limestone islands, mesmerizing cave system, and the shimmering shores of Halong Bay entice a lion’s share of local and foreign sun seekers. However, as you may find out that the destination is often crowded with tourists flocking to the shores every day, there are some genuine alternatives to travel.

6 Best Alternatives To Halong Bay

1. Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Only around 100km (62 miles) from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is the ultimate choice for a countryside getaway. The former capital city features enchanting historical ruins in Hoa Lu. The historic site is home to temples, pagodas, and ancient palaces surrounded by beautiful landscapes and limestone formations. Those constructions typically reveal Vietnam's rich history and architectural heritage. 

Not only does Ninh Binh Province comprise an eclectic collection of significant remnants, but it is also full of natural and authentic charm. Trang An Landscape Complex and Tam Coc are scenic areas where you can leisurely sit on a sampan-paddled boat, pass stunning caves, and enjoy a peaceful ambiance in the surrounding. Otherwise, if you are into nature and adventure excursions, head to Cuc Phuong National Park or Van Long Nature Reserve to get opportunities to see various bird species, endangered animals, and floral richness. Last but not least, Ninh Binh is also a reputable religious destination for pilgrimages. It is worth visiting Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of the largest Buddhist pagodas in Southeast Asia, possessing many records.

2. Sapa

Sapa, Vietnam

Located in the northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is distinctly different from the rest regarding topography, ethnic culture, cuisine, and lifestyle. The cool climate and compact size allow easy access to explore the town. Sapa's weather is heavily influenced by its mountainous location, characterized by moderate temperatures and distinct seasons. 

Surrounded by craggy mountains, gorgeous valleys, and dense forests, Sapa offers an abundance of adventurous trails for experienced hikers. Trekking is one of the most authentic ways to explore stunning landscapes and ethnic villages. You can pick either a short walk or a multi-day trek. Popular trekking routes in Sapa are Fansipan Mount, Cat Cat Village, and Ta Van, and Giang Ta Chai. Apart from that,  visiting Sapa is a chance to meet local people from different hill tribes and even encounter exotic animals. It is recommended that you wander around weekend markets where a lot of ethnic people gather to sell hand-crafted items or spend a night in a homestay and mingle with unique cuisine and traditional customs.

3. Cat Ba island

Cat Ba island

Cat Ba is a more low-key and less commercial island than most of the others. It has a good reputation for paradisiac beaches notably Cat Co Beach 1, 2, 3, Tung Thu Beach, and Cat Dua Beach. Among those, Cat Co 1 is the most beautiful and crowded one. All those beaches are pristine, surrounded by mountains and rocky cliffs, enabling you to immerse in cool and clear seawaters. Diving and snorkeling are also appealing to seasoned tourists.

Apart from swimming and rafting expeditions, Cat Ba Island is a top choice for forest hikes. Hiking enthusiasts could explore the region’s wildlife and dense jungles of Cat Ba National Park. The popular hiking routes in Cat Ba National Park include the Ngu Lam Peak Trail, Trung Trang Cave Trail, and Viet Hai Village Trail. Besides, you can challenge yourself with other trails including Cannon Fort, Hospital Cave, Kim Giao Forest, and Frog Lake.

Several lodgings are available on Cat Ba Island ranging from bamboo-and-thatch cottages to luxe, contemporary-style resorts and hotels. Your top choices include Cat Ba Island Resort & Spa, Cat Ba Sunrise Resort, and Cat Ba Eco Lodge Resort.

4. Bai Tu Long bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay is often considered a hidden gem compared to its famous neighbor, Halong Bay. The bay brings you a more peaceful cruising experience with fewer tourist boats. Cruising through the bay allows you to soak in the beauty of the surroundings, enjoy panoramic views, and marvel at stunning sunsets over the karst formations.

The Halong Bay less-crowded sibling’s appeal lies in its hidden beaches and coves and numerous rock formations. Additionally, a handful of rustic fishing villages and mysterious caves make it excellent for those seeking a less-crowded and more serene experience. Vung Vieng floating village pleases culture vultures with a glimpse into the traditional way of life, and you can also witness the daily activities of the fishermen and learn about their culture and traditions. 

Meanwhile, Thien Canh Son Cave is a remarkable natural wonder on Hon Co Island. The site showcases impressive stalactites and stalagmites formed over centuries. Upon reaching the exit of Thien Canh Son Cave, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Bai Tu Long Bay. Furthermore, Bai Tu Long National Park offers both marine and land biodiversity. It is home to around 2200 species including colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, and other fascinating marine life.

5. Lan Ha bay

Lan Ha Bay

Apart from Bai Tu Long Bay, you can also look for a more laid-back alternative to the bustling Halong Bay in Lan Ha Bay. It is known for sheer limestone islands and islets, powdery stretches of sand jutting out of the ocean, and tranquil fishing villages. Embarking on a boat getting to the off-the-beaten-path Lan Ha Bay, you can admire a number of secluded spots offering a sense of adventure and exploration. Some of the highlights are Dark & Bright Cave, Van Boi Area, Monkey Island, and Viet Hai Floating Village.

A majority of cruises to Lan Ha Bay have kayaking on their itineraries. This typical water-based activity is mostly included in the total price; otherwise, you need to rent a kayak. Thanks to sheltered nature and calm waters, Ba Trai Dao Island, Tra Bau Area, Ao Ech Area, and Ba Ham Lake become prominent destinations for this pastime. A journey to Lan Ha Bay cannot miss Viet Hai Village, consisting of a communal house and many colorful traditional houseboats. The winding and serene village roads embraced by lush greenery are worth your time riding or simply wandering around. What is more, with over 400 islets and limestone karst, Lan Ha Bay becomes a paradisiac area for a snorkeling experience. Dive underwater and see a myriad of marine life, especially attractive coral reefs either on Monkey Island or Nam Cat Island.

6. Hanoi

West Lake, Hanoi

While Halong Bay captivates tourists with its staggering seascapes, Hanoi is a perfect example of Vietnam’s historical and cultural heartland. The capital city of Hanoi bears influences from both traditional Vietnamese culture and French colonial architecture. Vibrating urban environs are filled with narrow streets, ancient temples, and traditional architecture exuding old-world charm.

Hanoi is renowned for its street food culture where local food vendors sell an array of affordable and tasty Vietnamese specialties on the city’s sidewalks, particularly Hanoi Old Quarter. Local delicacies like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), and bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) are must-try there. 

When it comes to historical sites, Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of Hanoi boasts a picturesque landmark where you can take a stroll and soak up a serene atmosphere. The lake is surrounded by lush greenery and is home to the iconic red-painted Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son Temple. Temples and pagodas dotted in Hanoi reflect the city’s cultural and spiritual beauty. One of the most famous is the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), Vietnam's first national university. Other notable religious sites include Quan Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda, and One Pillar Pagoda.

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