Few tourists skip Ha Long when they visit Vietnam. From the bird’s eye view, this UNESCO heritage site looks like a beautiful painting with thousands of limestones emerging from the green water. But not many knows, right next to it, there is another Bay just as beautiful and authentic but less crowded. A bay that keeps within its rocky islands majestic caves, local fishing villages, and many untold stories. It’s Lan Ha Bay.
Explore a cave in the Lan Ha Bay
I could be called Rainy Girl. No matter what time of year: summer, winter, or somewhere in between, whenever I take a trip, it always comes with rain. That happened again on my trip to Lan Ha Bay last week. Instead of 5 minutes, as usual, it took me 20 minutes to book a Grab taxi due to high demand. No one wanted to ride their scooters under the rain. The streets were busy as hell. I was at the office at 9:10 am, just 5 minutes before the pickup car arrived. Other two travel experts of Exotic Voyages were my fellows during this trip.
It was a nice Limo with WiFi and USB charging ports at every seat. Our trip was no longer than 3 hours from Hanoi including a short break. Linh, manager of the cruise was waiting with a small boat at the pier. 15 minutes later, from a distance, we saw La Regina who claims herself the Queen of the Bay. Standing proudly, glamorously on the water, she is one of the newest cruises yet one of the most beautiful. We were so excited to spend 2N1D with her.
Standing proudly, glamorously on the water, La Regina is one of the newest yet one of the most beautiful cruises on the Bay
The crew members greeted us with traditional music, welcome drinks, and warm smiles that made us feel like home. But wait until you see your room to be truly impressive. Spacious and well-furnished, La Regina pays attention in every detail to make sure her guests happy, comfortable, and relaxing. I love my own balcony, my comfy bed, my large bathroom with the lovely bathtub where I jumped into right after the doorman turned his back. I sat in and let the warm water relax my tired body while I was watching the picturesque scenery of the Bay through a floor-to-ceiling glass window before going downstairs for lunch.
La Regina pays attention in every detail in the room to make sure the guests happy
What makes it more relaxing than sitting on the egg-shaped hammocks from the Queen Suite admiring the beauty of the bay?
You can choose either to unwind with a book at the library, have fun with friends at the karaoke room, drink a cocktail at the bar or relax at a jacuzzi pool. There is always a corner for everyone on this cruise.
Our first activity was a short trek into Cat Ba National Park after lunch. Linh was our guide on this trip. Very thoughtful and attentive, he gave us waterproof bads to protect our smartphones and reminded us to wear lifejackets whenever we were on board and always made sure we had anything we need. The boat, again, took us to a pier where a car was waiting to take us to Trung Trang Cave, aka Hospital Cave. Only 300 meters in length but it fills with hundreds of spectacular limestone formations. The inside cave cool and the trek was quite easy although we had to bend down most of the time. The highlight of this trek was the view-point where you could admire the lush tropical jungles of the Cat Ba National Park below your feet. But for my colleague, it was ghosts that Linh, the manager, told us he met in his life. A ghost pulled his legs while he was sleeping at a hotel in the jungle, another kept staring at him from a distance. People started sharing their creepy experiences that made the trek more exciting. Whether you believe in the existence of a ghost or not, this subject always stimulates curiosity and draws attention.
Having a break at the entrance to Trung Trang Cave with Diep Nguyen (left), Vietnam team leader of Exotic Voyages. She assisted Anthony Bourdain on the 'Parts Unknown' episodes about Northern Vietnam food in 2016. She has created a Vietnam Food Tour to tribute to Anthony in which she shares with travelers several restaurants he visited when filming the TV show.
Panorama view from the viewpoint
We had to bend down to walk
You can see the jungle from the cave
Got back the cruise late in the afternoon, we were stunned by the beautiful sunset on Lan Ha Bay. It gradually appeared behind mountains, from the skyline. It painted the sky, the water, and the giant rocks by its natural beautiful orange color, stunned everyone who dares to witness.
It was a lovely surprise that Soleil Bar on the Sundeck offered ‘Buy One and Get One Free’ at the sunset time. That means you can have one in various kinds of drink for free as long as it is the same price or cheaper than the one you pay.
Cooking class happened on the sundeck at around 6 PM. We learned to make Nem Ran (Fried Spring Roll) - one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes. It was fun to mix up all the colorful ingredients together, placed them in a rice paper, rolled up then deep fried the rolls in a pan.
Although I’ve made Nem Ran for years, I was still happy to learn a new cooking secret of using the white yolk in rolling my Nem and enjoyed my creatures after they were cooked.
These are my own creation. It doesn't look like a big portion at all but I have dinner waiting in the restaurant on the second floor.
Our dinner was well presented and full of flavor. In fact, you will never be hungry once you are on La Regina. Every meal was a feast: Lunch, dinner, and brunch that we had before we left to cruise to get back to the city. Although the drink was not included, its price was reasonable. The chef was very nice. He came to our table to ask if we were happy with our meals and if there was anything he could do to improve them. I told him that I felt guilty because I couldn’t finish all of my dishes due to my stomach size.
Seafood noodle for breakfast. It tasted delicious
Spring rolls for lunch. You will never get hungry on the La Regina
I didn’t wake up until 7 AM the next day, had a quick breakfast then embarked on a speedboat which cruised us to a floating house where we took the kayaks for our new exploration. Lan Ha Bay is very tranquil and isn’t as crowded as its neighbor, Ha Long Bay. Free like a bird flying above the immensity of peaceful water, we paddled through limestone mountains, floating fishing farms until we saw a lonely small boat that was home to a local family. Another tiny boat is tied to the stern of their “floating house.” They use it to commute in short distances as we use our scooters on the land.
The floating house where we took the kayaks
From here, you paddle to explore the bay on your own
On the tranquil water
Can you call this a house? But it truly is!
The picture of a woman looking sitting on the boathouse with family’s clothes hanging above waiting to dry kept returning to my mind along the way back to Hanoi. Does she feel happy living that way? Does she have other choices? Do her kids go to school? Will they continue to live on the water or settle down on the land? I never had the answers. But this trip taught me to appreciate what I have. The life I complain about is likely the life that others dream about.
I hope my experience can give you a first glance about a voyage on the Bay. With us, we will together wake up this sleeping Bay. Don’t let it become a forgotten paradise, it offers more than you could expect.
If you want to know more about other cruises on the Bay, find out here. If you wonder how a Vietnam tour looks like, you can see here. Contact our Vietnam travel experts if you have a question and visit our travel blog to read more about other trips and receive useful information about Southeast Asia.