Often overshadowed by its nearby neighbor, Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay National Park boasts the same beauty with fewer tourists. Underdeveloped and immaculate, the park is divided into both terrestrial and aquatic zones.
One of only seven amphibian national parks in Vietnam, and ideal for travelers willing to take the time to wander off the beaten path, Bai Tu Long will capture you with its otherworldly landscape.
Bai Tu Long Bay sits on the far northeastern coast of Vietnam and is located 92 miles (148 kilometers) outside of Hanoi. Only 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers) away from Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long is easy to access.
The closest cities to Bai Tu Long are Cam Pha, which is 11 miles away, and Ha Long City, which is 14 miles away by water. Additionally, smaller communities on the edge of the mainland can provide access to the national park.
Created by nature over 500 million years ago, locals, how have resided in the area for centuries, have their own special tale to explain the creation of Bai Tu Long Bay.
Legend states that Ha Long Bay, meaning “descending dragon” and Bai Tu Long Bay were created from a dragon’s eggs that were laid millions of years ago. Supposedly, Japan sent a mother dragon to protect Vietnam from foreign invasions and, upon laying her eggs in Ha Long Bay, the dragon took up residence.
Her tail is said to be the island of Bach Long Vi, meanwhile, when the babies hatched, the area’s famous rock formations and numerous islands were created. Eventually, the mother dragon left her young, visiting the bay where they were laid one last time before leaving. This is where Bai Tu Long gets its name as it translates to “the dragon parts the offspring”.
Whether you believe in mythic fables or modern science, Bai Tu Long Bay is a special area. With over 40 islands and rock formations, the park has plenty left to be discovered.
What to Do
While visiting Bai Tu Long, one of the highlights is island hopping. Much of the national park is only accessible by boat, though there are options to hike on some of the larger islands. With fewer resorts than Ha Long Bay, guests to Bai Tu Long should be prepared to experience Vietnam’s wild side.
Cruise Through the Water
The vast majority of itineraries to the park will feature boat travel. Less polluted than Ha Long Bay, the water in Bai Tu Long is clearer and ideal for boaters or swimmers. Officially, the bay is encompassed within the national park, so boats on the water are still considered to be within the park’s boundaries.
Boating in Bai Tu Long Bay gives visitors the best view of the landscape. On the water, guests will be able to capture stunning photos of various islands. Boat tours can also lead tourists to the most popular areas within the park, giving them prime access to exclusive beaches and caves.
Safe to Swim
Not all places within Bai Tu Long National Park are safe for swimming but Ban Chan Beach is one area where tourists flock to dive under the clear water. Safe and secluded, Ban Chan Beach has white sand and excellent visibility, which makes it the go-to destination in Bai Tu Long for water activities such as snorkeling.
The popularity of Ban Chan Beach is well-known, and many tour operations include a visit and barbecue as a part of their excursion. Visitors can relax on the soft sand and marvel at the park’s iconic limestone sentinels, which stand tall along the shore.
Another beach in the area, that is actually the most popular and has a developed resort area, is Minh Chau. One of the few places in Bai Tu Long that caters to tourists, this beach provides guests with the options for extended stays in the bay area. Located on Quan Lan Island, the beach is easy to access from both Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Protected within the national park is Thien Canh Son Cave. Unlike Ban Chan Beach, this cave is a well-known highlight in Bai Tu Long Bay. The stalactites in Thien Canh Son Cave add to the mystical atmosphere and many visitors have pointed out seeing shapes similar to a lotus flower or elephant.
Tours inside the cave can be arranged from Ha Long or Bai Tu Long Bay. Due to the cave’s popularity, many tour operators from both bays include this location on their itinerary.
The cave is open to the public and some tour operations include a special dining experience inside one of the caverns.
Additional caves in the area include seaside entrances and arches. Cai De and Soi Nhu are just a few of the popular spots that are more secluded and remote than Thien Canh Son. These caves can be accessed by booking a local tour.
The Art of Fishing
Nestled within some of the park’s terrestrial boundaries is the Vung Vieng Village. Known for its splendid scenery, the village is also home to some of Vietnam’s best fishermen. Visitors are welcome in the village and are given the opportunity to observe the fishermen’s techniques.
Kayak tours are the perfect way to explore the area and observe the fishermen. The calm and clear water is safe to navigate and backdropped by some amazing landscapes. Fishermen will happily demonstrate their skills and teach guests about their everyday lifestyle.
The Park’s Core
While much of the park is spread between vast expanses of water and numerous islands, two of the core areas include Ba Mun and Tra Ngo Lon Island. Ba Mun is the largest island as well as the largest cluster of islands within the park. Home to over 800 species of plants and wildlife, Ba Mun is a must-see destination for nature lovers.
The main island, Ba Mun, has several trails and patrol routes that visitors can use to explore through the jungle, however, guests should keep in mind the size of the island. A trekking tour of Ba Mun would take a minimum of 3 days and a full boat tour around the island can be completed in about 5 hours. For safety, tourists should stick to well-marked paths or hire a local guide.
Smaller than Ba Mun is Tra Ngo Lon Island. Steep and guarded by a mangrove forest, the island is famous for its Bat Cave. Thousands of bats call this island home and only the brave will venture to this island to see the creatures.
Guests may also catch a glimpse of some of the park’s rarer wildlife like otters, civets, and mongoose, all of which live on Tra Ngo Long Island.
Plants and Wildlife
There are 500 species of plants and animals spread throughout most of the park’s 40 islands. From special plants that can’t be found anywhere else to a myriad of endangered animals, this park has sheltered all of them from the outside world.
While rare animals like the civet, otter, wild boar, and yellow monkey roam through the jungles, the water is home to creatures such as abalone, mussels, and sea cucumbers. Guests to the park will have the opportunity to witness them all, although some plants and animals are more elusive than others.
How to Get There
Hanoi is the central hub for most travelers visiting Bai Tu Long Bay National Park. The capital city is about 3 hours away from Ha Long Bay and Cam Pha City, both of which provide easy access to the park. The most common way to travel from Vietnam’s interior to the coast is by road.
Private transfers, car rentals, motorbikes, and public transportation are all options for travelers wanting to head to the bays. Once travelers are in Ha Long Bay or Cam Pha, tour guides should provide all the transportation you need to visit Bai Tu Long, with boats typically embarking from the shore.
When to Visit
Vietnam’s dry season provides the perfect opportunity for guests to explore all of the wonders of Bai Tu Long Bay. Due to the area’s cooler temperatures and drier skies, visiting from September – November or March-May can provide optimal weather conditions.
These times also allow travelers the opportunity to visit with fewer crowds. While the rainy season may occur in the summer, vacation time for many individuals coincides with this time, making the park a much more popular destination from June until August. Late December and early January are also peak times due to end-of-year festivities.
Much less traveled than Ha Long Bay, the unpolluted landscapes of Bai Tu Long Bay are quickly gaining the reputation of being Vietnam’s must-see undiscovered destination.
With unexplored areas, rare wildlife, secluded beaches, and hidden caves, Bai Tu Long is a paradise for those who have the time and energy to travel farther into Vietnam’s vast wilderness. Otherworldly in appearance, Bai Tu Long National Park will awe and amaze.
Address: Xã Hạ Long, Huyện Vân Đồn, Hạ Long, Vân Đồn, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam
Phone: +84 203 3793 365